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

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By the author of Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City and The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook

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. 


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

Picture of Fabian Ommar

Fabian Ommar

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  • Thank you for this thoughtful and thorough treatment of what we might face in such a disaster. I am praying for you, your family, your community and your nation as you look forward to recovery.

  • Since Cholera is always around in these cases stockpile some Doxycycline Hydrochloride antibiotics. Clo2 is a great disinfectant and can be made at home. Doxy is effective against the black plaugue as well. Hope that doesnt come back but in the aftermath of a flood is possible.

  • Dear Fabian, great article.
    You’re right on including drones as a tool: new technologies are great for emergencies!

  • Whilst our recent flood in Sep last year (South Africa, Western Cape) was not quite as hectic as the above, vast areas got hit by similar unusual storms at the end of our usual rainy winter. We had our entire year’s worth of rain in 2 days. Our farm borders a river, and fortunately our house is raised above the floodplain, but almost all the farm is floodplain, and our neighbours all live on the floodplain, albeit far away from the 100 year flood line. 3 neighbours lost their houses completely, whilst 2 others had hectic mop up operations. We lost our vehicle attempting to ensure the safety of our livestock (lambing season!), and trying to help neighbours. Our farm water supply (underground well system) was destroyed, which has left us struggling ever since, 8 months later, we have almost restored supply and may be able to plant again, a whole year later.
    Our little village was completely cut off due to collapsed bridges. Amazingly not one person in our area lost their life, although many many livestock animals were drowned. A friend with a drone was incredibly helpful as we were able to share aerial footage of the damage with authorities. The village was without power and municipal water for days. Our stockpile was incredibly helpful to us and neighbours and our animals, of which we did not lose any due to an amazing rescue effort amongst all our neighbours (some higher up were less affected and better equipped to help). I can personally attest to all of the above being fantastic advice. The looters and scavengers that came out of the woodwork as soon as water levels started to drop was eye opening, although noot unexpected. (there is a large very poor community in our area, fraught with crime and social ills), and they laid claim to anything and everything they could carry off, even stuff in high lying areas that was less affected. All our fences washed away, so you can imagine how difficult it was to protect ourselves, and the local village police could do very little as they were obviously overwhelmed.
    I would love to have our “preps” back up to pre flood levels in case we get hit by another SHTF scenario, but that is my biggest take home from all of this. We were well prepared, and yet the time it takes to recover (and the finances!!) from something like this is the most notable thing for me. Because South Africa is a country fraught with an ineffectual & corrupt government, one really is on their own (within community) in a situation like this in a developing/third world country.

  • The Author wrote: “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.”
    Not in my experience my friend.
    Unless you are living in a tight nit homogeneous small town / community the exceptions are the decent people who will work with you.
    Plan accordingly.
    Never, ever let your guard down and make the mistake that a desperate person can be trusted with something even so simple as even telling the truth.

  • Have you seen the tornado footage out of Iowa this week? It has got the most photogenic funnel cloud ever – multiple vortexes spinning around each other like strands in a rope. The town was cut in two, destruction total. It is an epic disaster, right down the road.

  • It can happen so fast.
    Our whole town burned to the ground in a matter of a few hours last year. No time to get anything, you just had to run. Everyone I know were lucky to get out with the clothes they were wearing and a vehicle, hundreds of vehicles burned up in the clogged roads that were blocked by the authorities. Many didn’t make it out alive.
    Your thoughts are valid but I will never again have more preps than I can carry on my back.

  • When I zoom in because my eyesight is bad, you expand your header to cover at least half the page. The reading area is thus too small. I cannot read your article therefore.

  • What I’ve learned is that you need to protect your preps as best as you can. You could lose them all to flooding, fire, tornado, hurricane etc. I would say flooding would be the hardest to protect from as with all others, being underground is the answer. Maybe having a water proof, air tight ‘cellar?’ Is that even a thing? Would a well placed conex box work? (Well placed meaning buried correctly.)

  • After Hurricane Katrina when we returned home, we realized we didn’t have the supplies we needed. We learned the hard way that the supplies we should have bought ahead of time were: bug spray for the car and home; rubber steel toed boots, heavy duty blue rubber gloves, fly paper traps, rat traps, black contractor trash bags, contractor broom and upright dust pans, spray bottles with mold remover spray, rechargeable lanterns and FANS, copies of insurance policies and phone numbers of roofing companies, cash since power was out, small self venting gas cans to store extra fuel when you find an opened gas station, a paper map with alternate escape routes when the interstates grind to a halt, put a mini microwave in your trunk if in case your hotel room doesn’t have one so you aren’t forced to buy all of your food from restaurants, have all of the tools necessary to change a flat tire due to the nails and other debris on the roads and lastly keep your pistol on your person while in your yard because looters may drive up unexpectedly when you’re unloading your car. This last scenario happened to me and my pistol saved my life. Lastly, pray like your life depends on it because it does! Be prepared and be safe before and after a hurricane. God bless.

  • You Need More Than Food to Survive

    In the event of a long-term disaster, there are non-food essentials that can be vital to your survival and well-being. Make certain you have these 50 non-food stockpile essentials. Sign up for your FREE report and get prepared.

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