Thursday, October 01, 2015

After The Storm Passes


NHC 8am Track Forecast


Note:  Joaquin is currently a Major Hurricane (Cat 3), and is battering the Bahamas.  Its future path and intensity  are still uncertain, with computer models sharply divided.  The NHC forecast map above is subject to change over the next couple of days, and ALL INTERESTS along the Altantic coast should continue to monitor the storm.

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For the vast majority of people who are in the path of a major storm, the most dangerous time often comes after the storm has passed. For it is during the cleanup, and the days and weeks that can follow without power or water, that the biggest health dangers appear.


Those in harm’s way who have extra food & water, provisions for emergency lighting, a first aid kit, an emergency weather radio, and a family emergency plan are likely to fare far better than those who fail to prepare.


The next 48 provides an excellent opportunity for those who live along the Altantic seaboard to pull together their family emergency plan and to lay in any last minute provisions.


After the storm has passed, flood waters are often slow to recede, and they can leave behind a multitude of dangers.  Downed electrical lines, dangerous debris, weakened and compromised structures, and even displaced wildlife can pose ongoing threats  following the storm.


Not only do flood waters easily hide dangerous objects - like broken bottles, razor sharp metal sheeting, live electrical wires, and rusty nails – they can also harbor nasty viruses and bacteria, along with dangerous wildlife. 


A review, therefore, of some of those threats and how to avoid them:


First, many people may find themselves without electrical power for hours, or possibly even days after the storm has passed.  In 2012, Hurricane Sandy left some parts of the Northeast without power for a week or longer.


While most people will have battery operated flashlights or LED lanterns (no candles, please!) for lighting, many people will stand to lose perishable food items as freezers and fridges begin to lose their chill. 


The USDA maintains a Food Safety and Inspection website with a great deal of consumer information about how to protect your food supplies during an emergency, and how to tell when to discard food that may no longer be safe to consume.


A Consumer's Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes

Note: This text-only version of the Guide has been optimized for accessibility. The illustrated PDF version (2.1MB) is recommended for printing.


Did you know that a flood, fire, national disaster, or the loss of power from high winds, snow, or ice could jeopardize the safety of your food? Knowing how to determine if food is safe and how to keep food safe will help minimize the potential loss of food and reduce the risk of foodborne illness. This Consumer's Guide will help you make the right decisions for keeping your family safe during an emergency.



    Another common risk that come when dealing with power outages is the use of generators, and improvised cooking or heating , which if done improperly can result in (preventable) Carbon Monoxide poisonings.


    In Carbon Monoxide: A Stealthy Killer I wrote in depth on the issue, but this brief video from the CDC will provide you with an overview.   CO poisoning is not to be underestimated.  It is colorless, odorless, and often induces a state of lethargy which prevents people from realizing they are being slowly poisoned.


    Chainsaw accidents also figure prominently after many weather-related disasters, as many people with little experience find themselves clearing driveways and rooftop of fallen branches.. The CDC maintains a chainsaw safety webpage: 

    Preventing Chain Saw Injuries During Tree Removal After a Disaster
    Be aware of the risk of chain saw injury during tree removal

    Each year, approximately 36,000 people are treated in hospital emergency departments for injuries from using chain saws. The potential risk of injury increases after hurricanes and other natural disasters, when chain saws are widely used to remove fallen or partially fallen trees and tree branches.

    (Continue . . .)


    Flooding, or standing water can provide its own set of challenges, as it can easily become contaminated with chemicals and sewage.  The CDC provides a webpage on these threats as well.  Often, cases of Vibrio vulnificus (see Vulnerable To Vibrio) will spike following coastal flooding events.


    Flood Waters or Standing Waters

    Health Risks

    Flood waters and standing waters pose various risks, including infectious diseases, chemical hazards, and injuries.

    Infectious Diseases
    Diarrheal Diseases

    Eating or drinking anything contaminated by flood water can cause diarrheal disease. To protect yourself and your family,

    • Practice good hygiene (handwashing) after contact with flood waters.
    • Do not allow children to play in flood water areas.
    • Wash children's hands frequently (always before meals).
    • Do not allow children to play with toys that have been contaminated by flood water and have not been disinfected.

    For information on disinfecting certain nonporous toys, visit CDC Healthy Water's Cleaning and Sanitizing with Bleach section.

    Wound Infections

    Open wounds and rashes exposed to flood waters can become infected. To protect yourself and your family,

    • Avoid exposure to flood waters if you have an open wound.
    • Cover open wounds with a waterproof bandage.
    • Keep open wounds as clean as possible by washing well with soap and clean water.
    • If a wound develops redness, swelling, or drainage, seek immediate medical attention.

    For more information, visit

    Other Health Effects

    Trench foot, also known as immersion foot, occurs when the feet are wet for long periods of time. It can be quite painful, but it can be prevented and treated. For more information, visit CDC’s Trench Foot or Immersion Foot web page.

    (Continue . . . )


    And last but not least, in the aftermath of a storm, it is important to realize that you, your family, or your neighbors may find yourself suffering from the psychological effects of the disaster. 


    Two years ago, in Sandy 1 Year Later: Coping With The Aftermath, we looked at some of the lingering effects of New England’s brush with that storm, and last month the CDC held a COCA Call: Understanding The Mental Health Impact Of Hurricane Sandy.


    While the psychological impact of a major disaster cannot be fully prevented, individual, family, and business preparedness can go a long ways towards reducing the impact of any disaster.


    The CDC also provides a website which contains a number of resources devoted to coping with disasters.


    Coping With a Disaster or Traumatic Event

    Trauma and Disaster Mental Health Resources

    The effects of a disaster, terrorist attack, or other public health emergency can be long-lasting, and the resulting trauma can reverberate even with those not directly affected by the disaster. This page provides general strategies for promoting mental health and resilience. These strategies were developed by various organizations based on experiences in prior disasters.


    Note:  You can download and save much of the information on these websites to your computer or smart phone, so you’ll have it even if there are disruptions in your power or internet access.


    Perhaps we’ll get lucky, and Joaquin will turn out to sea.   The models are split, and that remains a possibility.  But by the time we know with any certainty, the window to prepare may have grown desperately short.  

    When it comes to preparedness, it is always better to be six months too early, than six minutes too late.


    Throughout the month of September FEMA, READY.Gov, state and local Emergency agencies, and grassroots coalition members have been promoting National Preparedness Month through community events, drills, and exercises and blogs like mine to encourage Americans to become better prepared to deal with just this sort of threat.


    To see lasts month’s preparedness blogs (newest to oldest) click this link.

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