• R.F Wittmeyer
  • September 25, 2017

This summer’s hurricanes have taught us and reminded us again that we cannot prepare for Mother Nature. Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Jose, and the approaching Hurricane Maria have left the East Coast decimated with Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean Islands feeling most of the pain. Many have no power. And many places had flooded streets and homes.

Closer to home, the Des Plaines and Fox Rivers came over their banks. Floods affected many in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Rains brought previous high marks crashing down. Many lost so much in the floods. And although those areas have experienced floods before, this seemed different.

However, remember while the excess amount of water can wreak its own damage on communities, other risks exist as well.

Flesh-Eating Bacteria

For example, a paramedic assisting with the Hurricane Harvey relief effort left his flooded home. He searched the streets for any members of his community needing help. He left his home in full search appropriate gear but without gloves. The paramedic had no intention of leaving his boat or exposing his skin to the water. However, while canoeing through the flood waters, a bug bit him. The combination of the bug bite and flood water let to an infected forearm causing the paramedic to visit the emergency room where doctors discovered that the man have contracted necrotizing fasciitis, more commonly known as “flesh-eating bacteria.” The condition caused the paramedic to remain in the hospital for 10 days and sustain 3 surgeries. Necrotizing faciitis is fatal in 25% of cases.

The paramedic does not want the same thing to happen to other helping in the flood recovery. He advises “”…to stay dry,” he said. “Completely cover your skin with waterproof clothes and make sure any open wounds are sealed with material that water cannot penetrate.” The paramedic also made sure to stress the importance of covering your mouth and not breathing in the water droplets. This could cause the flesh-eating bacteria to get into a person’s lungs.

This is simply one example of the risks associated with floods that are not directly associated with high water levels. While flooding is hard to avoid due to its chaotic nature and unpredictability at times, we can be ready for when the flood hits and be smart when the clean-up begins.

Preparing for a Flood

Here are a few ways to prepare for a flood. According the American Red Cross, before a flood occurs, residents should:

  1. Assemble an emergency preparedness kit.
  2. Create a household evacuation plan that includes your pets.
  3. Stay informed about your community’s risk and response plans.
  4. Educate your family on how to use the Safe and Well website.
  5. Download the Emergency App.
  6. Make sure to have insurance cards, identifications, and birth certificates as well as any other important, irreplaceable documents readily accessible in the event that an evacuation takes place.

Keeping Your Pets Safe

When looking to ensure protection of family pets or livestock, residents should:

  1. Create a pet emergency kit for your companion animals, and keep it somewhere easily accessible.
  2. Protect outbuildings, pastures, or corrals in the same way as your home.
  3. Consider installing or changing fence lines so that animals are able to move to higher ground in the event of a flood.

Preparing Your Home

When equipping your home in anticipation of a flood, make sure to:

  1. Have sandbags readily accessible
  2. (if time allows) Have professionals inspect your home for weak areas that could fall victim to flooding

What To Do After a Flood

After a flood has occurred, many people will want to the return home to begin repairing and cleaning any damage that may have occurred during the flood. When clearing debris in flooded conditions, remember to:

  1. Cover your skin when in flooded areas by wearing protective clothing, including rubber gloves and rubber boots to keep from bacteria harming your body.
  2. Use additional caution when moving debris. These pieces may be heavy due to additional water weight.
  3. (As hard as it might be), throw out any items that have absorbed water and cannot be properly cleaned and disinfected including mattresses, carpeting, cosmetics, stuffed animals and baby toys.
  4. Use this rule: “when in doubt, throw it out.” Food. Beverages. Medicine. Canned goods. Plastic utensils. If it has been touched by flood water, toss it.
  5. According to the American Red Cross, “pump out flooded basements gradually (about one-third of the water per day) to avoid structural damage. If the water is pumped out completely in a short period of time, pressure from water-saturated soil on the outside could cause basement walls to collapse.”
  6. Be sure to seek proper professional guidance for septic, foundational, and other vital and necessary repairs.

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