Public Health

How to Stay Safe After a Flood

A mom keeps her baby safe indoors during a rain storm.
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There’s a lot of buzz about preparing for natural disasters, especially during the storm season. But it’s also important to talk about how to handle the aftermath — and it’s actually the days following a natural disaster that can be the most challenging and stressful.

No natural disaster is routine. Every storm, quake and tremor brings its own master plan. Sometimes, it’s not the storm itself that offers the most damage; it’s the other effects like extreme rains that can cause a flood.

In truth, floods are the most common, and often most costly, type of disaster. While we pray you’ll never have to live through the flooding of your home, business or community, taking the time now to understand the steps you should take before, during and after, can go a long way in protecting your family’s whole health.

Here are some things to remember once authorities have given the “all clear” to return to your home.

Safeguard Your Physical Health

Knowing how to protect your family’s physical health is crucial as you begin your clean up. You should:

  • Avoid using any gas or electrical appliances until they’re checked for safety
  • Clean and thoroughly disinfect anything that was wet
  • Contact a professional to assess whether your home is still structurally sound
  • Keep your generator outdoors and away from windows to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Monitor local news to find out when the water supply is safe to drink
  • Replace drywall that’s been underwater (mold levels will be too high)
  • Service any damaged septic or utility systems ASAP
  • Throw out any exposed food
  • Use flashlights instead of open flames (there could be flammable gasses inside your home)
  • Wear heavy gloves and boots when cleaning
  • Prepare for any anticipated medical needs such as medications or equipment

Stay out of the Water

At this point, floodwater has traveled everywhere, leaving a path of destruction in its wake. It’s also carried many things that can be dangerous to your health, including:

  • Dangerous contaminants and bacteria like oil, gas or sewage
  • Hazardous waste
  • Human and animal waste

Stay out of floodwater of any depth. Even a few inches can be hazardous. If you do come in contact with floodwater, wash your hands and the exposed area with soap and water immediately. Exposure to this water could cause:

  • Diarrhea
  • Skin rash
  • Tetanus
  • Wound infection

Watch for Physical Hazards

Floodwaters can contain physical hazards, too. Powerlines are the most dangerous. Any underground or downed powerline can electrically charge the water. If you see a downed powerline near your home, report it immediately. Other physical dangers can include sharp debris, snakes, rodents and other animals.

Remember to Keep a Record

When it comes to your family, safety and security always come first. But don’t forget about your insurance. Insurance companies are overwhelmed during a natural disaster, so it’s important to take photos of your property damage and do what you can to keep further damage from happening. Try and reach your insurance agent as soon as you can.

Nurture Your Emotional and Spiritual Health

Natural disasters can affect your family’s emotional health just as much as their physical health. And once you’ve returned home, there will be hard days ahead.

Keep an Eye on Your Family Members

Watch for signs of anxiety and depression in your loved ones (and have them do the same for you). Work together to foster each other’s emotional wellness and support each other in strong and weak moments. Remember that children may need extra help processing the impact of a natural disaster and the aftermath.

Stay in Touch

While your first instinct will likely be to pick up your phone, both land lines and cell service tend to get overwhelmed during emergencies, making it difficult to communicate with your loved ones. But knowing — or not knowing — whether everyone is okay can have a real impact on your ability to cope with what lies ahead.

Working out a communication plan, as part of your family’s overall emergency plan, will really give you a head start on healing and putting your life back together. You can consider these ideas:

  • Agreeing on a meeting place, in case you aren’t together at the time of the event
  • Checking in on social media
  • Registering and checking in on websites designed to connect people in disaster scenarios

You can also consider several different methods for connecting since there’s no way of knowing what services will be reliable.

Take Time to Focus on What’s Most Important

As you work side by side to restore your home, workplace, school and community resources, remind each other that things are replaceable. Focus on the presence of those you love and those who are sharing this journey with you. Point out the love and strength you see as everyone bands together for the greater good, and talk often about the heroes of your story.

Get Back to Your Routine

To the extent possible, get everyone back into a routine. With normalcy comes calm, and a sense of life moving forward. As soon as you’re able get back to work, school, church and other activities — even if it feels like your attention should singularly focused on cleanup.
You should also encourage time to get back to activities you enjoyed before. Whether that’s listening to music, cooking, reading, walking your dog or running, taking the time for your favorite activities can restore your spirit.

Seek Spiritual Guidance

Even if you know all the right steps to take, moving on from a natural disaster can be more difficult than you’d think. It’s okay to need help along the way, including prayer or guidance from a trusted spiritual advisor.

We are here to help support you and your family’s whole health throughout any disaster. For the latest updates and disaster plans affecting our community, check out the AdventHealth news page.

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