Hurricane Irma has been a stark reminder to all Floridians that we must always be prepared for the worst during hurricane season. And while you can only do so much to safeguard your home and property against storm damage, there’s plenty you can do to keep yourself safe in the aftermath of a major hurricane. In fact, it’s only after the storm passes that safety becomes a dire issue: the majority of hurricane injuries and deaths do not occur during the storm but during the days and weeks after the storm is over. Here’s what you can do to ensure your health and safety while dealing with the aftermath of a hurricane.
In a state where most of the population lives on the coast, or in low-lying areas near rivers, storm surge one of the biggest concerns during and after a major hurricane. Floodwaters not only threaten your property, but they can also negatively impact your health. The waters of a flood carry not only debris but bacteria, sewage, waste, and as many Harvey victims learned the hard way, harmful insects like fire ants. Coming in contact with floodwaters of any depth can cause contamination, infection and illness. If your home begins to flood, get to dry ground as soon as possible, even if the waters are not very strong or very high. If you have evacuated and return to a flooded home, avoid contact with floodwaters and do not enter your home until the water has receded. Do not stay in a severely water-damaged home if at all possible, as water damaged homes promote mold growth and can negatively impact respiratory health.
When a major storm hits your area, you can count on the power being out for several days to a week or more. Power outages aren’t just inconveniences—they can become very dangerous very quickly. Hurricane season includes some of the hottest months in Florida, and when the power goes out, the risk for heat-related illness or even death significantly increases. People who suffer from heart disease and cardiovascular issues may find their conditions are aggravated by exposure to the heat. Power outages are also a major concern for people who rely on in-home medical equipment. If you are especially at risk for heat-related illness, or have medical treatments that require electricity, be sure you are on the special needs evacuation list, and have a safe place to evacuate to in the event of a major storm.
Many tragic deaths and injuries occur after every major storm from generators. The truly unfortunate thing is that these deaths and injuries are entirely preventable. Always follow these safety tips when using a generator:
• NEVER use a generator inside your home, garage, shed, or any other enclosed/partially enclosed area. This will cause carbon monoxide poisoning, which is DEADLY. Do not run your generator near any open doors, windows, or vents that could cause carbon monoxide to enter your home. If you begin to feel sick, weak, or dizzy while a generator is in use nearby, get to fresh air RIGHT AWAY and call 911.
• Keep your generator dry at all times to avoid electric shock. Run it outdoors beneath a canopy-like structure to protect it from the rain. Do not operate your generator with wet hands or get it wet.
• Never attempt to power your home by plugging your generator into a wall outlet. This can be very dangerous for line workers repairing lines that connect to your home, as well as for anyone using appliances inside the home. Plug appliances directly into your generator, or use an outdoor-rated extension cord that is at least equal in watts or amps to the sum of the appliances used.
• Be sure to turn your generator off and let it cool down before refueling. Spilt fuel can ignite if exposed to hot engine parts.
• Store generator fuel away from living areas in a secure location. Do not store near fuel-burning appliances.