Lessons from hurricanes and flooding apply here, too

The hurricanes and flooding in Texas and Florida brought warnings from doctors and emergency officials about post-hurricane health hazards that can make storm or disaster victims sick or even kill them.  The warnings can apply anywhere in the wake of flooding or power outages:   

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning. You can’t smell it or see it and it’s not just caused by natural gas, generators even charcoal grills can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Never use a gas or coal burning stove in your home, basement or garage. Keep it at least 20 feet from any window, door or vent.   

Also, keep generators outside your home, at least 20 feet from a window or door 

  • Electrocution. Irma ripped apart the electrical grid in Florida, leaving millions without power.     A young man in Houston died when he tried to rescue his sister’s cat. While the flood water was knee deep, he did not realize a “hot power line” had electrified the water.   

Treat all power lines as if they are still connected to electricity. 

Never step in a flooded area of your home, like the basement, where water could be in contact with electrical outlets. 

When possible, locate your home’s circuit breaker and make sure all electricity is shut off to the house. 

  • Toxic water. Flood water is a breeding ground for bacteria.    

Heavy contamination caused by raw sewage and toxic chemicals can lead to many parasitic infections like E. coli.  Wounds can also be easily infected by dirty water. The New York Times just completed tests that discovered dangerous bacteria in post Harvey floodwaters in Houston.

While the CDC recommends boiling water before use, most storm victims do not have access to electricity. 

Water from private wells is also at risk of contamination and should be tested before use. 


  • Contaminated food. When in doubt, throw it out. 

When the power goes out everything in the fridge is safe to eat for no more than four hours, two days for the freezer. After that, all perishable food, including meat, chicken, seafood, milk, eggs, is at risk for bacteria, molds and yeast that cause it to spoil.   Even if you cook spoiled food thoroughly, you can still get food poisoning. Eating food contaminated with bacteria can make someone sick within 20 minutes to 3 days.

Salmonella is the most common food borne illness; children are at higher risk than adults. Symptoms of salmonella are like the stomach flu — fever, cramping, vomiting and diarrhea.