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Indiana State Department of Health

Trauma System/Injury Prevention Program Home > Injury Prevention > Severe Weather and Natural Disasters Severe Weather and Natural Disasters

Severe Weather and Natural Disasters…Tips to Keep you Safe and Healthy

Floods, tornadoes, and blizzards are well-known and frightening natural disasters, which could affect Hoosiers suddenly and violently. It is because of this the ISDH urges all Hoosiers to be prepared not only in September, but all the time as the reality is a large-scale disaster can happen anytime and anywhere.

Floods pose a variety of serious health hazards such as drowning, exposure to water-borne diseases, and other dangers associated with cleaning up flood-damaged areas. Untreated sanitary waste can end up in waterways and on streets when heavy rain overwhelms sewer systems and treatment plants. Wells and cisterns may also be affected. Wells that are located in a flooded area should be assumed to be contaminated and health officials recommend people discontinue use of the well water until it can be inspected by a professional well contractor.

Some tips for safely cleaning up a home or business after the floodwaters recede include:

  • Turn off the electricity.
  • Clean and dry wet light fixtures before turning the electricity back on.
  • Items that cannot be salvaged after a flood and must be thrown away include wet ceiling tiles, paper products, baseboards, gypsum board (also known as dry wall), and insulation.
  • Carpets may be saved by wet vacuuming, shampooing, and making certain the carpet is completely dry.
  • Mattresses or other large items soaked with floodwater will probably have to be discarded. Some mattresses can be salvaged after disinfecting and air-drying.
  • Wipe wood and metal studs with a bleach solution and allow to air dry.
  • If possible, open windows and doors during the clean-up process and leave them open for at least 24 hours.

Tornadoes, one of the most frightening of natural disasters, usually strike during the spring and summer months, but they can spawn at any time. As they are one of the more unpredictable storms, people can have very little time to react when they strike. Know where there is a shelter location at home, work or school. If possible, keep an emergency kit and supplies in the shelter location.

Also, know the terms:

  • A tornado WATCH means conditions are favorable for tornadoes to form.
  • A tornado WARNING means a tornado has been sighted. Take shelter immediately.

During blizzards and other winter storms, the temperatures can fall rapidly, so staying warm and dry can be a challenge. Extremely cold weather is always possible during the winter months, and serious health problems can result from prolonged exposure to the cold with the most common problems being hypothermia and frostbite.

Use these tips for dressing in the cold if you have to venture out:

  • A hat or hood as most heat is lost through the head;
  • A scarf or knit mask to cover face and mouth;
  • Sleeves that are snug at the wrist;
  • Mittens (they are warmer than gloves);
  • Water-resistant coat and boots; and
  • Several layers of loose-fitting clothing.

Here are some tips to stay safe in natural disasters:

FOOD

Not all food or beverage items can be saved after a flood. You must discard any food items that have been in contact with flood water. It’s possible to save commercially canned goods in metal cans or rigid plastic containers, however the condition of the container is very important.

During a power outage, it’s important to note the time the power outage begins and to cease all cooking operations. Do not place hot food in refrigerators or freezers, as this will rapidly raise the temperature inside the refrigerator or freezer and may make more food unusable. Discard food products that are in the process of being cooked, but which have not yet reached the final cooking temperature. Maintain hot potentially hazardous food at 135°F or above. Food that has reached final cooking temperature may be kept hot (135°F) by the use of canned heat in chafing dishes. Use ice or ice baths to rapidly cool small batches of hot food.

WATER/SEWAGE

Drinking water and sewerage systems can be a public health concern during extreme weather or a natural disaster. Sewage treatment is the process of removing contaminants from wastewater and household sewage, both runoff and domestic. During flooding, drinking water can be contaminated with by a variety of microorganisms, including bacteria and parasites that cause diseases such as dysentery, cholera, typhoid, and hepatitis. Sewage treatment can also be affected, and sewage back up can produce a variety of diseases that can be harmful to Hoosiers.

In addition, standing water is a breeding ground for microorganisms, which can become airborne and inhaled. Where floodwater contains sewage or decaying animal carcasses, infectious disease is of concern. Standing water is also a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which can carry West Nile virus and other diseases like Eastern equine encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, and La Crosse encephalitis. By eliminating any standing water, you not only reduce your chances of mosquitoes and diseases. Discard any old tires, tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or other unused containers that can hold water and clean clogged roof gutters, especially if leaves tend to plug up the drains.

MOLD

Mold (fungi) is present everywhere—indoors and outdoors. There are more than 100,000 species of mold. At least 1,000 species of mold are common in the U.S. Some of the most commonly found are species of Cladosporium, Penicillium and Aspergillus. Mold is most likely to grow where there is water or dampness, as in bathrooms and basements.

All molds need water to grow and floods are a perfect source. Mold can grow almost anywhere there is water damage, high humidity, or dampness. Most often molds are confined to areas near the source of water. Removing the source of moisture, such as through repairs or dehumidification, is critical to preventing mold growth. Here are some tips for removing mold.

Take materials that were wet for two or more days outside. Things that stayed wet for two days have mold growing on them even if you can’t see it. Take out stuff made of cloth, unless you can wash them in hot water. Also take out stuff that can’t be cleaned easily (like leather, paper, wood, and carpet). Use bleach to clean mold off hard things (like floors, stoves, sinks, certain toys, countertops, flatware, plates, and tools).

Follow these steps:

  • Never mix bleach with ammonia or other cleaners.
  • Wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, goggles, and N-95 mask.
  • Open windows and doors to get fresh air when you use bleach.
  • Mix no more than one cup of bleach in one gallon of water.
  • Wash the item with the bleach and water mixture.
  • If the surface of the item is rough, scrub the surface with a stiff brush.
  • Rinse the item with clean water.
  • Dry the item or leave it out to dry.

All about Mold:

TETANUS

Flood or disaster victims and workers may be exposed to tetanus bacteria if wounds become contaminated from floodwaters or other materials. If you receive a puncture wound, laceration, or abrasion, see your health care provider or check with your local health department about any special health needs.

Tetanus, commonly called lockjaw, is a bacterial infection that affects the nervous system. The bacteria causing this infection produce a toxin (poison) that cause muscles to tighten or “lock”. Tetanus is extremely rare in the United States but is still common in some countries. Tetanus is a serious infection and may be fatal.

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