Monday, September 26, 2022

After The Storm Passes


With Hurricane Ian expected to to impact much of the Florida peninsula later this week, many people are rightfully concerned about evacuating, or riding out the storm at home. But as we've discussed many times, the dangers from a hurricane often increase in the days and weeks after the storm has passed, due to injuries or illness that occur during the `recovery' period.

Some of the many dangers include:
One of the most common, and dangerous threats comes from floodwaters which may linger for days, or even weeks following the storm. Waters that may contain toxic chemicals, dangerous viruses and bacteria, and hidden hazards like snakes, rats, and broken glass, sharp metal, or even live electrical wires.

The CDC maintains a web page on the dangers of Flood Waters or Standing Waters.

Stay out of floodwater
Floodwaters contain many things that may harm health. We don’t know exactly what is in floodwater at any given point in time. Floodwater can contain:
  • Downed power lines
  • Human and livestock waste
  • Household, medical, and industrial hazardous waste (chemical, biological, and radiological)
  • Coal ash waste that can contain carcinogenic compounds such as arsenic, chromium, and mercury
  • Other contaminants that can lead to illness
  • Physical objects such as lumber, vehicles, and debris
  • Wild or stray animals such as rodents and snakes

Exposure to contaminated floodwater can cause:
  • Wound infections
  • Skin rash
  • Gastrointestinal illness
  • Tetanus
  • Leptospirosis (not common)
It is important to protect yourself from exposure to floodwater regardless of the source of contamination. The best way to protect yourself is to stay out of the water.

If you come in contact with floodwater:
  • Wash the area with soap and clean water as soon as possible. If you don’t have soap or water, use alcohol-based wipes or sanitizer.
  • Take care of wounds and seek medical attention if necessary.
  • Wash clothes contaminated with flood or sewage water in hot water and detergent before reusing them.
If you must enter floodwater, wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles.

One of my most vivid memories from standing in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 2005 - a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina - was the staggering number of refrigerators and freezers dragged out to the curbs - filled with rotting food - waiting to be hauled away.

With the power likely to be out for days, there is a real danger of food poisoning. 

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.

Find out how to keep food safe during and after an emergency, such as a flood, fire, national disaster, or the loss of power.

Provides materials, including videos and podcasts, on ensuring food safety during emergencies.
[resources available in Spanish]

Proper safety precautions to keep food and water safe. [available in Spanish and French]

Includes tips for making water safe to drink and storing food.

Is food in the refrigerator safe during a power outage? Use this chart to find out.

Is thawed or partially thawed food in the freezer safe to eat? Use this chart as a guide.

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 web page:
Preventing Chain Saw Injuries During Tree Removal After a Disaster

Stay Safe

  • Wear proper protective clothing and glasses.
  • Choose the proper size of chain saw to match the job.
  • Operate, adjust, and maintain the saw according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Take extra care in cutting “spring poles” trees or branches that have been bent, twisted, hung up on, or caught under another object during a high wind.
  • Be sure that bystanders are at a safe distance from cutting activities.
  • Check around the tree or pole for hazards, such as nails, power lines, or cables, before cutting.
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.
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Gasoline generators, along with improvised cooking and heating facilities, can put people at risk of Carbon Monoxide poisoning. Each year, hundreds of Americans die from exposure to this odorless and colorless gas.

With the possibility of widespread power outages the potential for this sort of preventable tragedy in the post-storm period can’t be ignored.

In Carbon Monoxide: A Stealthy Killer I wrote in depth on the issue, but a few tips from the CDC include:

You Can Prevent Carbon Monoxide Exposure
  • Do have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Do install a battery-operated CO detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. If the detector sounds leave your home immediately and call 911.
  • Do seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseous.
  • Don't use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window.
  • Don't run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.
  • Don't burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn't vented.
  • Don't heat your house with a gas oven.
And as a last stop on our post-storm safety tour, a visit to the CDC’s Emergency Preparedness and Response website, which provides advice on a variety of post-storm topics including electrical and fire hazards, mosquitoes, mold, unstable buildings and structures, and the dangers posed by wild and stray animals.

While many believe the worst will be over once the storm has passed, in truth, often the biggest challenges are found during the days and weeks that follow.

For more preparedness information I would invite you to visit: