Flooding Continues to Pose Risks to New Yorkers in the Aftermath of Recent Storms

New York State
Emergency Management Office
John R. Gibb
Director
Contact: Dennis Michalski
518-292-2310
Department of Health
Antonia C. Novello, M.D.
Commissioner
Contact: Robert Kenny
518-474-7354, ext. 1

Flooding Continues to Pose Risks to New Yorkers in the Aftermath of Recent Storms

State Provides Additional Health and Safety Advice to Residents

Albany, NY, June 30, 2006 - New York State Emergency Management Officer Director John R. Gibb and State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H, today cautioned New Yorkers to remain vigilant to protect their health and safety in the aftermath of recent flooding in many parts of the state.

"Think safety first. It is important to remain alert to the hazards – some obvious, some hidden – that may be associated with storm-damaged areas," Director Gibb said. "If you are returning home to a flood-impacted area, it is vital that you use caution and follow the guidance that we and emergency management experts across the nation recommend to keep you and your family safe and healthy."

"The recent flooding has been a terrible ordeal for many New Yorkers. The last thing we want is for anyone else to suffer illness or injury, so if you live in a flooded area, take special care to protect your health and safety," Dr. Novello advised. "Think about your neighbors, too. If you know of someone with special needs, please check on them, if you can, in case they might need assistance."

Officials caution that recovering from a flood involves taking many special precautions, including the following:

Returning Home After the Flood:

  • Stay informed! Listen to the radio or TV for instructions from local officials.
  • Wait until an area has been declared safe before entering it. Be careful driving, roads may be damaged and power lines may be down.
  • Stay away from downed power lines.
  • Before entering a building, check for structural damage. Turn off any outside gas lines at the meter or tank. Let the building air out to remove foul odors or escaping gases.
  • When entering the building, use a battery-powered flashlight. Do not use an open flame as a source of light. Gas may be trapped inside the structure.
  • When inspecting the building, wear rubber boots and gloves. Watch for electrical shorts and live wires before making certain the main power switch is off.
  • Do not turn on electrical appliances until an electrician has checked the system.

 Food safety: Preventing food-borne diseases

  • Commercially canned food should be discarded if there is bulging or if it is open.
  • Undamaged, commercially canned foods can be saved if you remove the labels and then disinfect the cans in a bleach solution. Use 1/4 cup of bleach in one gallon of water; re-label the cans including expiration date and type of food.
  • Infants should be fed only pre-mixed canned baby formula.
  • Frozen and refrigerated foods can also be unsafe. Thawed and refrigerated foods should be thrown out after four hours.

Sanitation and Hygiene: Preventing illness

  • Basic hygiene is very important during this emergency period. Always wash your hands with soap and water that has been boiled or disinfected before eating and after toilet use, cleanup activities or handling items contaminated by floodwater or sewage.
  • Flood waters may contain fecal matter from sewage systems, agricultural and industrial waste and septic tanks. If you have open cuts or sores exposed to the floodwater, keep them as clean as possible by washing them with soap and disinfected or boiled water. Apply antibiotic ointment to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Do not allow children to play in floodwater or with toys that are contaminated by floodwater.
  • If floodwaters are covering your septic tank and leach field you should not use any flush toilets attached to the system.

Preventing the Growth of Mold

  • Moisture that enters buildings from leaks or flooding accelerates mold growth. Molds can cause disease, trigger allergic reactions and continue to damage materials after the storm.
  • Remove standing water from your home or office. Remove wet materials promptly and ventilate; use fans and dehumidifiers if possible.
  • If mold growth has already occurred, it is best to have a professional remove it.
  • Individuals with known mold allergies or asthma should never clean or remove mold.

Be careful about mixing household cleaners and disinfectants, as combining certain types of products can produce toxic fumes and result in injury or death.

Additional Household Cleanup

  • Walls, hard-surfaced floors and many other household surfaces must be cleaned with soap and water and disinfected with a solution of 1 cup of bleach to five gallons of water.
  • Thoroughly disinfect surfaces that come in contact with food and children's play areas.
  • Wash all linens and clothing in hot water or dry-clean.
  • Items that cannot be washed or dry-cleaned, such as mattresses and upholstered furniture, must be air dried in the sun and sprayed thoroughly with a disinfectant.
  • Steam-clean all carpeting.
  • Replace fiberboard, insulation and disposable filters in your heating/cooling system.
  • Wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves during clean-up.

It can be difficult to throw away items in a home, particularly those with sentimental value. However, keeping certain items soaked by sewage or floodwaters may be unhealthy. Materials that cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried within 24-48 hours should be discarded.

Garbage Storage, Collection and Disposal

As you start cleaning, you will likely produce a great deal of garbage. Local authorities will tell you where and when collection will occur. Garbage invites insects and rodents. Rodents, in particular, may be looking for food because the flood may have destroyed their homes and normal food source.

  • Store any garbage in watertight, rodent/insect-proof containers with tight-fitting covers. Use plastic liners if available.
  • Put garbage in a convenient location but not near your well.

Heavy rains and flooding can lead to an increase in mosquitoes that may be infected with West Nile virus. To protect against mosquitoes, remain diligent in your personal mosquito protection efforts. Avoid being outdoors when mosquitoes are most active. For many species, this is during the dusk and dawn hours. Also:

  • Wear clothing that covers most of your skin.
  • Repellents containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide), picaridin or OLE (oil of lemon eucalyptus) are options. Use strictly according to label instructions. Do not allow children to apply repellents and avoid applying repellents to the hands of young children.
  • Check around your home to rid the area of standing water.
  • Eliminate other breeding sites—remove old tires and turn over or remove empty plastic containers.

For additional information, please contact your local health department or visit www.semo.state.ny.us or www.health.ny.gov.