North Carolina

As Florence floodwaters rise, so do these five hidden risks. How to protect yourself

Here are 5 risks that come with floodwater

Biggest hazards sometimes come after the storm.
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Biggest hazards sometimes come after the storm.

Drowning might be the most obvious flood danger, but it’s far from the only one, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Floodwaters left in North Carolina and South Carolina in the wake of pounding rains from Florence, now a tropical depression, can contain all sorts of hidden dangers, experts warn.

“The water is not going to be safe, both from chemical and biological contamination,” said Jeff Schlegelmilch, deputy director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, according to NBC News.

Here are five categories of floodwater dangers to beware of, along with tips on staying safe.

Infectious disease

Diarrheal diseases, including cryptosporidiosis, e. Coli, giardiasis, noroviruses and shigellosis, among others, are a serious floodwater threat, according to the CDC.

The agency suggests thoroughly washing your hands after contacting floodwaters and not allowing children to play in flooded areas or with toys contaminated by floodwater.

Also, be alert for boil-water notices from government agencies, as water systems are frequently polluted by raw sewage overflows in floods.

Bacteria in the water also can infect open wounds or rashes, according to the CDC. Tetanus and Vibrio vulnificus, which can lead to potentially fatal septicemia, are the biggest risks.

“When you talk about what is in that water — human waste, raw sewage, toxic chemicals, oil, gasoline, potentially wildlife, snakes, alligators — then there’s the possibility for anyone with an open cut or scrape on their body for an entry, portal of entry for bacteria to get in there,” said Dr. Jennifer Ashton, according to ABC News.

Avoid exposing open wounds to floodwater or cover them with a waterproof bandage, warns the CDC. Keep wounds clean and seek immediate medical help if swelling, redness or drainage occur.

Trench foot, also called immersion foot, can occur when feet are wet for long periods of time, according to Medical News Today. It can lead to swelling, pain and sensory disturbances, but is not contagious. Keep your feet dry and clean to help avoid trench foot.

Other diseases commonly associated with flooding, such as cholera, typhoid and yellow fever, as reported by the World Health Organization, are not a concern in the United States, according to the CDC.

Commanding officers of the U.S. Coast Guard survey the flooding in New Bern, NC Saturday ,Sept. 15, 2018 to assess the impact of Hurricane Florence.

Electrocution

Downed power lines, live circuitry or generators beneath floodwaters can pose a sometimes invisible threat, according to The Weather Channel.

A 78-year-old man in Kinston, North Carolina, died Friday when he was electrocuted trying to connect extension cords in the rain, according to The Raleigh News & Observer.

Turn off electricity at the main breaker if floodwaters have been near circuits or electrical equipment, the CDC advised. Do not turn the power back on until the wiring and devices have been inspected by an electrician.

Generators also can pose a carbon monoxide risk if not properly ventilated, the CDC added.

Two people in Loris, South Carolina, were found dead Friday of carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator in their home, reported The Myrtle Beach Sun News.

Injury

Just about anything can be lurking beneath muddy, opaque floodwaters, including sharp or heavy debris such as broken glass or jagged metal.

These objects present a risk of “anything from a fracture to a major laceration,” Ashton said, according to ABC News.

If you do get hurt, promptly treat injuries to try to prevent infection, the CDC warned.

Animals and insects

Snakes, alligators, insects and other wildlife — or pets — displaced by flooding are another threat, according to the CDC. Stress might cause even domesticated animals to lash out and bite, so give displaced animals a wide berth.

Snakes, in particular, often dwell along waterways and are very likely to be carried away by floodwaters, said Thad Bowman with Alligator Adventure, according to The Myrtle Beach Sun News.

Call 911 or get to a hospital immediately if you are bitten by a venomous snake, Bowman advised.

Mosquitoes, which breed in standing water, also carry a number of infection risks.

Toxic chemicals

Floodwaters might be contaminated by any number of household, industrial or agricultural chemicals, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

North Carolina, a top producer of hogs, also faces the danger of pollutants from hog feces, according to NBC News.

“Those waste materials are going to contain antibiotics, of which hogs are fed very high quantities to speed up their growth rate, in addition to the viruses and bacteria that are naturally found in hog feces,” said Rachel Noble, a professor at the Institute of Marine Sciences of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, according to the network.

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency is monitoring 41 Superfund cleanup sites for hazardous waste in the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia and Maryland, reported ABC News.

Call 911 or a poison control center immediately if you suspect a person or pet has been poisoned, the CDC advised.

Be alert for official warnings of chemical contamination and be sure to properly dispose of any household chemicals that might be spilled or leaking, the CDC warned.

Other risks

As floodwaters recede, mold — including some toxic varieties — can pose serious health risks, reported CNN. Anxiety, depression and stress also can pose post-flood threats.

Follow more of our reporting on Hurricane Florence

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