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Delaware Health Alert Network #46

September 19, 2003

Health Advisory

Hurricane clean up presents a variety of health and safety risks as dangerous as the storm itself. Winds and flooding can change familiar environments into potentially unstable areas littered with unseen hazards. Delaware's Division of Public Health advises anyone involved in disaster recovery to review the following information to protect themselves and others.

When danger has passed, make a general visual assessment of damage and dangers from a safe distance. Never assume that ground or water-damaged structures are stable after flooding. Buildings that have been flooded may have suffered structural damage and could be dangerous. To determine the safest course of action, assess the following:

Moving water and drowning

People are at risk for drowning any time they enter moving water, regardless of their ability to swim. Because individuals in vehicles are at greatest risk of drowning, it is important to comply with all road hazard warnings to avoid driving into water of an unknown depth. National Institute of Occupational Health recommends that you avoid working alone and wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket when working in or near floodwaters. Consider the following questions:

  • Are there any hazards threatening the safety of your home? From the ground, look for approaching flood waters, weakened trees or limbs, electrical wires, leaking storage tanks and weaknesses in your home's roof, beams, foundation or nearby buildings. Should your family leave the area immediately?
  • Where does damage on your property appear greatest?
  • Are there any apparent hazards in your path?
  • Do these hazards need to be assessed or addressed by a professional?

Before approaching hazards for a closer look, take these precautions:

Don't enter a damaged area until you have provided enough light to see all hazards. Use battery-operated flashlights for light. If you suspect a gas leak, do not use any kind of light. The light itself could cause an explosion. Call your gas company.

  • Assume that all stairs, floors and roofs are unsafe until they are inspected.
  • Don't work in or around any flood-damaged building until it has been examined and evaluated.
  • Leave immediately if you notice unusual noises or shifting, both signals of a possible building collapse.

Chemical hazards

Floodwaters can dislodge tanks, drums, pipes and equipment which may contain hazardous materials such as pesticides or propane. Take the following precautions:

  • Do not attempt to move unidentified dislodged containers without first contacting the local fire department or hazardous materials team.
  • Wash skin that may have been exposed to pesticides and other hazardous chemicals frequently and thoroughly. Call the poison control center for additional instructions.

Appropriate protective clothing, equipment and techniques can prevent injuries. Take the following measures to assure a safe, productive day working:

  • Wear protective gear and clothing, such as heavy shoes or boots, work gloves and safety glasses or goggles to help avoid accidental puncture wounds, cuts, abrasions, eye injuries and chemical exposure. Wear a hard hat when working under structures and trees. Select cool clothing that is cotton and tightly knit; long-sleeved shirts and full-length pant are recommended.
  • Assure proper ventilation when using fuel-burning equipment. Use great caution. Fuel-burning devices in closed areas pose a great risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide cannot be seen or smelled, and can be life threatening. Provide plenty of ventilation when using a gas-powered pump for flooded basements or a gas-powered generator for electricity. Install and maintain carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Turn off the main gas valve at the meter if you smell leaking gas. Do not turn on lights or use torches or lanterns since they can ignite the gas. Leave the premises immediately and notify the gas company or the fire department.
  • If your switch box is in a flooded basement, do not turn electricity back on until water has been pumped out.

For more information or other public health concerns, contact the Division of Public Health at 1-888-459-2943.

Categories of Health Alert messages:

  • Health Alert: Conveys the highest level of importance; warrants immediate action or attention.
  • Health Advisory: Provides important information for a specific incident or situation; may not require immediate action.
  • Health Update: Provides updated information regarding an incident or situation; unlikely to require immediate action.
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