Things are dangerous when a hurricane is blowing through – but a storm’s aftermath often causes more deaths than the storm itself.
The reason? The cleanup. Hazards abound, including the potential for thinking we’re all in the clear when we’re not.
So here’s a primer on how to stay safe when checking damage and trying to go about your life post-storm:
Avoid the temptation to rush: Be careful when checking your property; if your home looks unsafe, it probably is. Wait for emergency officials, who have procedures to determine if structures are safe.
Wear rubber-soled shoes, work gloves and a hard hat when evaluating any damage. After a storm, tree limbs, boards, ceilings and other objects are unstable.
- Don’t do any inspections at night.
- If you smell gas, turn it off at the meter or tank, or call the gas company. Don’t smoke or use an open flame.
- Open windows and doors to release moisture, odors, and dangerous gases. Use tools to remove a window’s sash if you can’t get it open. If a door won’t open, remove the hinge pins and take the entire door out of its frame.
- If you must go up on the roof, use safety equipment like harnesses, lifelines, lanyards, anchors, slip-resistant shoes and ladder safety devices. Make sure no wires have fallen on to the roof. Beware: Roofs that appear to be intact could’ve been weakened by a hurricane, so avoid walking around up there.
Stay away from all fallen power lines, as well as all standing water, puddles, and flood water. Do not allow children to play near flooded areas or debris, both of which can be hiding an energized line.
Be careful when using metal tree trimmers or metal ladders near power lines.
Make sure appliances are dry before plugging them back in. Never touch any electrical appliance, any wiring or a tool while standing in water. Treat all cables and wires, inside and out, as if they are electrically charged.
If the power is out, turn off circuit breakers, disconnect any electrical appliances that are still plugged in, and turn off wall switches. This ensures that when power is restored, the electrical current will not suddenly be directed to damaged or under-water appliances.
Steer clear of flooded areas. In addition to electrocution risks, they can also harbor sewage and other harmful things.
- Battery-operated lanterns are safer than gas lanterns.
- Take down shutters once the storm has passed unless you are covering a broken window.
- Never use a generator inside a house, garage, shed, or any other enclosed area, even if windows and doors are open. And don’t use it outside near open windows and doors. Like a car, a generator expels carbon monoxide – a silent, odorless killer. Install carbon monoxide detectors near every sleeping area of the home.
- Never bring the barbecue inside any enclosed area. Like the generator, it can also prove fatal when used indoors.
- Keep your vehicle in a garage if you have access to one. If not, keep it away from trees that could topple over.
- Limit driving. After the storm, lights are likely to be out at intersections and you might have a hard time telling flooded roads from canals. If your vehicle has been damaged by flood waters, do not start it. Call a mechanic and have it towed there for an inspection.
Watch what you eat and drink: If in doubt, throw it out or risk food poisoning. Food can be kept in an unopened refrigerator for up to 24 hours. But you’ll want to discard milk and hard-boiled eggs if they have been at room temperature more than two hours.
Follow any orders to boil or disinfect water. Water that you save in bottles before the storm should be good for up to six months.
Your health and its limits: Cleanup can be a highly demanding physical effort. If you have a heart condition, hire a professional crew to help with the heavy yard work. In the high-stress aftermath of a hurricane, accepting your own limitations could be the smartest decision you make.