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Safety at the Flood Site

General Safety

Even when the disaster has passed, major health and safety hazards remain. Serious injury can result to anyone dealing with the aftermath of a major storm, so it's wise to be overly cautious. Do not walk, ride bikes or drive through a flooded area. Roads are weakened, ditches are hard to distinguish from roads, and bridges may be washed out. Never go around a police barricade.

Do not touch any building, car or other structure that has a fallen power line touching it. Call a professional electrician or power company representative to remove the line.

Floating fire ant colonies can be destroyed by dousing them with dishwashing liquid.

Small children, pregnant women and people with health problems should avoid floodwater and flooded areas until cleanup is complete. (See "Floodwater Has Nasties in It")

If children are in the area, be sure they are safe and cared for at all times. Never leave young children alone or allow them to play in damaged buildings or areas that might be unsafe. Keep a battery-powered radio on so you can hear bulletins from emergency managers.

If you use a generator because the power is off, be sure to run it outdoors. Too often during disaster recovery, people die from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by running generators indoors.

Tips for Going Home

  • Walk or drive cautiously. Debris-filled streets are dangerous. Washouts may weaken road and bridge structures, and they could collapse under vehicle weight. Watch for downed power lines.
  • Beware of displaced snakes and rodents (see links below).
  • Turn off any outside gas lines, and let the house ventilate for several minutes to remove escaping gas. Make sure there is no live power in or around the home. (See Electrical Safety below.)
  • Before entering a damaged building, check for structural damage. Make sure the building is not in danger of collapsing. Look for leaning walls, sagging roofs and ceilings, and weakened support columns.
  • When entering a damaged building, use a battery-operated flashlight. Don't use an open flame as a light source. Do not smoke.
  • Slippery or uneven floor surfaces coupled with heavy lifting often result in back or muscle injuries.
  • Keep chemicals used for disinfecting and poisons used for insect and rodent control out of the reach of children.
  • Wear protective clothing on legs, arms, feet and hands while cleaning up debris. Wear rubber gloves while scrubbing flood-damaged interiors and furniture.
  • Molds can pose a health hazard, especially for infants, the elderly and those with asthma, allergies or illnesses. If mold is present, or materials have not been cleaned and dried within two or three days of the floodwater receding, then vulnerable people should stay away during restoration; precautions should be taken to protect workers. Well-fitting respirators with toxic particle (purple) cartridges are recommended; dust masks are not adequate.
  • Consider tap water to be contaminated until you are told it is safe.
  • Consider all foods that have been in contact with floodwater to be contaminated.
  • Remember that you, your family and your neighbors are in stressful situations. Learn to deal with stress.
  • Don't overdo strenuous work in hot, humid weather. Dehydration may result.
  • If you need to work in high places, read the tips on ladder safety.

Electrical Safety

There is real danger of shocks and electrocution. Serious injury can result for anyone dealing with the aftermath of a disaster, so it's wise to be overly cautious.

  • Beware of outdoor hazards. Watch out for loose or dangling power lines, and report them immediately to proper authorities.
  • Be sure all electric service is turned off before entering the building for the first time. If the main disconnect is inside the house, it would be wise to call your utility company for assistance.
  • Even if power is out in your neighborhood, disconnect the main switch, fuse or circuit breaker at your home and disconnect all circuits.
  • Unplug all appliances that have been flooded.

Turning Off the Electricity

  • Stand on a dry spot when working with electrical boxes and panels.
  • If you have to step in water to get to the circuit or fuse box, call an electrician; do not try to turn the power off yourself.
  • Use a dry stick to open panel doors and throw switches whenever possible. Use caution when removing fuses (can't be done with a stick).

Putting the Electrical System Back in Service

  • Where freshwater flooding has occurred, remove covers from all outlets and fuses or multi-breaker boxes after determining that power is not on. Flush with clean water to remove any buildup of sediment. Let dry, and spray with contact cleaner/lubricant. Saltwater flooding will require replacement of outlets, breakers and controls. The wiring possibly can be reused after being checked by an electrician.
  • Watch for electrical shorts or live wires. Don't turn on any lights or appliances until an electrician has checked the system for short circuits.
  • Electric motors in appliances that have been flooded with fresh water should be thoroughly cleaned, reconditioned and dried before they are put back into service.
Last Updated: 10/26/2013 1:48:17 PM
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