Maximising the benefit of summer rains by managing the risks
Water remains a precious commodity in water-scarce South Africa. Good summer rains are something to be celebrated. That said, despite the blessing of water, the summer rain season presents a raft of risks every year. It is also the time of year, at least in the eastern half of the country, that the most property damage occurs.
Since most of the risks associated with rain and storms are known - and therefore predictable - there is, fortunately, “quite a lot that people can do to prevent damage by managing rain, water and flood risk proactively,” says Christelle Colman, Insurance Expert at Old Mutual Insure.
Recent summer seasons have seen an increase in the intensity of storms, with more water falling less often though extremely quickly. In other words, storms are increasingly intense with huge volumes of water coming down in a very short time, usually accompanied by hail and extreme winds. “This is a perfect combination for damage – and even death,” warns Colman.
It is important that individuals know how to keep themselves and their assets safe in extreme weather events.
Since summer rains also often come after many months of no rain, it is important to understand that, “maintenance, cleaning, unblocking and repair of rain and water management systems and infrastructure – during the dry period – are key to successfully managing water risks in the wet period,” says Colman.
While one can’t predict how severe a thunderstorm or heavy a downpour will be, “there are a number of precautions that individuals can take to avoid – or reduce - damage to homes, cars, loved ones and themselves,” says Colman.
Preparation and planning are essential:
- Clean your gutters and drains at the end of the dry period and keep checking and cleaning these during the wet period and leaves, litter and other debris build up all the time.
- Weather-proof your home. Make sure that windows and doors are sturdy, and make sure that flooding risks are managed effectively. Design with flooding in mind.
- Doing proper maintenance on properties prevents damage to homes.
- Fix any part of your property that is damaged as soon as possible, to avoid being exposed during the next extreme weather event. Small things like, “old or missing window putty, or that cracked sliding door onto the veranda or that branch overhanging the carport can become major sources of damage or injury in storms,” advises Colman.
- Be aware of municipal maintenance failures. Unblock drains near your home that could cause flooding into your property. Report loose or vandalised electricity mains connections.
- Insurance coverage is crucial to a responsible risk management plan. “Speak to a broker to ensure that you have the right amount of cover for your home and your belongings,” suggest Colman.
Put personal safety first:
- Make sure storm water can flow easily and unhindered through your property.
- If you are high up or have a thatched home, erect a lightening conductor.
- Make sure your home is properly earthed and all electrical circuits and installations are fully compliant.
- Keep doors and windows closed, or at least secured, during storms so that glass is not shattered.
- Have a list of contact numbers for emergency services nearby.
- If you are away from home, have a neighbour or friend do a check of your property after each storm.
- Listen to news and weather alerts to stay abreast of storm developments. “Many insurers also send their clients weather alerts for their region. Make sure you are getting these,” advises Colman.
- Avoid going outside in storms – especially jogging, cycling, or playing golf.
- Avoid driving in storms. In the highveld, rain and hailstorms occur later in the afternoon. “Plan your day to avoid being on the road, especially in heavy traffic, at these times,” suggests Colman.
- If you must drive, avoid low lying areas that are prone to flooding.
- Don’t try to cross flooded rivers or overflowing bridges.
- Don’t drive through large puddles on the road, especially if you have no idea how deep they are.
- Drive extremely slowly. “Hitting even shallow pools of water on the road – even at 60 km per hour - can cause cars to plane and roll,” warns Colman.
- Stay indoors or seek shelter as soon as you become aware of a storm.
Home safety during a storm:
- Move important or valuable personal items away from windows as hailstones can break through and damage these.
- At the start of a storm, unplug as many electronic devices as possible. This includes Wi-Fi routers, cellphone chargers, uninterruptible power suppliers (UPSs) and computers to prevent lightning damage. If possible, “switch off the main switch to prevent any potential electricity damage,” advises Colman.
- Make sure that you are stocked up on batteries and other power back-up devices, so that you can charge your cell phone if the power goes out.
- When you hear of the approach of a storm, close windows and doors and park cars in the garage.
- If you don’t have a garage, cover any vehicles that park outside with a thick blanket ahead of storms, especially when hail is expected.
On the road:
- Motor vehicle accidents increase in the rainy season. Increase your following distance to a minimum of three car lengths. Decrease your driving speed and turn on your headlights to improve visibility. In mist put your hazards on.
- Make sure you’re up to date with your car maintenance; windscreen wipers should be fully functional and head and brake lights working. Check tyres for sufficient tread. “Smooth tyres are not only dangerous in wet weather, but they will also negatively affect your insurance claim should you be involved in an accident,” warns Colman.
- If possible, wait for storms to pass before getting on the road.
- Avoid driving at night in the wet season.
- Whenever possible, avoid driving in hail. If caught unexpectedly in a hailstorm head for an undercover facility or even a nearby bridge. Or pull well off the road and cover your car with a thick blanket which it is advisable to keep in your boot.
Houses and cars are replaceable. Lives are not. Put personal safety first this rain and storm season and “let your insurer advise you on protecting, covering and replacing your assets,” advises Colman. This is the “advice and peace of mind that you pay for with your premium each month,” concludes Colman.