Don't Be Left in the Dark - Weathering Floods, Storms and Power Outages--During a Storm or Outage

Keep on Top of Things

  • Listen to the radio for weather and information updates. If you do not have a battery-powered radio, use your car radio. If you are using your car radio, do not run your car for extended periods of time in a closed or open garage.
  • Start thinking about what you would need to do if you had to leave your house and go to a shelter or friend's house. The section, If You Have to Leave Your Home, has a list of items that you may need if you have to evacuate your home.

In the Event of a Flood

  • If flooding is likely, consider how long you should stay in your house. If you think that an evacuation is likely, start gathering the things you will need in preparation for when you leave. If it has been recommended that you evacuate immediately, gather the things you want to take and leave as soon as possible.
  • If there is time, move important papers, television sets, computers, stereo equipment and easily moveable appliances such as a microwave oven to the upper floors of your home.
  • If your basement floods before you have a chance to shut off electric and natural gas service, do not enter the basement. There is the possibility of electric shock if any electrical wires are touching the water. Contact your electric company as soon as possible.

Keeping Warm

Helpful Hints: If You Must Use a Kerosene Heater
  • Use 1-K grade kerosene only. Never substitute with fuel oil, diesel, gasoline or yellow (regular) kerosene.
  • Never add fuel to the heater when it is hot. The fuel can ignite, burning you and your home.
  • Keep the heater away from objects that can burn, such as furniture, rugs or curtains.
  • Open a window to provide ventilation when a portable kerosene heater is in use.

If your heat goes out during a winter storm, you can keep warm by closing off rooms you don't need. Dress in layers of lightweight clothing and wear a hat. If it gets colder, you can avoid hypothermia by wearing layers of dry clothes, a hat and blankets. Hypothermia, caused by exposure to cold, lowers the body's temperature and can seriously threaten your health. Infants and the elderly are especially at risk. Warning signs of hypothermia include slurred speech, drowsiness and disorientation.

  • Other Heating Sources

    • If you need to use an alternate heating source such as a fireplace, wood stove, or portable kerosene heater, be sure to have adequate ventilation to the outside. Without enough fresh air, carbon monoxide fumes can build up in your home and cause sickness or even death.
    • Keep children away from all heaters to avoid accidental burns.
    • Never use a natural gas or propane stove/oven to heat your home.

Using Water Safely

  • How to Find Water

    Never ration the amount of water you need to drink if you find your supply of water running low. Being well-hydrated will help you think more clearly. Drink the amount you need today and try to find more for tomorrow.

    Typically, an adult needs to drink two quarts of water a day. Very hot weather can double that amount. Children, nursing mothers and the elderly will need more. Ice, soft drinks and fruit juices can serve as water substitutes in emergencies.

    If you are left without a stored supply of clean water, you can find hidden sources of water throughout your home in a variety of places, but you must disinfect the water before drinking it by following one of the methods below. Hidden water can be found in your hot water tank, in your plumbing and in ice cubes and, as a last resort, in the reservoir tank of your toilet (not the bowl). If your home is on a private well, you will probably have a pressure or storage tank that is part of the well system. If power is lost, some water will still be under pressure in your system and should be saved for drinking.

  • Tapping Hidden Water Sources

    • To use water in your pipes, let air into the plumbing by turning on the highest cold water faucet in your house and draining the water from the lowest one (often a laundry sink in the basement).
    • To use the water in your hot water tank, be sure the electricity or gas is off, and open the drain at the bottom of the tank. Start the water flowing by turning off the water intake valve and turning on a hot-water faucet (preferably one that is on a higher level of your house). Do not turn on the gas or electricity when the tank is empty.

Disinfecting Water

Before using any of these disinfection methods, let suspended particles settle to the bottom, or strain the untreated water through layers of paper towels, clean cloths or paper coffee filters. Contaminated water can contain microorganisms that cause diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, headaches, or other symptoms. You should always disinfect water of uncertain purity before using it for drinking, food preparation, or personal hygiene.

  • Disinfection by Boiling

    Disinfection by boiling produces the safest water.

    • Bring water to a rolling boil for one minute.
    • Let the water cool before drinking.
    • Boiled water will taste better if you put oxygen back into it by pouring it back and forth between two containers. This will also improve the taste of stored water.
  • Using Liquid Chlorine Bleach

    • Disinfect water by adding 8 drops of liquid chlorine bleach (4-6% available chlorine) per gallon of water (16 drops if the water is cloudy).
    • Stir, and let stand for 30 minutes.
    • If the water does not taste and smell of chlorine at that point, add another dose of bleach and let stand for another 15 minutes.
  • Using Iodine or Chlorine Tablets

    • Check the expiration date for the tablets before using.
    • Follow the package directions.
    • Usually one tablet is enough for one quart of water.
    • Double the dose if the water is cloudy.
  • Disinfecting Drinking Water

    Contaminated drinking water can contain microorganisms that cause diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, headaches, or other symptoms. You should always disinfect water of uncertain purity before using it for drinking, food preparation, or personal hygiene.

Well Contamination

If the area around your well gets flooded or if you suspect that your well is contaminated, you need to disinfect the water in the well before using it for washing and at the tap before using it for drinking water or for cooking. You should continue disinfection at the tap until the water is tested and found suitable for drinking. Contact your local health department for information about testing your well. Changes in the water's appearance, taste or odor may indicate possible contamination.

After disinfecting the well, the water should be tested to determine whether all bacterial contamination has been removed. You should wait several days to test the water to be sure that all the chlorine has been flushed from the water system. Contact your local health department for more information about testing your well. Until testing shows that the water is free of contamination, you should continue to use bottled or disinfected water for drinking and food preparation as described in the Disinfecting Water section.

You may wish to consider retesting the well water again after several weeks. If flooding and groundwater contamination is extensive, your well may not be a suitable source of drinking water for some time. Severe flooding that damages the well casing, deposits debris around the well or submerges electrical controls will require a qualified professional for evaluation, servicing and disinfection.

  • Procedure for Disinfecting a Well

    1. Run water until clear, using an outdoor faucet closest to the well or pressure tank.
    2. Mix two quarts household bleach containing about 5% chlorine in 10 gallons of water in a large bucket or pail in the area of the well casing.
    3. Turn electrical power off to the well pump. Carefully remove the well cap and well seal if necessary. Set aside.
    4. Place hose connected to outdoor faucet inside well casing. Turn electrical power back on to the well pump and turn water on to run the pump.
    5. Carefully pour the water and bleach mixture from the bucket or pail down the open well casing. At the same time, continue to run the water from the hose placed inside the well casing.
    6. At each indoor and outdoor faucet, run the water until a chlorine odor is present, then shut each faucet off.
    7. Continue running water through the hose inside the well casing to recirculate the chlorine-treated water. Use the hose to also wash down the inside of the well casing.
    8. After one hour of recirculating the water, shut all faucets off to stop the pump. Disconnect power supply to pump. Remove recirculator hose from well.
    9. Mix two more quarts of bleach in 10 gallons of water and pour mixture down the well casing. Disinfect the well cap and seal by rinsing with a chlorine solution. Replace well seal and cap. Allow the well to stand idle for at least eight hours and preferably 12 to 24 hours. Avoid using the water during this time.
    10. After the well has idled for the recommended period of time, turn the pump on and run the water using an outdoor faucet and garden hose in an area away from grass and shrubbery until the odor of chlorine disappears. Run all indoor and outdoor faucets until the odor and taste of chlorine disappears.

Food Safety

Helpful Hints: Saving Food in the Freezer
The freezer temperature should be between 0 and -10 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Keep the cold air in your freezer by not opening the door any more than necessary. An unopened full freezer will stay at freezing temperature about two days and a half-full freezer about one day.
  • The kind of food in the freezer makes a difference. For instance, foods with a high water content, such as meat or fruit, will stay frozen longer than food with a low water content, such as bread.
  • If your freezer is not full, group packages so they form an "igloo" to protect each other. Place them to one side or on a tray so that if they begin thawing, their juices won't get on other food.
  • If you think power will be out for several days, try to find some dry ice. Although dry ice can be used in the refrigerator, block ice is better. If your refrigerator's freezer is thawing out, you can put the block ice in the refrigerator's freezer along with your refrigerated perishables such as meat, poultry and dairy items.

If the power goes out, it is important to open the refrigerator and freezer as little as possible. Do not put your food outside to keep cold in the winter. Placing food outside is not advisable for several reasons. First, the temperature that is cold enough for refrigerated food (40 degrees or less) is too warm for frozen food, which should be between 0 and -10 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, the sun could warm the food to a temperature which would allow bacteria to grow. Also, animals could get into your food and contaminate it.

Eat the most perishable items first, such as leftovers, meat, poultry and foods containing milk, cream, sour cream, or soft cheese.

Despite your best efforts, the food in your freezer may partially or completely thaw before power is restored.

Generally, food in the refrigerator will remain cold for four to six hours if the door isn't opened.

  • About Dry Ice

    How Much Dry Ice
    Unit Type Pounds of dry ice
    per day
    refrigerator 10
    freezer on bottom 10-25
    freezer on top 20-30
    side by side freezer 30-40
    chest freezer 40-50
    walk-in freezer (12x12) 150-250
    walk-in refrigerator (12x12) 50-100
    • Handle dry ice with caution and in a well-ventilated area. Don't touch it with bare hands; wear gloves or use tongs.
    • If there are widespread power outages, emergency officials may be distributing dry ice. Check for central distribution points.
    • To locate a distributor of dry ice, look under "ice" or "carbon dioxide" in the phone book.
    • Wrap dry ice in brown paper for longer storage. One large piece lasts longer than small ones. In upright freezers, place dry ice on each shelf.
    • The temperature of dry ice is -216 degrees Fahrenheit; therefore, it may cause freezer burn on items located near it or touching it. Separate dry ice from the food using a piece of cardboard.
    • Fill partly empty freezers with crumpled paper to lessen air currents, which cause dry ice to dissolve.
    • Cover the freezer with blankets, adding crumpled newspaper for added insulation. Be sure air vent openings are left open to allow gas from dry ice to escape. Ventilation will also be needed when the power is restored.

Cooking When the Power Goes Out

For emergency cooking, you can use a fireplace, wood stove, barbecue grill, or camp stove. You can also heat food with candle warmers, chafing dishes and fondue pots. Canned food can be eaten right out of the can. If you do heat the can, be sure to open it and remove the label first.

Never use barbecue grills and/or camp stoves indoors. They give off dangerous carbon monoxide gas that can build up and cause sickness or death.