Major Health Risks from the Flood Waters of Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey Houston flooding

Hurricane Harvey may have already passed through, but it has left massive flooding behind that is causing a variety of issues in the Houston, TX area.  Not only has the flood water caused widespread destruction with some estimating the damage to be as high as $190 billion, but it is also presenting major health risks and safety issues.  There is a good chance that the flood water is contaminated by sewage, chemicals, and other hazardous materials, and there is also a high risk of electric shock or injury from debris in the water.  The health and safety risks are so bad that Dr. Tom Price, the Health and Human Services Secretary, has declared a public health emergency in the state of Texas.

Hurricane Harvey TX

If you are in one of the areas affected by Hurricane Harvey, whether you are at a shelter, returning home, or working to help the victims, you must be aware of the potential health risks and dangers from the flood water.  Being aware of these dangers will help you better protect yourself from injury, illness, or infection.

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The following are the biggest risks to your health and safety from the flooding.

Infection of Open Wounds

The flood water may contain a range of contaminants including sewage, harmful microorganisms, bacteria, and chemicals that can cause infection or disease.  The risk of becoming infected is quite high if you wade through the flood water with an open cut or sore.  If you must wade through the water, it is very important for you to properly cover your wounds and wear protective gear.  It is best to avoid going into the flood water if you cannot properly cover open wounds.

Electric Shock from Downed Power Lines

The risk of electric shock is a major cause for concern when moving through flood water.  Power lines knocked down in the storm create an electrical current in the water that can cause a shock or electrocution if you are exposed.  You are also at risk for an electric shock in flooded homes and buildings if the outlets or other electrical equipment are submerged in the water.  You must be on the lookout for downed power lines to protect yourself from an electric shock and contact the power company right away if you find one.  If you are about to enter a flooded home or building, shut off the main power to prevent electric shocks.

Sharp Debris

The winds of Hurricane Harvey caused immense damage to homes and buildings and as a result, much of the debris from the damage is in the flood water.  This debris includes sharp objects like nails, glass, metal edges, splintered wood, and many others that may be difficult to see through the murky water.  Getting a cut from these objects will not only lead to injury, but also make you vulnerable to infection through the open wound.  You must wear heavy duty protective shoes and pants when wading through the flood water to protect yourself from sharp debris.

Unstable Structures

Many homes and buildings have sustained serious structural damage from the winds, rain, and flooding that can leave them dangerously unstable.  If the structural integrity of a home or building has been compromised, it is at risk of collapse which can seriously injure anyone inside or near the building.  You must get the proper clearance to ensure that your home or building is safe before entering.  If you are still in your home, make sure you evacuate immediately if you hear unfamiliar shifting or creaking noises.  These sounds typically occur before a structure collapses.

Toxic Chemicals

There are many toxic chemicals that can contaminate flood water including gasoline, oil, pesticides, and others.  Those who are exposed to toxic chemicals in the flood water may experience chemical poisoning which consists of the following symptoms:

  • Muscle twitches
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin rashes
  • Disorientation

You must try your best to avoid going through flooded areas that are known to be contaminated with chemicals.  You should also avoid contact with the flood water if you suspect that an area might be contaminated.

Fecal Matter Contamination

Sewage is a common contaminate of flood water and it contains organic human waste that can make you sick.  Animal feces can also contaminate flood water.  Organic waste materials like this often contain bacteria and toxins that can easily spread infection or disease.  Those affected by organic waste may experience the following:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Gastroenteritis

The best way to protect yourself from the organic waste in the flood water is to wear protective gear.  If you believe that a certain area may be affected by sewage, stay out of the flood water.

Distressed Wildlife

We are not the only ones whose lives are affected by Hurricane Harvey.  The storm has also displaced wildlife by flooding their natural habitat.  Animals that have been affected by the storm are distressed by the conditions and much more likely to attack humans because of the high level of stress.  You must look out for wild animals and do your best to keep your distance from them to avoid an attack.

Flood Damage Cleanup

Water damage restoration - Houston TX

It may be a while before we can completely reclaim our community from the flooding of Hurricane Harvey, but in the meantime, make sure you do what you can to avoid illness or injury from these risk factors.  We understand that it may not be possible for some to avoid going into the flood water, but if you can avoid it, this is your safest course of action.

If you have experienced flood damage or a flooded basement from Hurricane Harvey, do not hesitate to contact ServiceMaster Restoration & Cleaning for our water damage restoration services.  Our technicians have been working tirelessly to help the residents and businesses in the Houston, TX area recover from this major disaster.