Returning Home After a Hurricane
- Listen to local officials for information and special instructions.
- Be careful during clean-up. Wear protective clothing, use appropriate face coverings or masks if cleaning mold or other debris, and maintain a physical distance of at least six feet while working with someone else. People with asthma and other lung conditions and/or immune suppression should not enter buildings with indoor water leaks or mold growth that can be seen or smelled, even if they do not have an allergy to mold. Children should not take part in disaster cleanup work.
- Continue taking steps to protect yourself from COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, such as washing your hands often and cleaning commonly touched surfaces.
- Wear protective clothing and work with someone else.
- Do not touch electrical equipment if it is wet or if you are standing in water. If it is safe to do so, turn off electricity at the main breaker or fuse box to prevent electric shock.
- Avoid wading in flood water, which can contain dangerous debris. Underground or downed power lines can also electrically charge the water.
- Save phone calls for emergencies. Phone systems are often down or busy after a disaster. Use text messages or social media to communicate with family and friends.
- Document any property damage with photographs. Contact your insurance company for assistance.
- Engage virtually with your community through video and phone calls. Know that it’s normal to feel anxious or stressed. Take care of your body and talk to someone if you are feeling upset. Many people may already feel fear and anxiety about the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). The threat of a hurricane can add additional stress. Follow CDC guidance for managing stress during a traumatic event and managing stress during COVID-19.
After a flood
- Return home only when officials have declared the area safe.
- Before entering your home, look outside for loose power lines, damaged gas lines, foundation cracks or other damage.
- Parts of your home may be collapsed or damaged. Approach entrances carefully.
- Watch out for wild animals, especially poisonous snakes that may have come into your home with the floodwater.
- If you smell natural or propane gas or hear a hissing noise, leave immediately and call the fire department.
- If power lines are down outside your home, do not step in puddles or standing water.
- Keep children and pets away from floodwater.
- Make sure your food and water are safe before eating, drinking or washing.
- Do not use water that could be contaminated.
- Photograph damage to your property for insurance purposes.
After the storm, it’s time to assess the damage. Keep your battery-operated radio close for news reports about damage, road closures, power outages and other emergency instructions. With at least seven days of uncertainty depending on the storm, you’ll need to rely upon what you’ve stored for food, water, medications and entertainment. After a hurricane, it could be weeks or months before life gets back to normal. Use the following safety steps during recovery:
Food Safety and Guidelines:
Power outages caused by hurricanes can present health concerns from food spoilage. Tips to help keep you safe:
- Before the storm, take an inventory of the items in your refrigerator and freezer. Put this list on the refrigerator door so you know where everything is located.
- Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Minimal freezer door openings can keep frozen items safe for about two days.
- Refrigerated foods should be safe if the power is out for no more than four to six hours. Discard any food that has been above 40°F for two hours and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture. Never taste food to determine safety!
- If power will be off more than six hours, transfer refrigerated foods to an insulated cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs. Keep a thermometer in the cooler to be sure the food stays at 40°F or below. For more information about food safety, visit www.foodsafety.gov/keep/emergency/index.html or https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-safety-charts/food-safety-during-power-outage
Improperly disposed human waste can lead to outbreaks of cholera, dysentery and other diseases. Tips for a sewer outage:
- When instructed, do not use or flush your toilet. Powered sewer lift stations may be out of order, which could lead to a sewage back-up into homes.
- Use a chemical toilet if one is available.
- Create an emergency toilet by using your toilet bowl or a five-gallon plastic bucket with a tight fitting lid. Line either with a heavy-duty trash bag and use household bleach as a disinfectant. If using your toilet bowl, first turn off water and flush one time to empty before lining with trash bag.
- DO NOT use ‘kitty litter’ in your emergency toilet. This cannot be flushed after the sewage system is operational.
- Once given the OK, dispose of the emergency toilet’s contents into your household commode.
- Thoroughly sanitize your emergency toilet with bleach before storing or disposing.
- Wash hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap and water after handling the emergency toilet.
A boil-water order can be issued during a hurricane or any other significant event that affects the drinking water supply. This means there is a possibility of some microbial contamination in tap water. While there are advanced and expensive filters and specialized water treatment tablets on the market that can make your water safe to drink, there are two methods that are typically used by homeowners:
Boiling is the most effective way to kill bacteria, viruses and parasites in water. According to the Florida State Health Department and the Center for Disease Control, a pot of water that has been brought to a full rolling boil for one minute is enough to kill pathogens and make the water safe to consume. Let the water come to room temperature before drinking.
Bleach is a less effective way to sanitize water but can work if you don’t have access to power or cooking fuel. Add 1/8 tsp. of common unscented household bleach (it should contain 5.25% sodium hypochlorite) per gallon of water and let the water stand for at least 30 minutes.
Remember, these methods work with water that is clear but possibly contaminated, not with murky water taken from a ditch, for example
Home generators provide limited power during a prolonged power outage. Use them to keep a refrigerator cold, run a fan, recharge your cell phone or operate a microwave oven. Generators can help make your storm recovery more comfortable, but they can also kill if not used correctly. Read instructions carefully and fully understand how to use your specific generator. Generator safety tips:
- Carbon Monoxide (CO):
A colorless, odorless gas produced from burning fuel that is deadly even in very small amounts.
- Always use generators outdoors, away from doors, windows and vents. NEVER use them in homes, garages, basements, crawl spaces or other enclosed or partially-enclosed areas, even with ventilation.
- Install battery-operated or battery-backup carbon monoxide alarms in your home. Test these alarms often and replace batteries when needed.
- Electrical Hazards:
Generators create electricity, which can kill if you receive a shock.
- Keep the generator dry. Operate on a dry surface in an open area. Dry your hands before handling it.
- Plug appliances directly into generator or use a heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cord that is free of cuts or tears and has all three prongs, especially a grounding pin.
- NEVER plug the generator into a wall outlet. This practice, known as backfeeding, can cause electrocution risk to utility workers and others served by the same utility transformer.
- If necessary to connect generator to house wiring for appliances, have a qualified electrician install needed equipment and teach you how to use it.
- Fire Hazards:
Generators use flammable fuels, increasing the chance of an accidental fire that can threaten your life and property.
- Before refueling the generator, turn it off and let it cool.
- Always store fuel outside of living areas in labeled containers.
- Store fuel away from any fuel-burning appliance.
While it is necessary to clear downed trees and branches, use great caution when operating a chainsaw. Safety tips to help keep you safe and injury-free:
- Before Starting the Saw:
- Read your owner’s manual.
- Wear proper safety gear, including eye and hearing protection, heavy work gloves and work boots.
- Check controls, chain tension, and all bolts and handles to ensure they are functioning properly.
- Fuel your saw at least 10 feet from sources of ignition.
- Clear debris that may interfere with cutting.
- While Running the Saw:
- Keep hands on the handles, and secure footing.
- Do not cut directly overhead or overreach with the saw.
- Be prepared for kickback.
A hurricane can turn a familiar road into an unfamiliar and dangerous one very quickly.
Driving safety tips:
- Do not drive through standing water. You will not know the depth of the water nor will you know the condition of the road under the water.
- Match your speed to road conditions. Cars can quickly become uncontrollable when driving on damaged, debris-choked roads.
- Visibility may be limited. Increased traffic on congested roadways and large trucks can obstruct your line of sight.
- Maintain a safe distance from the car in front of you.
- Traffic patterns may be shifted in work zones; obey posted work zone speed limits at all times. Be aware of equipment and workers.
- Constantly scan for pedestrians who can quickly lose their footing.
- Obey all “road closed” signs. Just because you can’t see road damage doesn’t mean it is safe.
- Treat any intersection with non-working traffic signals as an “all-way” stop. Be prepared to stop at every intersection.
- Not all damaged or destroyed road signs have been replaced; be prepared to yield to a pedestrian or another driver or to stop unexpectedly.
- Know where you are going and give yourself ample time to get there.
- Drive with car lights on and slow down.
Re-entering the County:
If you have evacuated out of the area, returning home can have some challenges if a storm has done significant damage to the county. Bridges and roads may be closed due to damage, flooding or debris. Officials may have entire areas closed off to everyone, even residents. It’s important to remember that coming home is not a guarantee. So before heading home, be sure to watch or read the news to learn the latest information about road conditions and damage reports for Pinellas County and surrounding areas.
Each municipality and unincorporated area of the county contracts with different companies for waste management. That’s why residents will have different directions about dealing with yard debris, regular trash, and bulk items.
- Normal daily schedules and processes will likely be different after a storm.
- The type of storm will also make a difference whether large items (like refrigerators) will be picked up, if yard debris will be in piles or bagged, etc. You must be patient as urgent needs will be taken care of first.
- For information, you can either check the website of your city or the county (if there is power), wait for further instruction from your city or the county, or watch the news.
- If you live on private roads, you will need to plan ahead for a location to dispose of debris on your own.
- Contractors that you hire to do work, such as cutting a tree down, fence work, flooding repair, or removal of household items, are responsible for debris removal. That is included in the fee they are charging you; so, be sure they are licensed and they fulfill their responsibilities.