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Water's strength

6/15/2014

While most in the area were enthralled by the healthy rains last week, there also are a number of people thankful there were no unexpected funerals to attend because of it.

Credit God, Providence, fate or simple good luck, but two Hays girls who were swept into the Lincoln Draw drainage tunnel during Monday's deluge made it out alive. The 14-year-old was able to climb out a storm drain connected to the tunnel while the 10-year-old was caught by emergency responders as she emerged from the tunnel's outlet near Eighth Street. Both girls reportedly are doing fine, although likely had the fright of their young lives.

As another 4 to 5 inches of rain fell Wednesday evening, an SUV full of curious onlookers wanting to witness the unusually raging Big Creek in Ellis was swept into the torrent and pushed 100 yards downstream. One occupant exited on his own; the other four were rescued by safety personnel. Again, all are fine.

That tragedy narrowly was averted in both cases is an understatement.

"It could have been very bad," said Ellis Police Chief Taft Yates about the SUV incident. "It could have been a fatality very easily."

"We were lucky no one was seriously hurt," said Hays Fire Chief Gary Brown of the tunnel rescue.

The power of moving water, particularly in flooding situations, is underestimated by many. Even in America, where flood mitigation efforts are in place and advance warnings are given, some 140 people are killed every year. Floods do approximately $6 billion damage annually, as cars, trees, houses and bridges are no match for waterways out of their banks.

It is all about physics and a combination of natural forces. Water weighs 62.4 pounds per cubic foot. The velocity at which flood water is moving combined with the volume both exert pressure on whatever is in its path. Throw in other properties such as the friction force (or lack thereof as the surface becomes slippery), the weight of the person or object, and the buoyancy force pushing upward increasingly as whatever is submerged displaces more water.

All those forces moving in opposing directions allow for what doesn't appear to be much water to displace or move people and objects easily. Which is why a press release from the city of Hays stated: "Persons may be swept off of their feet by swiftly moving storm water as little as 6 inches deep." Additionally, 1 foot of water is generally enough to move a vehicle. Two feet of water will carry away most automobiles.

There are not enough safety measures and precautions available to prevent every instance of mishaps in flood waters. What children and apparently adults alike need to appreciate and respect is the inherent destructive nature of moving water. Properties of physics are not swayed by one's bravado, strength, curiosity or ignorance. We implore you and your family never to utter the words: "I didn't know how strong water could be." Keep your distance.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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