Water Rescue of Driver in Flood Waters on Pax River Road
Anne Arundel County Fire Department spokesman Chief Michael Cox said that a woman was rescued from the top of her car on Patuxent River Road on Wednesday. She was stranded after driving into water from the swollen Patuxent River.
The call came in around 6:20 p.m., Cox said.
Currently, Patuxent River Road in Davidsonville and Harwood is closed between Queen Anne Bridge Road and Harwood/Sands Road due to high water. There are signs and flashing lights indicating that the road is closed due to high water conditions.
“During flash flooding, this road closes frequently,” Cox said. “It doesn’t even have to be rain from around here. It can be a dam opening upstream.”
Cox said the driver was uninjured after the rescue. The car remains in place. The driver was taken away by police. Cox did not know whether she would be charged, or simply given a ride home.
Cox said that the fire department used a Zodiac inflatable boat to rescue the driver.
“It’s dark out and we don’t know how deep the water is,” Cox said.
The rescue is something they are used to doing, because drivers often ignore barricades, thinking they can drive through standing flood water.
To rescue the driver, rescuers put on a wetsuit and launched the inflatable boat. They walked into the water while holding the edge of the boat. Cox said that rescuers don’t know what they will encounter as they walk into the water. It could be ankle deep, waist deep or, like last year’s sinkhole on Patuxent River Road, 20 feet deep. With each step, the rescuers feel their way toward the stranded victim.
On Wednesday night, rescuers quickly made their way to the driver. She was put into the boat and brought back to the part of the road that was not underwater. The section of road that is under water is part of a stream called Davidsonville Run. It is just south of Stocketts Run whose floodwaters washed away the road last year during Tropical Storm Lee. That section of road is not underwater this time.
Turn Around, Don’t Drown
Driving into flood waters is so common that the National Weather Service (NWS), the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have a campaign, “Turn Around, Don’t Drown,” where they urge drivers to heed flood warnings, road closures and barricades.
The CDC reports that up to half of flood deaths occur when people drive their cars into hazardous flood waters. The CDC said that the next highest percentage of flood-related deaths is from people walking into or near swift-moving flood waters.
NOAA’s report said that many people believe their 3,000 pound vehicle will keep them safe. It doesn’t. That is because all those pounds can’t overcome buoyancy, or the tendency of a fluid (water) to exert an upward force on a body (your car) submerged in it.
It’s plain old physics.
If you think about it though, we all know that heavy things can float. An aircraft carrier, nearly 100,000 tons floats as do cargo ships. Both are heavy but perfectly buoyant.
So then, what happens to a car in flood waters? First, the car is lifted by buoyancy. In just 6 to 8 inches, buoyancy begins to eliminate the friction that brakes need in order to work. For each foot in water depth, a car displaces about 1,500 pounds of water. So by two feet, your 3,000-pound car is now a boat. Albeit a boat that can’t steer and is at the mercy of the current, which, during storms and flash flooding can move swiftly.
So, the next time you have the urge to save time by ignoring road closures and flood waters—turn around. Don’t drown.
The fire department did not release the name of the victim or the make and model of the car. In addition, although Maryland State Police Trooper 2 helicopter was called for a potential fly-out, the services of the chopper were not required.