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How To Protect Yourself From the Dangers That Hurricanes Leave Behind

October 1, 1998
Contact: CDC, Division of Media Relations
(404) 6393286

Protecting your health and safety are just as important after a hurricane as during a hurricane. Hurricanes leave a number of dangers behind. Here are some tips for preventing illness, injury, and death after a hurricane.

Knowing Where and When It's Safe

  • Continue to monitor your radio or television for up-to-date emergency information
  • Find out what roads, areas, and buildings are safe to return to. You can get this information from public announcements or the authorities.
  • Avoid moving water, regardless of depth or speed. Do not drive through flooded roads. Cars can be swept away or break down.

Food and Water Safety

Food and tap water may not be safe to eat or drink after a hurricane or flood. Bacteria, viruses, debris, or chemicals may have gotten into the food and water. Water treatment plants may be damaged and unable to clean the water. Here's what you can do:

  • Listen to announcements in local media (radio, TV, or newspaper) to find out if it's safe to use tap water. Follow the instructions given for using water.
  • If you do not know whether or not the water is safe to use, boil water before you use it for anything (ex. brushing teeth, cooking, drinking, bathing).
  • Throw away any food that may have been touched by flood water or may be unsafe to eat because of a power loss.
  • Use canned baby formulas that are ready-to-use (you don't have to add anything to them). Do not prepare infant formulas with water that has been treated with chemicals.
  • Before eating or drinking, wash hands with soap and boiled or treated water.

Building Safety

Buildings may no longer be safe following a hurricane or flood. There are a number of dangers that you need to be aware of as you return to and begin cleaning up your home or other building. In general, return to buildings during the daytime so that you don't have to use any lights and be aware of possible structural, electrical, or gas-leak hazards.

 

Utility Hazards
  • Before entering a building, make sure the main electrical switch is off. Shut off electrical power and natural gas or propane tanks to avoid fire, electrocution, or explosions.
  • Make sure that all electrical equipment and appliances are completely dry before you use them.
  • Stay away from downed power lines. Notify the power company immediately.
  • If you suspect a gas leak, leave immediately and notify the gas company. Do not do anything that could cause a spark, such as turn on lights, light matches, or smoke.
  • Report utility damage to the authorities.
Fire Hazards
  • Use battery powered lanterns and flashlights, if possible, instead of candles. If you use candles, make sure you put them in safe holders away from curtains, paper, wood, or other flammable items.
Carbon Monoxide Hazard

Carbon monoxide gas can kill you. But you can't see or smell it. Some machines used for cleanup put off carbon monoxide gas. Follow these tips to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • Place portable power generators outside of your home or other building and away from any air intake vents.
  • Place gasoline powered pressure washers outside the building in well-ventilated areas.
Dangerous Materials

Be aware that hurricanes and flood waters may damage, move, or bury dangerous materials and chemicals.

  • Call the fire department to inspect or remove chemicals and other dangerous materials.
  • Call the fire department to remove propane tanks. Propane tanks can catch on fire or explode.
  • Wear insulated gloves and use caution if you have to remove a car battery. Car batteries can maintain an electrical charge even if flooded.
Cleanup

To prevent illness, disinfect and dry buildings and items in them. This will prevent growth of some bacteria, viruses, mold, and mildew that can cause illness.

  • Clean walls, floors, and counter surfaces with soap and water. Disinfect them with a solution of 1 cup bleach to 5 gallons water.
  • Wash all clothes and linen in hot water. Air dry and spray with a disinfectant all unwashable items (for example, mattresses, furniture). Steam clean carpets. Throw away all items touched by water and cannot be disinfected.

Animals and Mosquitos

  • Be cautious of wild or stray animals. Wild or stray animals may be disoriented and dangerous following a hurricane or flood.
  • Secure all food sources and remove any animal carcasses to avoid attracting rats.
  • Wear insect repellant when outdoors. Flooding may lead to more mosquitoes, which can carry disease.
For more information, see "Hurricane: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety" on the Internet at
http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/emergency/hurricane.htm

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