Staying Safe after a Flood: Special Considerations for Hurricane Florence
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By Dr. Jessica Sapp
Associate Professor, School of Health Sciences, American Military University
Hurricanes include many destructive elements, such as high winds, tornadoes, storm surges and heavy rains. As Hurricane Florence brings high seas to the East Coast, flooding is inevitable.
If you are in the path of the storm, take all necessary precautions. Wear protective clothing and follow instructions from your local authorities and emergency management officials.
Potential Health Dangers of Flood Water
In the United States, deaths from hurricanes and tropical storms are mostly caused by flooding. Flooding also poses health dangers that you may not see on the surface:
- Electrical power lines: Electricity and water do not go well together. Power lines are often damaged during a hurricane and can be under flood waters, where you can’t see them. You can be electrocuted if you are in water that is exposed to a power source.
- Gas leaks: Propane tanks or natural gas lines can explode if they are damaged. Gas leaks can also result in fatal carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Sewage: Flood waters can become contaminated with sewage because of broken systems or backups from excessive water. Raw sewage is hazardous and can make you sick.
- Chemicals and toxins: Chemical storage or industrial facilities may be damaged during a hurricane. As a result, chemicals and toxins can leak into flood water. Take the appropriate steps to protect yourself from chemicals.
- Floating debris and sharp objects: Hurricanes destroy buildings, street signs, windows, trees and much more. These damaged items then become floating debris and sharp objects in the water. It is difficult to avoid injury from these items if you wade through flood water, especially swiftly flowing water.
- Damaged buildings: Structural damage from floods is not always easy to see. You may think a building is fine, but supporting materials inside the building could be compromised. Flooding causes floors to collapse and walls and ceilings to fall.
- Flooded roads: Flood water can wash out roads and bridges, which makes them extremely dangerous to cross by foot or in a vehicle. It is difficult to determine how deep the water is on a flooded road, so obey all road blocks and caution signs. Do not wade or drive on flooded streets.
- Wildlife: Flood waters can contain animals you don’t normally see. Poisonous snakes, alligators or other harmful animals could be in the water. If your house was flooded, be especially careful because these animals could be inside your home.
Staying Safe after a Flood
Experiencing a storm like Hurricane Florence is stressful. After the storm, you may be anxious to return home, but your neighborhood could be flooded. Here are some tips to help you remain safe:
Stay informed: The National Weather Service says, “Stay tuned to your local news for updated information.” There are many cell phone apps and social media channels where you can get current information. Follow your local news and emergency management department broadcasts.
Be careful about drinking water: Broken water lines and water contamination can occur during a hurricane. It is important to monitor all boil water advisories in your area.
If you have a boil water advisory, make sure you use boiled water for drinking, cooking, cleaning and brushing your teeth. Also, consider using bottled water until you know that your water supply is safe to drink.
Avoid flood waters: Because of the potential dangers, avoid flooded areas. Drowning can often be prevented by staying out of high-water areas.
Don’t return home until you know it is safe to do so: Wait for the “all clear” before returning home. Local authorities will assess the area to determine when it is safe to return. Use precautions when you reenter your home.
Special Considerations for Hurricane Florence
Hurricane Florence will affect several states, including Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Here are special considerations if you do not use city utilities or if you live near farms:
Private wells: Household wells might be contaminated with bacteria, chemicals or other pollutants after a flood. Your well will need to be tested and cleaned as necessary. Drink bottled water or boil your water until your well is safe to use.
Septic tanks: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says, “When your sewage system is threatened by flooding, there is a risk that sewage will back up into your home.” You need to have your septic tank professionally inspected after a hurricane if you suspect it has been damaged. The EPA provides tips on what to do with your septic system after a flood.
Local farms: Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) can flood during a hurricane. These factory farms and manure pits may contaminate nearby lakes, rivers and streams, which can be hazardous to human health and the environment. The Environmental Working Group says, “The contaminated water may contain deadly pathogens, such as E. coli or salmonella, which could make drinking water and recreational waters dangerous.”
As you recover from Hurricane Florence, listen to authorities, take all precautions and keep your family safe!
About the Author
Dr. Jessica Sapp is an associate professor in the School of Health Sciences at American Military University. She has over 13 years of experience in public health, working in various environments including government, hospitals, health insurance, community, international, corporate and academia. Jessica earned her D.P.H. in health policy and management at Georgia Southern University and a M.P.H. in health promotion, education and behavior at the University of South Carolina. She also has a B.S. in health science education from the University of Florida.