With heavy rains, floods, high winds and even tornados recently wreaking havoc across many parts of South Africa, Auto & General Insurance is urging South Africans to remain vigilant and adopt a more proactive approach to avoid damage to property, injury and loss of life.
Ricardo Coetzee, head of Auto & General Insurance, says: “South Africa is renowned for its mighty storms - often a beautiful display of nature’s power, but also bringing with it the risk of quickly escalating into a full-blown disaster.
The reality is that many storm-related losses could be prevented through better awareness, good planning and smart, prompt reaction.”
Auto & General offers the following practical tips to stay safe in adverse weather conditions:
General rules to remember:
1. Regular home maintenance: Checking structures around your house for weak spots, clearing debris from gutters, fastening items that could become deadly projectiles, cutting away dead trees and branches and ensuring adequate drainage, is essential and will significantly reduce your risk. Reinforcing vital structures if you live in a rain, flood or wind prone area is also a good idea.
2. Good vehicle maintenance: Make sure that your vehicle is in tiptop shape and won’t let you down, even when the proverbial “high water” comes.
3. Eye on the weather: Always keep an eye on the weather forecast and look out for warnings of heavy rains and high winds. Avoid danger areas where possible.
4. SOS on speed dial: Make sure to have all emergency numbers, including that if your insurer, saved on your phone or memorised. Make sure that your whole family is thoroughly briefed on what to do and who to call in an emergency.
5. Raise the alarm: If you notice a possible safety hazard due to bad drainage, cracking structures, landslides etc., in a public area, alert the authorities immediately.
6. Standing firm: Make sure that your outdoor furniture and accessories are safely stored or firmly secured and that all gates and doors that need to be locked, are.
7. Beware the bolt: Heavy rains are often associated with lightning. It’s best to have surge protection plugs in place and/or to unplug appliances before the storm arrives.
8. Under cover: Where possible, park your car under cover and delay travelling until the storm has subsided. If you are caught in a heavy storm and you feel it’s not safe to drive, look for cover, pull over and/or seek shelter. This could include a covered car park, a petrol station or under a bridge. Don’t park under trees as there is a danger of falling branches and debris. Take extreme care when pulling-over, put on your hazard lights, and don’t risk your safety or the safety of others by dashing madly for cover. Stay in your car and only leave the safety of your sheltered spot when the storm has passed.
8. Sand savvy: It is sensible to purchase your own supply of sandbags, especially if you live in a flood-prone area. These can be placed against doorways and low-level vents in times of flooding to help minimise the amount of water that enters your home.
9. High value, higher up: Move high value items to the highest possible floor or shelf if a flood threatens.
10. Flip the switch: Turn off electricity and gas supplies if flooding occurs to limit the risk of electrical shock or a fire.
11. Make the call NOW: If you see warning signs like water seeping through the door or water eating away at your home’s walls and foundations, it’s best to head for higher ground immediately. Do not wait for it to become a life-threatening crisis.
12. Cars don’t swim: Motorists should not attempt to drive in flood conditions. Remember that just 15cm of moving water can knock you off your feet and water just 60cm deep can sweep a vehicle away. You also run the risk of flooding your vehicle’s air intake, which will stall the engine. Generally, if the water is deeper than the bottom of your doors or the bottom third of your wheels, it is not advisable to drive through it.
13. High alert for low-lying spots: Flash flooding often occurs when rivers flow over low-lying bridges. Avoid crossing bridges or roads next to rivers during heavy rains. If you do get stuck on a flooded road, switch to the lowest possible gear and proceed slowly.
14. Easy does it: If you approach a flooded spot at speed, it is advisable to take your foot off the accelerator and let your speed drop gradually. Never use the brakes suddenly because this may cause the car to skid or aquaplane.
16. Bail out: If your vehicle gets stuck during flooding, or starts to get washed away, rather abandon the vehicle and get to higher ground. It is dangerous to try and drive out of the water to safety.
Image: Max Cohen / EMER-G-MED
17. Wind and fire could be dire: Wind and fire are a deadly combination. Be extremely careful when you make a fire, dispose of a cigarette, or when there’s a fire close to you on a windy day. Be wary of embers that can be picked up by the wind.
18. Window wise: Even a slight breeze can cause curtains to topple precious ornaments, so make sure that all windows are in a good condition and close properly. If your area is often hit by strong winds, consider installing protective blinds or shutters.
19. Counter steer: One is prone to counter steer against the wind. An approaching vehicle can briefly block the wind and cause you to land up in the way of oncoming traffic.
20. A firm grip: A strong gust of wind can throw you completely off course, so rather reduce speed and keep both hands on the steering wheel.
21. Tip top towing: Make use of vehicle that is big and strong enough for the load it must carry or tow. Also be cautious about how you load it – if it’s top heavy it will be very difficult to control in a strong wind. Remember to have a stabiliser installed for your trailer or caravan just for that extra peace of mind when towing on windy days.
22. Tie it down: Make sure that any load is properly fastened. A sail flapping in the wind can also easily be plucked off and potentially hamper the view of other motorists.
23. Obstacle course: Be on the lookout for uprooted trees, branches and other objects lying in the road, especially when driving at night.
Coetzee concludes: “It’s wise to remember that your life and those of your loved ones are worth more than any house or car, so don’t risk it at any cost. Also ensure that, in the event that disaster does strike, you have adequate insurance in place to cover the complete repair or replacement cost of your house, vehicle and other possessions.”