The deluge that struck the Houston area this week left behind hundreds of flooded homes and buildings and caused millions in damages. As residents begin the long, arduous process of necessary cleaning and repairs, the Memorial Hermann Texas Trauma Institute care team wants owners to protect themselves as they dry out their homes, tear out drywall and navigate debris piles.
- Use protective gear. Protect your eyes with a pair of safety glasses or goggles. If standing water remains in your house, wear protective boots and gloves to prevent the contaminated floodwater from touching your skin. Long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and socks can also help protect you from mosquito bites. Cover your mouth and nose with a face mask to avoid inhaling mold/mildew spores and toxic or hazardous fumes. Wash your hands regularly with soap and clean water.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Watch out for snakes and other wild animals that may be seeking shelter from floodwater. Never touch a downed electrical wire. Call the power company immediately. Children should never be allowed to play in floodwater or with toys that have come in contact with floodwater.
- Use tools, ladders with caution. If used improperly, power tools such as circular saws, nail guns and chain saws can cause serious traumatic injuries. Always wear eye and ear protection when operating a power tool. Ladders and stepladders also pose dangers, and falls from portable ladders are a leading cause of occupational fatalities and injuries, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Always read and follow all labels and markings on a ladder, avoid electrical hazards, inspect ladders for damage before using and make sure all locks are engaged. Be sure to maintain a three-point contact when climbing (two hands and a foot, or two feet and one hand). Never use the top step/rung of a ladder and do not move or shift a ladder while a person is on it.
- Never operate a generator inside your home or garage. Generator use is a major cause of poisoning by carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas that causes sudden illness and death if inhaled. Each year, more than 400 people die in the U.S. from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Operating a generator inside a home, garage or camper during an electrical outage can cause carbon monoxide to accumulate in a room and poison the people and animals inside, even if the doors and windows are open. Common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.
- Get a tetanus shot. Floodwater often harbors infectious organisms, including E. coli, Salmonella, or agents of typhoid and tetanus. Floodwater-related illnesses are often contracted by ingesting contaminated food or water; however, people can become infected with tetanus when contaminated soil and water enters broken areas of the skin, such as cuts, abrasions or puncture wounds. If you have an open cut or scrape, came in contact with contaminated water or soil and have not had a tetanus vaccine in more than five years, you should consider getting vaccinated. Tetanus is a serious infection that can lead to severe muscle spasms, known as lockjaw. Symptoms may appear weeks after exposure and later develop into difficulty swallowing or opening the jaw.
“Recovering from a flood can be a trying experience, both emotionally and physically,” said Dr. Samuel Prater, McGovern Medical School at UTHealth emergency medicine physician and medical director of emergency services at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. “Homeowners overwhelmed by the magnitude of the damage can forget to put safety first, but it’s critically important to protect yourself and your family during this difficult time. And always remember to consult a professional for help when dealing with flood-ravaged homes.”