Florida Hurricane Shelter Evacuations Roads Safety Preparations

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When a hurricane has left an area devastated, there are a number of health hazards to watch out for. Accidents are just waiting to happen, from electrocution by downed power lines, to broken glass, exposed nails, chainsaw accidents and other mishaps related to digging out and cleaning up. Not only that but illness lurks in the form of water contamination, and food spoilage. Illness also occurs because of toilets that don't flush and, garbage that piles up.

Food and Water
Food spoilage and water contamination are two of the biggest concerns. You can guard against food spoilage by using only dry or canned food. Milk, chicken, hamburger, fish and pork will spoil rapidly and should be discarded if they've been without refrigeration for more than a couple of hours. This is not the time to trust your sense of smell. When in doubt, throw it out.

Until the danger of contamination has passed, don't drink or prepare any food with tap water that hasn't been boiled. Don't let your pets drink tap water either. They are no more immune than you are and in some cases they are at great risk. As for brushing teeth, you'll need disinfected water. Don't wash your dishes with tap water unless you are prepared to rinse them in extra-chlorinated water (15 drops of chlorine bleach to the quart should do the trick.) Contact lens wearers should use disinfected water to clean their hands before handling them. Washing them with tap water will lead to eye infection.

The frequent flushing of toilets in some cases may be impossible or ill advised because it can overload already weakened sewer systems. So you may need to find or make a portable toilet until you get the "all clear" sign. In any kind of urban setting, human waste left outside, even in treated latrines, contain bacteria that can taint water supplies and pose health risks. One of the age-old ways to most effectively avoid the spread of disease is one of the most critical after a hurricane, washing your hands after using the toilet or before handling food. Diarrhea is nothing to be taken lightly in the aftermath of a hurricane. Children are especially at risk of dehydration when diarrhea strikes. If it does, seek medical advice at once.

Although hurricane winds can cause an enormous amount of damage, wind is not the biggest killer in such a storm. Nine out of every ten hurricane related fatalities are drowning associated with swiftly moving waters. People who enter moving water with their cars, or who get on boats on lakes or bays when a hurricane strikes the area are at grave risk of drowning, regardless of their ability to swim. Even very shallow water that is moving swiftly can be deadly. Cars or other vehicles do not provide adequate protection. Never enter moving water of any kind with your vehicle. Cars can be swept away or may break down in moving water. Be alert and follow hazard warnings on roadways or those broadcast by the media. Police and public works departments should be contacted for up to date information regarding safe roadways.

Garbage and Trash
Garbage and trash pick-up, like everything else, will probably be slow immediately after a bad storm. Health care officials suggest double-bagging all garbage in plastic bags, and keeping the bags in covered containers if at all possible rather than letting it pile up on the roadside. After a hurricane, be alert for rats and other rodents. They are often driven from their habitats by higher water and a garbage pile is like a rat super market.

The rain and wind of a hurricane may be followed by days of hot and humid weather. It can be an almost unbearable adversary if you do not take some steps to try and keep yourself cool. Protect yourself from heat exhaustion and heatstroke, here's what you can do to stay cool while rebuilding under the blazing sun. Wear loose, light colored clothing and a hat. Dampen yourself and your clothes as the water evaporates, your skin will cool. Drink plenty of liquids and eat smaller, lighter meals.
Avoid alcoholic drinks. They will raise your body temperature and tend to dehydrate you. Always wear a strong sunscreen.

Pets and Animals
Wild or stray domestic animals can pose a danger during or after the passage of a hurricane. Remember most animals are disoriented and displaced as well. Do not corner an animal. If an animal must be removed, contact your local animal control authorities. If any animal bites you, seek immediate medical attention. If a snake bites you, first try to accurately identify the type of snake so that, if poisonous, the correct anti-venom can be administered. Do not cut the wound or attempt to suck the venom out. Certain animals may carry rabies. Although the virus is rare, care should be taken to avoid contact with stray animals and rodents. Health departments can provide information on the types of animals that carry rabies in your area. Rats may also be a problem during and after a hurricane. Take care to secure all food supplies, also remove any animal carcasses in the vicinity by contacting your local animal control authorities.

Chemical Hazards
Be aware of potential chemical hazards you may encounter in the aftermath of a storm, especially if the hurricane is accompanied by flooding. Floodwaters and high winds may have moved or buried hazardous chemical containers of solvents or other industrial chemicals. Contact your local fire department about inspecting and removing hazardous chemical containers. Avoid inhaling any chemical vapors. Never "sniff" any container to see if you can identify the contents, one sniff of some chemicals and kill you grave yard dead. If any propane tanks (whether 20-lb. tanks from a gas grill or household propane tanks) are discovered, do not attempt to move them yourself. These represent a very real danger of fire or explosion, and if any are found, the fire department, police, or your State Fire Marshal's office should be contacted immediately.

Car batteries contain sulfuric acid, which is very caustic. Removal of automotive batteries from your property can be accomplished safely, but they should be removed with extreme caution. It is best to use "chemical" gloves and other safety equipment. Avoid coming in contact with any acid that may have spilled from a damaged car battery. Use baking soda to neutralize any acid spillage.

Tips after a Hurricane
Do not examine your home for damage with matches, candles, or other other "flame based" lighting. Use flashlights.
Avoid downed power lines. If you stored water in open containers such s bathtubs, do not drink without purifying first.

ADDITIONAL NOTES: Skylights can be damaged under storm conditions and high winds. Another item that is often overlooked are roof turbines. They are easily blown away in high winds leaving a hole or damaged roof exposed heavy rains. Home improvement stores carry caps to be used for turbine protection. Check your insurance policies to see if they are up to date and provide adequate coverage. Don't wait until a named storm is threatening. Insurance companies generally will not change insurance policies after a named storm is active.

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