Here’s What a Prepper Learned Surviving a Flood of Biblical Proportions

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flood brazil

Only 13 months have passed since I wrote an article telling of my experience as a volunteer after the catastrophic storms and landslides that killed more than 60 people in my state’s North Shore region. A similar yet even bigger tragedy is unfolding, this time in Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul.

Earlier this month, it rained more than half the volume expected for the entire year in a few days. According to the Brazilian Geological Service (SBG), a rare confluence of conditions amplified by the El Niño phenomenon caused deluges so off-the-charts technicians thought the monitoring equipment was malfunctioning. It wasn’t, unfortunately.

Natural events like that happen all the time around the world. Rain season is causing floods in East Africa, with more than 400 deaths and a cholera outbreak thanks to the same El Niño phenomenon. Tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanoes, earthquakes, snow storms – the planet is alive. The forces of nature are constantly hitting somewhere to humble us.

Even though the number of deaths in the Rio Grande do Sul floods – more than 150 at the moment – is a fraction of those caused by Hurricane Katrina, the level of devastation is being compared to that of New Orleans in 2005. The floods impacted over 400 of the state’s 497 municipalities; 850.000 people were affected, and 185.000 had to leave their homes. Hundreds are still missing.

It’s not over, and the worst is yet to come.

Last week, the sky cleared for a few days, providing some respite and allowing rescue and assistance efforts to advance. However, the rain has returned, and the waters are rising again. The streets of most cities have turned into rivers, and the only way to move around is by helicopter, boat, jet ski, or canoes. Off-road 4X4s have limited reach but are making a difference where they can travel.

This disaster has hit hard for me because I’ve lived part of my infancy in Rio Grande do Sul’s capital, Porto Alegre. My parents have friends and relatives there, and even those not directly affected by the floods are in a dire situation thanks to the semi-paralyzed economy. Rio Grande do Sul is more extensive than the UK, Ecuador, or the state of Nevada. Now imagine 80% of a populated region that large underwater to have an idea of the catastrophe.

I have this friend who lives with his family in one of the most affected municipalities. He’s a prepper and did street survival training with me while working in my town just before COVID-19 hit. We’ve been in contact since the storms began. Thankfully, they’re safe; I’m trying to help by lending an ear, providing advice and moral support, and sending weekly donations collected among a group of friends.

Even though a bit shaken and extremely tired, he felt duty-bound to provide an account of the events so I could share with others the inside perspective of someone with a preparedness mindset and how that has made a difference for him in this grave SHTF.

Hopefully, most of us will never go through anything like that, but we never know.

Here are the notes from my friend

Nevertheless, I wanted to honor the efforts of someone sharing his experiences and learnings amidst a disaster. Starting off with the preparations that have worked for him so far:

  • A firearm to protect people and property from criminals. They will always come in these situations, that’s for sure. Of course, an AR would be best, but these aren’t permitted or sold here. He has a pistol, but a revolver, a 12G, or even an old two-barrel will work to keep potential attackers away by making them move to easier targets.
  • Radios: Walkie-talkies and HTs are often used in rescues, but most people stranded in far-away and isolated places use common AM/FM radios to get news. We constantly discuss how analog and “old” technologies are less vulnerable and can help during these situations, and it’s 100% true. Modern tech is valuable, but we must have a backup plan for when it fails.
  • A solar panel: Intense use means smartphone batteries run empty quickly. He’s the only one in his area with a compact solar panel. It’s being used all the time (when there’s sun) to recharge small electronics.
  • Camping gear: Stuff that works in every condition and has allowed him to cook, filter, boil water, and stay warm. Since the flood has destroyed the furniture, they’re using hammocks with bug nets to sleep in an elevated (i.e., safe) place.
  • Water treatment: While most others depend on bottled water distributed by the organizations, which is heavily rationed and logistically tricky, he’s using a filter and chemical treatment to stay self-reliant.
  • First-aid kit: It is critical to have one at hand and know how to use it. Unless you sit still inside your house (if that’s safe or even possible), you will get bruises, burns, cuts, and blisters just from doing the basic stuff, or a cold, maybe a stiff neck and sore back from sleeping little and in bad positions, and so on (hopefully nothing more serious).
  • Lanterns and flashlights: These are essential for doing things at night and for showing potential invaders there’s someone in the house. Headlamps are best, as they free hands.
  • Dry clothes: It’s either hot or cold, but we’re wet most of the time, so it’s always good to save a few clothing changes to keep you dry and more comfortable at night.
  • Bug spray and sun protection: The waters are still high, but insects are already a problem. It’ll get much worse; I warned him to prepare for hell on earth once it recedes and things dry. I’m sending some serious bug spray and bug coils his way so he can be ready once that comes. Sunburns can also be an issue and completely knock you out.
  • Stockpiles: He kept some food stocked with him but took most to his relative’s place where his family is staying. It’s good to have something extra to share with those welcoming you.
  • Food: Anything sugary is excellent because it provides quick energy and comfort, especially in the first week after the disaster. But salty food is what keeps the stomach full and stamina up. He’s been on a honey, potato chips, canned tuna, beef jerky, and chocolate diet. There’s no bread, only rice – when he can cook some. And yerba mate, a local tradition, to keep them warm and caffeinated when the day ends.
  • Drones: “Prosumer” drones (like those from DJI) can help in many ways during a flood when mobility is difficult at best and impossible at worst. Volunteer groups, authorities, search parties, and the population are using drones to help locate people and animals, to communicate and call for help, for security and law enforcement (a huge issue during this disaster).
  • Tool set: To keep stuff running, to fix all kinds of stuff, to scavenge, to free trapped people and chained pets, all sorts of things. Dozens of applications everywhere always have essential tools around in a disaster. (Here’s an article about essential tools for preppers.)

The lessons

The first lesson: It pays to prepare.

We know that already, but it hits differently coming from a prepper in the middle of an ongoing SHTF. Humans don’t have ultra-refined instincts and senses, fur, or sharp teeth and claws, and even though we have intelligence to our advantage, we need tools to survive in most conditions. Not only can equipment and supplies help improve our situation and our family, but having some skills and, above all, the correct mindset will make a difference.

The second lesson is humility.

There’s little we can do in the face of nature’s power. Technology is excellent; humans are crafty creatures; we learn, improve, and prepare. But there are limits to all that, and every once in a while, some sudden, large-scale, widespread, or powerful event will catch you by surprise and overwhelm even the best-prepared person, structure, organization, or nation.

No matter what we do, these things will keep happening and taking a toll. Getting hit, surviving or not, is more a matter of luck than most of us would like to believe. Being a prepper helped him and his family survive the initial blow and is making a difference post-disaster, but he mentioned how powerless we are in the big scheme of things.

Prepping is acknowledging all that, accepting what we can’t control, and working on what we can when things are good. We cannot avoid, but diminishing the impact of a disaster, reducing our weight on the rescuing efforts, and warranting a headstart in reconstructing our community when the worst is behind is realistically achievable. Everything else is in the hands of God.

Phases of a natural disaster

It’s always useful to know the dynamics of a disaster and floods have their script.

As the rain poured down, people waited and hoped it would go away. Once the waters began to rise, everyone was just trying to avoid danger and stay alive. After that comes the rescue phase, and the searches begin once the worst is over. These are nonstop and must be hurried because every minute counts in lives.

Once the situation stabilizes, it’s time to start rebuilding, but there are second and third-order developments that can last for years, even decades. Losses are estimated in the billions, the costs of such large-scale disasters are always astronomical. If that happens in a strategic region or state, expect mid and long-term disruptions to impact a nation’s economy and affect other parts of the country, potentially even its exports.

I believe this will be the case as Rio Grande do Sul is an important agricultural, industrial and commercial powerhouse responsible for more than 6% of Brazil’s GDP. I also believe this tragedy will reshape the whole state and impact other parts of Brazil and its economy. It will surely affect the upcoming municipal elections, maybe even the 2026 presidential elections, much like how the pandemic impacted that of 2022. Maybe entire cities will have to be moved. The area and the number of people affected are too large, the consequences will be vast.

Beyond direct destruction

My friend noted water is particularly destructive because it’s either complex or impossible to contain. You feel completely powerless. As an engineer, I can confirm his assessment is 100% true. Large volumes of water have vast amounts of energy when it accumulates and flows. That’s why it’s used to generate power, but when those processes aren’t controlled, water will take everything in its path, guaranteed.

There’s more: floods, whether caused by a storm, hurricane, or tsunami, create a toxic mix of mud, debris, sewage, and all kinds of stuff that infiltrates everywhere. Equipment and infrastructure get demolished; houses and buildings get contaminated; crops and soil get washed away; plants and commerce lose equipment and stockpiles; vehicles are damaged or destroyed; animals and people get sick and die. (Here is more information on the dangers in flood waters.)

I advised him based on my experience to stay alert and prepared because things can hit the fan again, and to save his energy and health because it will get even more problematic when the water goes away. That may sound preposterous in the face of the situation, but it’s true, and he’ll need to be twice as resilient. Water is still high, it’s raining, but everything will become very toxic once it recedes and everything starts to dry. In many places, there’s already that smell of death. So right now, he’s focused on keeping his family safe and helping others; that’s the best he can do.

OPSEC

Security has become an issue almost as big as the rising waters. Houses and commercial establishments are being invaded, looted, robbed, and deprecated. There are people on the lookout for anything that can be stolen, career criminals, and also those taking advantage of the situation. Approximately 10 to 20% of the population has refused to leave.

When boats and helicopters started arriving with food, water, medicine, and donated clothes, he promptly accepted even though he was prepared and had enough for himself and his cousin for over a month. Since others in his neighborhood are taking the help, he went with the flow so as not to stand out. They are taking part in the rescue efforts and discreetly donating their surplus.

Contrary to what many believe, neighbors aren’t usually a threat and become allies against foreign attackers such as criminals and looters. There are exceptions. Some neighborhoods are worse than others, but that bond has remained strong so far in his area. People know the law is weak, but it will return, and wrongful acts will have consequences. There have been occasional outliers, but locals are dealing with abuses and misdemeanors, which have worked as a deterrent in most places.

My friend and his cousin have been scavenging, too; it’s a way to find helpful stuff for themselves and others. Appearing despondent isn’t guaranteed to work every time, but it can discourage potential looters from attempting an invasion.

I’ll come back with more news and useful information as soon as possible. 

Have you ever experienced a major disaster like this? What were your takeaway lessons? What’s your advice to those dealing with a huge flood?

Let’s discuss it in the comments.

About Fabian

Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.

Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City , is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times. He’s also the author of The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook.

You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor

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