By Karen Poff
When the worst of the storm is over, everyone is tempted to breathe a sigh of relief. But many cases of illness and injury actually occur after a natural disaster, as people return to their homes and go through the clean-up process. Take the following precautions to protect yourself and your family:
Make Sure Your Water Is Safe - If you are in doubt about the safety of your water supply, disinfect any water used for drinking or cooking. Water can be treated by boiling, chlorination, and distillation. For details about emergency water supplies, download FEMA's publication, "Emergency Food and Water Supplies," at: http://www.fema.gov/pdf/library/f&web.pdf.
Make Sure Your Food Is Safe - If the power goes out, never use portable fuel or charcoal burning stoves inside your home. The fumes can be deadly! You can eat commercially canned foods straight from the can. But home-canned foods should be boiled for 10 minutes before you eat them. Leftover food in cans or jars cannot be saved without refrigeration. So, don't open more than you can eat at one meal.
Open the refrigerator and freezer doors as little as possible to keep the food cold. It is safe to refreeze food that still has ice crystals or has been kept at 41 degrees or below. Discard refrigerated/frozen food that has been above 41 degrees for more than 2 hours. Throw away food that has come into contact with storm water. Commercial cans can be disinfected in a solution of 1 cup of bleach in 5 gallons of water. Remove the label first and then write the contents on the lid with a marker.
Avoid Flood-Related Hazards - Avoid moving water. Don't go near damaged or flooded structures until they have been certified as safe. Be on the lookout for rodents and snakes, which sometimes enter buildings during storms. Use battery-operated flashlights, instead of candles to prevent fires. Turn off your electricity at the main breaker or fuse box until your home is dry. Protect yourself when cleaning up flooded areas by wearing goggles, rubber gloves, long sleeves and pants, and sturdy shoes (with a respirator, if needed). Outdoors or in dangerous areas also wear a hard hat, heavy work gloves, and steel-toed boots. Stay away from downed power lines, electrical circuits, and equipment, until you know for sure they are safe. All items that came into contact with storm water must be cleaned AND disinfected!
Prevent Mold Growth - Mold can start to grow within 24 to 48 hours. So quickly begin drying out your home by opening doors and windows, using fans, and running a dehumidifier, if possible. Throw away anything that cannot be dried quickly.
Take Care of Yourself - Wash your hands often with soap and water or use hand-sanitizer if water is not available. Ask for help when moving items that weigh more than 50 pounds. Pace yourself to avoid becoming exhausted. Eat nutritious food and get plenty of rest. Seek help if you feel overwhelmed.
The flood resources section of extension.org includes articles, learning lessons, and audio and video files. The site also includes frequently asked questions, as well as a widget where you can "ask an expert." Visit http://www.extension.org/floods for more information.
Purdue Cooperative Extension has a video series called, "If your home was flooded...," that can assist you in the recovery process. You can view the videos at: https://ag.purdue.edu/extension/eden/Pages/flood-home.aspx.
1) Introduction to Flood Recovery (1:19)
2) Stay Safe and Healthy When You Re-Enter Your Home (3:32)
3) Clean and Salvage Your Home and Reduce Mold (7:20)
4) Hiring a Professional to Clean Your Home (6:00)
North Dakota and Kansas Cooperative Extension have a similar series you can view at:
1) Entering Your Home Safely (11:00)
2) Water and Wells (3:35)
3) Food, Utensils and Appliances (4:08)
4) Carpets, Curtains, and Other Fabrics (6:52)
Karen Poff is a senior extension agent with Virginia Cooperative Extension. She holds a master of public administration degree from James Madison University and has been certified by the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education as an accredited financial counselor. E-mail her at email@example.com