If you have turned on the news in the past few weeks you might have heard the word flood mentioned a couple times…okay maybe more like one zillion times. Flooding is a major concern in America right now and it’s important that we become aware of the potential health risks associated with floods and how we can protect ourselves and our families.
In terms of lives lost and property damaged, floods are just behind tornadoes as the top natural disaster. In the United States alone, flood damage averages billions of dollars annually. Floods can cause death and injuries, isolate communities, damage major infrastructure, cut essential services, and destroy property. Preparation is key to securing you and your loved one’s livelihood. Catastrophic events don’t plan ahead, but you can!
Apart from the physical damage to property, experiencing a flood can be extremely emotional. If you are not prepared for the possibility of a flood, recovery can be slow, stressful and costly. According to Floodsmart, a 2,000 square foot home undergoing 12” of water damage could cost more than $50,000. Flood damage is almost never covered by homeowners insurance, so flood insurance is important for people living in high-risk flood zones. A few hours spent toward understanding the flood risk in your area, securing your home, and responding when water comes can help you survive the effects of a flood.
Understand the flood risk to your area.
Specific to coastal areas, flooding occurs when normally dry, low-lying land is flooded by seawater. Coastal flooding is driven predominantly by storm surges and wave damage. This kind of flooding is usually connected to hurricanes, tsunamis or tropical storms. The extent of coastal flooding is determined by sea level and population. Densely populated areas are high risk for flooding. The construction of buildings, highways, driveways, and parking lots increase runoff by reducing the amount of rain absorbed by the ground.
Floods can bring walls of water from 10 to 20 feet high. A car can be taken away in as little as 2 feet of water. Be aware of local flood plans which detail problem areas and know about relocation / evacuation routes and centers. If you do not know protocol for your community, ask your local council or authorities.
Secure your home and property.
Plan your emergency kit. Make sure your home is stocked with first aid items, non-perishable foods, 1 gallons of water per person per day, battery operated radios and extra batteries, generators, gasoline, hygiene necessities, and secure all hazardous items. If possible, roll up rugs, move furniture, personal belongings, vehicles, and outdoor equipment to a higher level, placing electrical items at the highest location available. Place important personal documents (birth certificate, insurance policies, etc), valuables and vital medical supplies into a waterproof case in an accessible location.
If you are relocating, take your pets with you if it is safe to do so. If not, provide adequate food and water and move them to a safe location. Turn off power, water and gas. Whether you leave or stay, put sandbags in the toilet bowl and over all laundry/bathroom drain holes to prevent sewage backflow. Once complete, monitor forecasts and warnings online and listen to your local radio for updates or evacuation notice.
Flooding can cause the disruption of water purification and sewage disposal systems, overflow of toxic waste sites, and dislodgement of chemicals previously stored above ground. Although most floods do not cause serious outbreaks or chemical poisonings, they can cause sickness in those who come in contact with contaminated water. In addition, flooded areas may contain electrical or fire hazards connected with downed power lines.
Floodwater can contain infectious organisms such as E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Hepatitis A Virus, and agents of typhoid, paratyphoid and tetanus. The symptoms experienced by the victims include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, muscle aches, and fever. Most cases of sickness associated with flood conditions are brought about by ingesting contaminated food or water. Tetanus, however, can be acquired from contaminated soil or water entering broken areas of the skin, such as cuts or puncture wounds.
Pools of stagnant water become breeding grounds for mosquitoes, increasing the risk of encephalitis, West Nile Virus or other mosquito-borne diseases. The presence of wild animals in populated areas increases the risk of diseases such as rabies caused by animal bites as well as diseases carried by fleas and ticks.
What to do if symptoms develop? Seek appropriate first-aid treatment and medical advice. If the skin is broken, particularly with a puncture wound or a wound in contact with potentially contaminated material, a tetanus vaccination may be needed if it has been five years or more since the individual’s last tetanus shot.
Respond when water comes.
Always follow the instructions of local officials. If evacuation is not an option, go to the highest ground possible, but do not drive into water of unknown depth and current. If your skin comes in contact with flood water, make sure to wash it with soap and disinfected water. Decrease the risk of mosquito and other insect bites by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and by using insect repellants. Avoid entering floodwaters. if you must do so, wear solid shoes and check depth and current with a stick.
After a major flood, it is often difficult to maintain good hygiene. Consider all water unsafe until local authorities announce otherwise. If the safety of a food or beverage is questionable, throw it out. To avoid waterborne illness, continue to wash hands with soap and water that has been boiled or disinfected before preparing or eating foods, after using the bathroom, after participating in flood cleanup activities, and after handling articles contaminated by flood waters. In addition, children should not be allowed to play in flood waters or with toys that have been in contact with flood waters.
Flood preparation can be the difference between safety and survival! Continuously monitor your local radio for warnings and advice and seek immediate medical care for all animal bites or symptoms of waterborne illness. Overall, prioritize the safety of family and loved ones over anything else. You can replace your home, but you cannot replace your family.
Picture from: Pixabay