Among all weather-related natural disasters, floods have been both the most common and most costly in the United States, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. They can create billions of dollars in damage a year and kill hundreds of people.
Their widespread impact is part of the reason people should understand the threats floods can pose, Federal Emergency Management Agency Director of Public Affairs William Booher said.
“Every community should at least be aware of flood dangers and be prepared for them because you never know when flooding may occur,” Booher said.
Additionally, the dangers of floods do not disappear after water levels stop rising. Here are five factors to remember when recovering from a flood.
1. Be wary of damaged utilities
Water may have damaged electrical power and natural gas or propane, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports. Minimize any fire hazards by turning off these utilities, especially if an odor, fraying wiring or sparks are present. Only turn the power on or off if you can do so from a dry location. Otherwise, call an electrician.
Contact the proper authorities, such as the gas or electric company, the police department or the fire department to help determine when turning utilities back on is safe.
2. Protect yourself against carbon monoxide
More than 400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning a year, the CDC reported, and this risk can increase after a flood.
Generators, pressure washers, charcoal grills and other fuel-burning tools can release CO, which can collect in dangerous concentrations when used indoors or near open doors, windows or air vents.
The CDC recommends avoiding use of these in enclosed or partially enclosed areas, and encourages people to buy battery-powered carbon monoxide detectors. These should be placed outside all sleeping areas and, for added protection, near a home's heat source.
3. Minimize contact with dirty water
Remaining floodwater can also pose various hazards. It may be mixed with sewage or other hazardous substances, like chemicals, or it could be hiding downed power lines or sharp objects.
The CDC reports “outbreaks of communicable diseases after floods are unusual,” but ingesting or exposing an open wound to the floodwater increase the risk of diarrheal diseases or infection.
Dry out homes as soon as possible and thoroughly wash and disinfect clothes, linens and hard surfaces. Discard anything that cannot be cleaned -- this includes contaminated drywall and insulation.
4. Control Mold
“Mold can also be a major issue if it is not addressed after a flood,” the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) said in an email.
People who are sensitive to molds or who have chronic lung illnesses can have reactions varying in severity from eye irritation to lung infections.
“Mold can dry out, but the dried spores can still pose a respiratory risk if they enter the air,” the NCEH said. “Proper cleanup is essential after a flood.”
5. Avoid traveling through flood water
Never enter swiftly flowing water, and do not try to drive or walk through standing water because underneath the road could be compromised or blocked by debris.
“When it comes to moving water, obviously you should try to get to high ground and get away from flooding whenever possible,” Booher said. “Don’t put yourself into moving water. If you have standing water, you certainly don’t want to drive or walk through that either if you can’t see to the bottom of it.”
The CDC also reports that driving through floodwaters can be deadly because “as little as 6 inches of water may cause one to lose control of a motor vehicle, and 2 feet of water can carry most cars away.”
For more information about staying safe after a flood, consult the CDC, FEMA or local authorities.
For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.