How to protect yourself from floodwater hazards
Last updated: November 2021
When many people think of floods, they think of damage to their home or property. But, floodwaters can also pose health and safety hazards to you and your family. Here's a look at what to watch out for after a flood:
Types of floodwater hazards
Some of the hidden dangers associated with floodwaters may include:
- Electrical hazards
- Chemicals and waste
- Insects and animals
- Sharp debris
Strong winds that accompany storms can knock down power lines. You may be at risk for electrocution when walking or driving through flooded areas where downed power lines are present, says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you see downed power lines near your home, do not walk near or through floodwater. Instead, get to a safe place and call local authorities to alert them of the situation.
You also shouldn't turn on any light switches or use electrical appliances or items in your home if the electrical system has sustained damage. Call a professional for help to inspect your home's electrical system or if you're uncertain whether it's safe to use.
Chemicals and waste
Chemicals and sewage can contaminate floodwaters and cause gastrointestinal issues, infections, rashes and other illnesses, according to the CDC. After a flood, you should not bathe, drink or cook with your home's water supply until it's been tested or determined that it's safe for use.
Insects and animals
It's not uncommon for floods to contain or attract wild animals, such as snakes and rodents, says the CDC. The mosquito population can also increase in flooding areas since they require water for breeding, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Be cautious when walking through floodwater and keep an eye out for wild animals. You should also get rid of standing water as soon as possible by draining or emptying standing water that may have collected in buckets, gutters, pools or other containers.
Floodwater can carry sharp objects or other dangerous debris that may be hard to spot, says the National Weather Service. While you should avoid walking or driving through floodwater, it's possible that you may come into contact with water as you return home to complete post-flood cleanup. When entering your home, use caution and help protect yourself by wearing rubber boots, gloves and eye protection during cleanup, says the CDC.
Additional safety tips for post-flood cleanup
It's a good idea to wait to return home after a flood until local authorities say it is safe to do so. When you return home after a flood, here are some additional safety tips from the CDC to keep in mind as you get ready to clean up your home:
- Wash your hands: Wash your hands frequently with soap and clean water — especially before you eat or drink — to help minimize the risk of contracting an infection or illnesses.
- Wash your clothes: After cleanup is done for the day, clean and disinfect clothing by washing any items that have come in contact with floodwater in hot water and laundry detergent. Do not wash the clothes you wore during cleanup with other items that weren't exposed to floodwater.
- Care for wounds: Take care of any wounds, even minor ones, during flood cleanup. If you have an existing wound, try to avoid exposing the cut to floodwater altogether by wearing gloves and cleaning the wound frequently with fresh, clean water and soap. Remember to change the wound dressing often.
- Prevent infection: If an existing wound develops redness or swelling, or you experience any other signs of an infection (such as a high fever or pain), seek medical attention as soon as possible. If you sustain a wound during cleanup, especially from a dirty object, seek medical attention.
Remembering these flood-related dangers can help you stay safe as you return home after a flood. If you're ever unsure whether it's safe to return home or have concerns during post-flood cleanup, contact local authorities and professionals for guidance and help with inspections.