Emergency Care For You

Hurricane Safety: Preventing Emergencies After a Storm

As Hurricane Florence leaves flooding and wreckage in its wake, the rescue and recovery effort continues. The nation’s emergency physicians would like to remind anyone in the vicinity of this storm: the recovery effort after a storm can still be very dangerous. There are some actions you can take to prevent a hurricane-related emergency after a storm.

“Leave the rescue and salvage efforts to the professionals whenever possible. The best thing you can do to ensure the health and safety of your loved ones in a disaster is to plan ahead,” said Paul Kivela, MD, MBA, FACEP, president of ACEP.   

It is very likely that high winds and rain will lead to sustained power outages. It is unsafe for repair crews to work during high winds. Avoid using generators, propane grills or creative cooking means inside or near your home – carbon monoxide can build up to dangerous levels and detectors without battery backup will not work. Avoid downed electrical wires. Contact could result in electrical burns or electrocution.

"The 'it's-not-going-to-happen-to-me' attitude is what gets people killed and injured," said Ryan Stanton, MD, in HealthDay. "The assumption everybody has to make is that everything is sharp, and everything is contaminated."

Do not walk or drive in areas that are flooded. “The force of water currents can easily overtake you or your vehicle, and the roads will be full of debris,” said Lorrie Metzler-Sazabo, MD, an emergency physician in New Orleans.

Trying to navigate through moving water, even just a few inches, can be extremely dangerous. Hazards in the water or in the road, and unsteady terrain could lead to injury or drowning.

“When everyone is scrambling, you have to be ready to help. One thing they don’t teach you in medical school is how to fix a flat tire. This quickly proved to be an invaluable skill,” said Texas-based Angela Gardner, MD, FACEP.

When you do return following an evacuation, take safety precautions during cleanup. “Pace yourself, there may be a lot of work to be done,” said Jason Lowe, DO, an emergency physician in Georgia. “Appropriate clothing and equipment can help you avoid injuries, especially from falling or mishandling sharp tools.”

“Take care of yourself, even minor cuts can quickly get infected,” said Dr. Gardner. “In the months following a natural disaster, be mindful of lingering health problems, like a nagging cough, that might turn into an emergency if left untreated.”

Other immediate risks from bacteria exposure include skin rashes or infection. The risk of contracting a fungal infection or infestation in your home is elevated during this time.

“Exposure to dirty flood waters, broken pipes or plumbing issues, or contaminated drinking water can lead to illness, such as dysentery or gastroenteritis,” said Lorrie Metzler-Szabo, MD. “Be sure to heed boil advisories. Hopefully, you stocked up on clean drinking water in advance.”

“Bites from displaced or frightened animals, reptiles or insects are more likely,” said Bret Nicks, MD, MHA, FACEP, an emergency physician based in North Caroline. “Heavy rains and persistent winds can lead to unexpected downed trees – stay aware of your surroundings when walking outside.”

“During disaster recovery, many people tend to focus on their physical health and safety or restoring damaged property. It is also important to take care of your mental health,” said Dr. Kivela.

“Post-traumatic stress or anxiety can result from witnessing the devastation of a storm, family injuries or death, or sustaining personal property damage. Be sure to seek professional help when appropriate,” said Dr. Metzler-Sabo.