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How to Recover Safely After a Winter Storm

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The brutal weather has finally passed. But now what? Before you can return to your normal routine and activities — or even, in some cases, to your home — there are important steps to take to protect your family’s health. From food safety to flood risks, read on to learn about recovering with caution.

Understanding Flood Dangers

After a winter storm, flood risks can come from both rapidly melting snow and pipes that have frozen and burst.

When you’re traveling outside your home, be aware that partially cleared roads may still be icy or blocked, and creeks and rivers can overflow from the rush of melting snow and ice. Heavy snow may have knocked down power lines and caused gas leaks. Listen to local news to learn when it’s safe to travel and what areas may still be closed. Remember to heed traffic cones and other cautionary signs that are put in place for your safety.

If you experience flooding inside your home, use extreme caution. These tips from the CDC can help keep you safe:

  • If you have standing water in your home and can turn off the main power from a dry location, then go ahead and turn off the power, even if it delays cleaning. If you must enter standing water to access the main power switch, then call an electrician to turn it off. Never turn the power on or off yourself or use an electric tool or appliance while standing in water.
  • Have an electrician check the house’s electrical system before turning the power on again.
  • If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open all windows, and leave your house immediately. Notify the gas company or the police or fire departments or State Fire Marshal’s office, and do not turn on the lights or do anything that could cause a spark. Do not return until you are told it is safe to do so.
  • If the house has been closed up for several days, enter briefly to open doors and windows to let the house air out for a while (at least 30 minutes) before you stay for any length of time.
  • If your home has been flooded and has been closed up for several days, assume your home has mold.

Drinking Water Safety

Floodwaters can damage or contaminate wells, rivers, streams and lakes. After a severe storm that’s caused widespread power outages and areas of flooding, it’s safest to drink bottled water until you’re sure your water is free of contaminants and safe to drink.

Alternative sources of clean water can be found inside and outside the home. Never drink water that has an unusual odor or color, or that you know or suspect might be contaminated.

If you can’t access bottled water and your home’s water is off or potentially contaminated, you can consider:

  • Water from your home’s water heater tank (part of your drinking water system, not your home heating system)
  • Melted ice cubes previously made with water that was not contaminated
  • Water from your home’s toilet tank (not from the bowl), if it is clear and has not been chemically treated with toilet cleaners
  • Liquid from canned fruit and vegetables
  • Water from swimming pools and spas that hasn’t been contaminated with flood or stormwater can be used for bathing and cleaning, but not for drinking

Boiling is the surest method to make water safer to drink by killing disease-causing organisms, including viruses, bacteria and parasites. Bring water to a rolling boil for 1 minute (at elevations above 6,500 feet, boil for 3 minutes). Let it cool and store it in a clean, sanitized container with a tight lid.

Food Safety After a Winter Storm

Throw away food that may have come in contact with flood or stormwater; perishable foods that have not been refrigerated properly due to power outages; and those with an unusual odor, color or texture. Unsafe food can make you sick even if it looks, smells and tastes normal. When in doubt, throw it out.

Learn more quick food safety tips here.

Recovery for Your Whole Health

Once it’s safe to leave home, check on friends and neighbors, especially those living alone. The Red Cross offers recovery guides for supporting your family’s emotional and financial well-being in the aftermath of a disaster.

No matter what you’re going through, we’re here for your physical, mental and spiritual health, too. Learn more about our emergency and urgent care services here.

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