Hurricanes and floods are dangerous natural disasters. Once the storm has blown over and the floodwaters have receded dangers still persists. Here are the Top 10 Safety Tips for After the Hurricane or Flood adapted from the Centers For Disease Control suggestions.
1. Don’t poison yourself or anyone else
Apparently after a disaster a lot of folks use equipment they aren’t familiar with to provide electricity, heat or clean up and give themselves carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is an ordorless and colorless gas put off by many types of combustion engines as well as cooking and heating appliances. To keep yourself safe read the instruction manual for all your appliances and don’t use equipment like generators, pressure washers, grills, camp stoves, or other gasoline or charcoal burning equipment inside of buildings or within 20 feet of a door, window or vent. Additionally, don’t leave any vehicles running inside buildings or garages. Use a carbon monoxide detector with a battery backup (in case the power is out) and leave the house immediately if is sounds or if you feel dizzy, light-headed or nauseated. Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect poisoning. See Carbon Monoxide Poisoning After a Disaster for additional information.
2. Stay out of the floodwaters
Don’t reenter the area until floodwaters have receded and there is no rainfall forecast for your area or upstream. Don’t drive vehicles or equipment through floodwaters and avoid bodily contact with floodwaters due to injury (tripping, lacerations, etc.), drowning, disease and pollution dangers. Wear a life jacket if there are still floodwaters in the area. See Flood Waters or Standing Waters for more information.
3. Watch out for critters, big and small
With the multitude of tick and mosquito borne diseases (including a spike in West Nile infections this year) make sure to wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and insect repellent containing DEET or Picaridin (Information Regarding Insect Repellents). Watch out for larger critters as well. Wild animals and strays may act aggressively and/or carry diseases including rabies (Rabies Exposure: What You Need to Know ).
4. Avoid unstable structures
Keep away from damaged buildings structures. Leave the area immediately if you feel or hear the structure shifting, vibrating or any unexplained noise until they have been examined and certified as safe by a building inspector or other government authority. Leave immediately if you hear shifting or unusual noises the signal the the structure is about to fall.
5. Watch out for electrical hazards
Stay away from downed power lines. Even if they appear ‘dead’ they could be energized by the power company coming in to restore power or even by your neighbor who didn’t install his generator correctly. The same holds true for the power in your house or building. If you are working in your flooded basement and the power is suddenly restored it could be a life changing experience…for your family. Always turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse panel (if it’s safe to do so) that has had water damage and don’t turn the power back on until a qualified electrician tells you it’s safe to do so.
6. Watch out for fire hazards
Without power you may be tempted to burn candles or kerosene lanterns. Exercise extreme caution if you elect to do so. A safer alternative is the new LED technology lanterns which last forever and don’t put out all that (often) unwanted heat. Never leave cooking appliances or wood burning fireplaces/stoves unattended while they are in use or until they cool down. Keep the right type of fire extinguisher handy if there are any open flames.
7. Wear the right protective gear
Wear the right protective gear for the type of work or cleanup you are doing. This may entail wearing a hard-hat, safety glasses (or goggles) heavy work gloves, boots (waterproof, steel toe, steel shank, etc.) or hearing protection. If hazardous materials or certain molds are present you may also need to wear protective clothing or a respirator. If you aren’t sure about what you’re dealing with call a professional. See Prevent Illness after a Natural Disaster and Prevent Injury after a Natural Disaster for more information. More specific information on post disaster mold issues can be found here.
8. Take care of yourself
You’ve just suffered a terrible loss, but hopefully it was only property that you lost. Don’t add ‘injury’ to insult by trying to do all the cleanup work yourself…especially if you aren’t accustomed to manual labor. Here are a few of the things to keep in mind during your cleanup process: drink plenty of water, don’t strain yourself by lifting objects too big to handle, don’t work alone, and take frequent breaks (especially if it’s hot).
9. Practice your first aid skills
Hurricanes and floods leave all kinds of pollutants and diseases behind. Before you head into the area make sure that you are up on your tetanus shot and any other vaccinations that your doctor recommends) If you break your skin (cut, scrape, blister, etc.) stop working and take care of it. Clean by washing with soap and clean water before applying an antibiotic cream and protect the wound from further contamination. Keep the wound clean and dry and changing the dressing often until it’s healed. If you have a more serious injury; any remaining health concerns; or if the wound gets inflamed, swollen, turns colors or starts to discharge then seek immediate medical attention.
10. Clean yourself
Stop frequently and wash the nastiness off. Use soap and clean water or an alcohol based product (remember no smoking while using these). Wash your hands as frequently as is feasible and avoid touching your face, food, etc. unless you have just cleaned your hands. For more information see the CDC’s Hygiene and Handwashing site.
For more information from the Centers for Disease Control on post hurricane and flood safety visit their website.