Post Flood Information
After a flood, the physical devastation to personal property and the community is obvious. These tragic consequences can be compounded by injuries or illness, though, if certain precautions are not taken to protect your personal health and safety. In addition to your physical health, you need take to time to consider your mental health as well. Remember, some sleeplessness, anxiety, anger, hyperactivity, mild depression or lethargy are normal. If these symptoms are acute or if they persist, however, seek some counseling.
Following a flood, it can be difficult to maintain good hygiene and cleanliness. Doing so is imperative, however, if the risk of disease is to be minimized.
- To prevent the spread of waterborne disease is to always wash your hands with plenty of soap and clean, warm, running water. This is particularly important before preparing or eating food, handling a baby, or any other activity that involves touching something that may enter a person's mouth (adults should make sure children do the same); after toilet use; after handling articles contaminated with floodwater or sewage.
- When no regular safe water supply is available, use bottled, boiled or chemically disinfected water for washing hands (and brushing teeth).
- Keep wash cloths and dish towels clean. Bacteria can remain on towels and cloths, so wash linen often with clean water and soap. Parents need to take special care that their children follow these precautions.
- Do not allow children to play in floodwater or in areas that have been flooded. Wash their hands frequently, especially before meals.
- Contaminated toys should be disinfected in a solution of 1 ounce of bleach (1/8 cup) in 2 gallons of water.
- When entering an area that is or has been flooded, it is important to wear protective clothing, such as boots, rubber gloves and long-sleeved shirts, to help reduce contact with contaminated items. Take care not to step on nails or other protruding items.
- One of the most serious problems that can arise from skin contact with floodwater is tetanus. Cleanup workers should be sure that they are up-to-date with tetanus vaccination, ideally before starting cleanup activities.
- The tetanus bacteria typically enters the body through places where the skin is broken, so it is very important to protect these areas. Anyone sustaining a puncture wound or who has a wound that becomes contaminated with feces, soil or saliva should have a doctor determine whether a tetanus booster is necessary. Specific recommendations for vaccinations should be made on a case-by-case basis.
- Floodwater may contain fecal material from overflowing sewage systems, and agricultural and industrial byproducts. While skin contact with floodwater does not, by itself, pose a serious health risk, ingesting anything contaminated with floodwater can cause disease. Although disease outbreaks are rare after flooding, floodwater can contain various bacteria, viruses and other infectious organisms that may cause disease. If you are in a flood area and become ill, report your condition to your physician.
- The symptoms of most waterborne illnesses are similar — nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, muscle aches and fevers. Individuals may need to seek medical attention if these symptoms are severe or persist.
- Use plastic or rubber gloves if you must be in contact with floodwater. If open sores become exposed to contaminated water, disinfect the area(s) with soap and clean water to control infection. If a wound develops redness, swelling or drainage, immediately seek medical attention
DRINKING AND COOKING WATER
- Public and private water supplies may be contaminated in a flood.
- After a flood, consider all water unsafe. Listen for public announcements on the safety of your area's water supply and follow the instructions of local authorities.
- Private water wells should be pumped out, allowed to recharge naturally, disinfected and the water tested before drinking or being used for cooking. If you need assistance in having your well water analyzed, contact the Williamson County and Cities Health District for information.
- The safest approach is to drink and cook with bottled water or water previously stored in the refrigerator. If you have to use tap water, boil it vigorously for at least three minutes. If you cannot boil it, add five drops of household bleach to each gallon of water. Mix thoroughly and allow to stand for 30 minutes. This method should be used only with water that is clean in appearance and free of odor.
- Do not use contaminated water to make ice, brush your teeth or wash dishes. If there is a shortage of safe drinking water, use clean disposable eating utensils, plates and napkins.
- Generally, do not eat any food that has come in contact with floodwater. If the safety of any food or beverage is questionable, follow this simple rule: When in doubt, throw it out.
- Carefully examine all canned and bottled goods that have been submerged or come in contact with floodwater. Some cans or bottles may be safe to use after a good cleaning.
Follow these guidelines:
- After being under water, containers with cork-lined lids or caps, screw tops or pop tops are nearly impossible to clean thoroughly around the opening. Any major temperature changes can actually cause contaminants to be sucked into such containers. They should be discarded.
- If they appear undamaged, tin cans are usually safe. Wash in bleach water (1/4-cup bleach in 1 gallon of water) for one minute, then dry to prevent rusting. If cans have pitted rust spots that cannot be buffed off with a soft cloth, contamination may have entered through corroded holes in the walls of the can. Discard these cans.
- Cans with ends that bulge or spring in and out when pressed should be discarded immediately. This usually means bacteria are growing inside and producing gas that expands the can. Do not taste the contents of such cans.
- If a can is crushed, dented or creased, closely examine it to see if it is safe to use. A dent may weaken the seam and allow contamination. If a dent or crease is very sharp, the contents may be contaminated. Discard these cans. Do not taste.
What To Do When Your Freezer Fails
When the electricity is off, a fully stocked freezer will keep food frozen two days if the door remains closed. A half-full freezer can keep foods frozen about one day. What can you do if electric service will not be reconnected within one or two days?
- Keep the freezer door closed.
- If your friends have electricity, divide your frozen foods among their freezers.
- Seek freezer space in a store, church, school, or commercial meat locker or freezer that has electrical service.
- Know where you can buy dry and block ice. Dry ice freezes everything it touches; 25 pounds of it will keep a 10-cubic-foot freezer below freezing for three to four days. When using dry ice, though, be sure to take several precautions. Never touch dry ice with bare hands! Also, do not stick your head into a freezer that contains dry ice. It gives off carbon dioxide, which replaces oxygen, so leave the door open a short time before examining your food.
- If food is still "cold-to-the-touch," it may be cooked and eaten immediately, or refrozen.
What to Do When Your Refrigerator Fails
When power goes off in the refrigerator, you can normally expect food inside to stay safely cold for four to six hours, depending on how warm your kitchen is.
- Add block ice to the refrigerator if the electricity is off longer than four to six hours.
- High-protein foods (dairy products, meat, fish, poultry) should be consumed as soon as possible if power is not restored immediately. They cannot be stored safely at room temperature.
- Fruits and vegetables can be kept safely at room temperature until there are obvious signs of spoilage (mold, slime, wilt). In fact, with good ventilation, vegetables will last longer at room temperature. Remove them from the refrigerator if electrical service may not resume soon.
- Flooded indoor areas must be scrubbed with warm soapy water. Pay particular attention to food-contact surfaces (counter tops, pantry shelves, refrigerators, stoves, cutting boards, etc.) and areas where small children play. Then, rinse with a solution made by adding 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of laundry bleach to each gallon of water.
- Wash all linens and clothing in hot water or have them dry cleaned. Items that cannot be washed or dry cleaned, such as mattresses and upholstered furniture, should be air dried in the sun and then vacuumed and sprayed thoroughly with a disinfectant.
- Steam clean all carpeting.
- If there has been a back-flow of sewage into the house, remove and discard any absorbent household materials, such as wall coverings, cloth, rugs and sheetrock. Be sure to wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves during the cleanup.
After floodwaters recede, usually only minimal repairs may be necessary for a private sewage system to properly function.
- Outdoor toilets that have been flooded should be scrubbed thoroughly with a solution of 1/2 cup of laundry bleach per gallon of water. In the aftermath of a flood, most communities will provide portable toilets, but these may be limited.
- If no toilet facilities are available, deposit body waste in a water-tight receptacle used for that purpose only. Place a small amount of water in the receptacle before it is used to make emptying easier. Dig a trench or pit and empty the contents of the receptacle into this pit as soon as possible after each use. Cover the waste in the trench after each use with a small layer of dirt, ashes or lime. Also, empty the water used to wash the receptacle into the pit or trench. When closing the trench, cover it with at least 12 inches of earth.
- When returning to your home, check immediately for leaking gas pipes. Do this by smell only. If you must have light, use battery-powered flashlights or lanterns. DO NOT turn lights on or off and do not use candles, oil or gas lanterns, or torches because, if gas lines are broken, an explosion could occur.
- If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve at the meter, open all windows and leave the house. Notify the gas company or the police or fire department. Do not re-enter the house until you are told it is safe to do so.
- Your electrical system may be damaged. If you see frayed wiring or sparks, or if there is an odor of something burning, but no visible fire, you should immediately shut off the electrical system at the circuit breaker.
- Consult your utility company before using electrical equipment, including power generators. Be aware that it is against the law and a violation of electrical codes to connect generators to your home's electrical circuits without approved, automatic interrupt devices. If a generator is on-line when electrical service is restored, it can be a major fire hazard. In addition, improperly connecting a generator to your home's electrical circuits may endanger line workers helping to restore power.
- If any of your electrical appliances are wet, first turn off the main power switch, then unplug the appliance, dry it out, reconnect it and finally turn on the main power switch. If fuses blow when the electric power is restored, turn off the main power switch again and then inspect for short circuits in your home wiring, appliances and equipment. Caution: Do not do any of these things if you are wet or standing in water.
- Outdoors, exercise extreme caution if you find yourself around power lines. Do not touch downed power lines, particularly those in water, or objects that are in contact with downed power lines.
As the water recedes, there will be areas that pond and trap water, which are attractive as mosquito habitats. There are important protection measures that all individuals can practice to limit the risk of West Nile Virus and reduce mosquito exposure in general. Most importantly, we all need to limit the habitat for mosquito production on our own properties.
This includes the following:
- Drain standing water from flower pots and boxes, wading pools and wheelbarrows, etc.
- Keep birdbaths and pet dishes cleaned regularly.
- Remove tires, buckets and other water holding objects.
- Clean and chlorinate swimming pools or drain and cover, if not in use.
- Prevent water from accumulating on pool covers.
- Unclog gutters and down spouts.
- Use insect repellents containing DEET (N<N-diethyl-metatoulamide)
- Spray clothing when repellents because mosquitos bite through clothing.
- Using the right insect repellent and other preventive actions can discourage ticks, mosquitoes, and other biting insects from landing on you.
- Repellents are available to protect you from insects and give you the length of protection you need, based on your planned activity.
Dawn, daytime and dusk - mosquitos are more active in wet weather:
- Stay indoors if you can, or wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks when you go outdoors.
- Place mosquito netting over infant carriers when outdoors.
- Make sure screens fit tightly in doors and windows.
- Wear long sleeves and pants and spray insect repellant on your clothes. Visit the EPA's website (www2.epa.gov/insect-repellents) for more information and to search for the best repellant for your situation.
Swiftly Flowing Water
- Do not enter swiftly flowing water, regardless of your ability to swim. You risk drowning even in swiftly moving shallow water. Do not rely on cars or other vehicles to protect you from floodwaters. People are more likely to drown inside a vehicle.
- Even shallow standing water holds hazards. Small children can drown in standing water. You should avoid wading in standing water because it may hide glass or metal fragments.
- Many wild animals are forced from their natural habitats by flooding. Take care to avoid these animals because they may carry rabies. Many domestic animals also are without homes after a flood. Remember, both wild and domestic animals are disoriented when displaced.
- Do not corner any animal. If an animal must be removed for safety reasons, contact your local animal control authorities.
- Rats may be a problem during and after a flood. Secure all food supplies and have any animal carcasses in the vicinity removed by local animal control authorities or private rendering companies.
- If you are bitten by any animal, seek immediate medical attention.
- If bitten by a snake, first try to accurately identify the type of snake. If it is poisonous, seek medical care immediately so that the correct anti-venom may be administered.
- When returning to your area, be aware of potential chemical hazards you may encounter during flood recovery. Floodwater may have buried or moved hazardous chemical containers. These containers may harbor solvents or other industrial chemicals.
- Propane tanks or drums, including those from gas grills, should not be moved.
- Contact your police or fire department for assistance.
- Car batteries, when submerged in water, may still contain an electrical charge. They should be moved with extreme caution using insulated gloves.
REENTERING A FLOODED HOME
When returning to a home that’s been flooded after natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods, be aware that your house may be contaminated with mold or sewage, which can cause health risks for your family.
When You First Reenter Your Home
- If you have standing water in your home and can turn off the main power from a dry location, then go ahead and turn off the power, even if it delays cleaning. If you must enter standing water to access the main power switch, then call an electrician to turn it off. NEVER turn power on or off yourself or use an electric tool or appliance while standing in water.
- Have an electrician check the house’s electrical system before turning the power on again.
- If the house has been closed up for several days, enter briefly to open doors and windows to let the house air out (at least 30 minutes) before you stay for any length of time.
- If your home has been flooded and has been closed up for several days, presume your home has been contaminated with mold. See Protect Yourself from Mold (http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/mold/protect.asp).
- If your home has been flooded, it also may be contaminated with sewage. See Flood Water After a Disaster or Emergency(http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/floods/cleanupwater.asp).
Drying Out Your House
If flood or storm water has entered your home, dry it out as soon as possible. Follow these steps:
- If you have electricity and an electrician has determined that it’s safe to turn it on, use a “wet-dry” shop vacuum (or the vacuum function of a carpet steam cleaner), an electric-powered water transfer pump, or sump pump to remove standing water. If you are operating equipment in wet areas, be sure to wear rubber boots.
- If you do not have electricity, or it is not safe to turn it on, you can use a portable generator to power equipment to remove standing water. Note: If you must use a gasoline-powered pump, generator, pressure washer, or any other gasoline-powered tools to clean your home, never operate the gasoline engine inside a home, basement, garage, carport, porch, or other enclosed or partially enclosed structures, even if the windows and doors are open. Such improper use can create dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide and cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
- If weather permits, open windows and doors of the house to aid in the drying-out process.
- Use fans and dehumidifiers to remove excess moisture. Fans should be placed at a window or door to blow the air outwards rather than inwards, so not to spread the mold.
- Have your home heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system checked and cleaned by a maintenance or service professional who is experienced in mold clean-up before you turn it on. If the HVAC system was flooded with water, turning on the mold-contaminated HVAC will spread mold throughout the house. Professional cleaning will kill the mold and prevent later mold growth. When the service determines that your system is clean and if it is safe to do so, you can turn it on and use it to help remove excess moisture from your home.
- Prevent water outdoors from reentering your home. For example, rain water from gutters or the roof should drain away from the house; the ground around the house should slope away from the house to keep basements and crawl spaces dry.
- Ensure that crawl spaces in basements have proper drainage to limit water seepage. Ventilate to allow the area to dry out.
- Contact your local building inspections or planning office to get more information on local building requirements before repairing your building
***This information was provided by Williamson County & Cities Health District and shared via the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office.***