How to stay safe after Hurricane Michael
Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 storm, made landfall in the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday.
The National Weather Service described Michael as “expected to bring life-threatening storm surge to portions of the Gulf Coast, life-threatening flash flooding due to heavy rainfall, and life-threatening winds.”
Michael also brings the threat of power outages. After Hurricane Irma hit last year, many east Florida homes were left without power for a prolonged period of time.
After the storm is over and you’re heading home, here is what you need to know.
Road safety after a storm
Return home only when officials say it is safe. Watch out for signs, roofing materials and other items left outside, as they could have flown around during the storm. Carry valid ID; you may need it to re-enter the area. Try to stay off the roads, beaches and waterways so emergency services are able to do their job. If you do have to drive, watch for fallen objects in the road, and don’t drive through floodwater; it could contain debris as well as germs. Don’t drive around barricades; follow all instructions. Debris can be reported to the Florida Department of Health here.
When you arrive home
Be careful around damaged buildings, and leave immediately if you hear shifting or unusual noises, as a structure could be about to fall. Check the outside of your home for loose power lines and gas leaks. If the building smells like gas or there are floodwaters inside, don’t go in. Be aware of the warning signs of heat exhaustion when cleaning up after the storm. Make sure you use the correct safety gear while cleaning. Beware of snakes, insects and other animals that might have moved to different areas due to high waters. Take precautions when using equipment such as chain saws. Clean, dry and ventilate your home to avoid mold. Throw away anything that won’t dry quickly, and thoroughly clean anything that can be cleaned. When returning to your home, be aware that floodwater may contain sewage and other hazards. Keep children and pets away from the affected area until cleanup has been completed. Clean all hard surfaces — such as flooring, concrete, wood and metal furniture, countertops, appliances, sinks and other plumbing fixtures — with hot water and detergent. If the power goes out, be aware of extreme temperatures and how they can affect you.
Safe power sources
Never use portable generators inside your home or garage. Take precautions when using gas-powered appliances as they could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and leave immediately. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can. Call your gas company from another location. All appliances and other equipment and lighting must be dry before use.
Food and water
If your water supply is unsafe, boil water before using it, or use bottled water. Check the temperature of your freezer when you regain power. If it is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, you can refreeze or eat the food safely. Throw away any food that may have come into contact with floodwater or storm water, perishable food that may have not been refrigerated properly and anything that does not look, smell or feel like it should. Do not use contaminated water, either suspected or confirmed, to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, wash your hands, make ice or make baby formula. As the CDC says, “When in doubt, throw it out.” Food that looks normal can still make you sick. Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible until the power comes back. If it’s been less than four hours, food is still safe to eat.
Sources: National Weather Service, Florida Department of Health, Federal Emergency Management Agency, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Food and Drug Administration