The information that follows is available to allow our residents to plan appropriately for any storm and have timely access to important information to aid in storm clean up.
After a Flood
Never assume that a water-damaged building is safe. Going into a building that has been flooded, even after the water is gone, can present public health hazards that can cause injury, illness or even death. Follow these instructions to avoid the following hazards:
Electrical hazards - Do not enter a flooded or wet building if the power is on. If any electrical circuits have gotten wet, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse box.
Structural damage - Do not enter a building if the framing or foundation is damaged. Look carefully before you enter. Leave immediately if shifting or unusual noises signal a possible collapse of the building.
Hazardous materials - Dangerous materials found in flooded buildings may include pesticides, fuel oil, gasoline, chemicals and other substances that might have been brought in or spilled by flood waters. Damaged buildings may also contain asbestos and lead-based paint, which can cause health problems during cleanup.
Animal and insect related hazards – Look carefully before entering a building to determine if there are displaced animals in the building such as dogs and cats, raccoons and rodents. Watch out for snakes and insects such as wasps, fire ants, and mosquitoes.
Injuries - Falling objects, broken or damaged building components and slick surfaces can cause injuries, broken bones, and cuts. Lifting heavy objects can cause back injuries and muscle strains.
Biological hazards - Bacteria, viruses, fungi, (mold and mildew) and other microorganisms can cause illness when you breathe them in, take them into your body through your mouth, or take them in through non-intact skin. Bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms may be left indoors by floodwater, while mold and mildew may grow indoors after the floodwater has receded.
Stay Safe While You Work
Wear a hardhat and safety goggles when there is a danger of falling materials. Wear leather work gloves, rubber boots or hard-soled boots, preferably with steel toes, and protective clothing such as heavy pants, long sleeves and gloves when cleaning up debris. Use an insect repellent containing DEET to reduce chances of mosquito bites and to reduce risk of mosquito-borne illnesses such as West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis.
If you get a cut or a puncture wound that is exposed to floodwater or the dirt it leaves behind, see a doctor. Make sure your tetanus immunization is up-to-date before you work on the house. Once immunized, adults should have a routine "booster" every ten years.
Food Exposed to Flood Waters May be Unsafe
Food exposed to flood waters following a storm may be unsafe for consumption. If your food products are affected by the storm, please follow the guidelines below.
Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water.
Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water.
Food containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps.
Also discard cardboard juice/milk/baby formula boxes and home canned foods if they have come in contact with flood water, because they cannot be effectively cleaned and sanitized.
Inspect canned foods and discard any food in damaged cans. Can damage is shown by swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting, or crushing/denting severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel-type can opener.
Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and “retort pouches” (like flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches) can be saved if you follow this procedure:
Thoroughly wash cans or retort pouches with soap and water, using hot water if it is available. Rinse the cans or retort pouches with water that is safe for drinking, if available, since dirt or residual soap will reduce the effectiveness of chlorine sanitation.
Sanitize cans and retort pouches by immersion using one of the two following methods:
Air dry cans or retort pouches for a minimum of 1 hour before opening or storing.
Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils (including can openers) with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse, and then sanitize by boiling in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 cup of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per 5 gallons of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available).
Thoroughly wash countertops with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse, and then sanitize by applying a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available). Allow to air dry.
Food Assessment after Power Outages
Dare County residents should be careful not to consume food that may have been exposed or damaged during a storm. It is important to assess food stored during power outages and/or exposed to storm water.
Residents are urged to use the following guidelines when assessing their food:
- Refrigerators will keep foods appropriately cold for about 4 hours without power if it is unopened.
- Thawed foods can be eaten if they are ‘refrigerator cold’ or re-frozen and still contain ice crystals. Do not refreeze thoroughly thawed foods. Discard any food that has been at temperatures greater than 40 degrees for 2 hours or more.
- Do not open freezers until you plan to use or discard the contents; as stated above, most freezers will keep food safe for 24 to 48 hours if left closed.
- After a freezer is opened, and if the temperature of the food is above 40 degrees, use immediately or discard.
Flooded Homes: How to Clean Properly
In the event your home is flooded, please follow the tips below to clean your home and prevent illness.
Before going back to live in your home, take the following steps to safely clean your home:
Get the mess out. Remove all floodwater, dirt, and debris left behind by the floodwater.
Remove mold and mildew. Any materials or furnishings that soaked up water should be removed from the building.
Check out the floors. Carpet and padding cannot be cleaned well enough to prevent mold and mildew from growing. Throw them away.
Dry out walls. Walls that were wet should be stripped to the studs and the insulation removed. Walls must remain open to allow them to completely dry. Other wall cavities should be inspected for visible mold growth. Any area inside a wall cavity with visible mold growth should be opened, cleaned, decontaminated and dried.
Check Heating Ventilation and Air-Conditioning Systems (HVAC). The inside parts of heating and air-conditioning systems that contacted floodwater are hiding places for mold. The interior will need to be inspected, cleaned and decontaminated by professionals. Air registers (vents) and diffusers should be removed, cleaned, disinfected and reinstalled.
Salvage what you can. Personal property and furnishings that are moist or wet 24 hours after floodwater recedes will have mold growing in or on them. Upholstered furniture, mattresses, and furniture made of particleboard or wafer board should be thrown away.
Remove contaminants. Make sure that any chemical contamination and hazardous materials have been removed from the building. For proper disposal, contact your local waste disposal service.
Make sure that all parts of the building are dry before rebuilding or repairing. Mold will grow on replacement materials if the studs, subfloor or other building parts are not completely dry.
To ensure you clean and dry the right way, follow these instructions:
Nonporous materials (materials that don't soak up water) and furnishings and other surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned, disinfected and allowed to dry completely. First, scrub all surfaces with detergent and water and rinse well. (Scrubbing removes mold, mold spores, and the dirt that mold and mildew can grow on.) Then, disinfect everything. A liquid chlorine bleach solution (one cup bleach to one gallon water) should be used to disinfect and kill any remaining mold and mildew.
Flood Waters: Safety Precautions Due to Storms
In order to protect your health during and after a flood, it is important that you follow these public health guidelines:
Avoid contact with flood water which may contain fecal material from overflowing sewage systems and other hidden hazards such as debris.
Do not walk in or play in flooded areas especially in bare feet or flimsy footwear. You may be at risk for possible infection or injury from flood waters. If you do come into contact with flood water, wash exposed skin thoroughly with soap and safe water. Keep any open cuts or sores as clean as possible by washing thoroughly with soap to control infection. If a wound develops redness, swelling, or drainage, seek medical attention immediately. If you have not had a tetanus booster shot in the past 5 years, contact your private medical provider or the Dare County Department of Health & Human Services.
Do not allow children to play in flood water areas, wash children's hands frequently (especially before meals), and do not allow children to play with flood-water contaminated toys that have not been disinfected. You can disinfect toys using a solution of 1 cup of bleach in 5 gallons of water.
Private Wells & Safe Drinking Water During and After a Storm
Storms may cause flooding in some areas of Dare County. If you rely on a private well for drinking water and it floods or you use electricity, then boil water for at least five minutes at a full rolling boil before using it for drinking, cooking, making ice or brushing teeth. Potentially contaminated water should not be used for other hygiene purposes.
Infants under six months and pregnant women should not drink boiled water, because boiling water may concentrate harmful nitrates. The Dare County Department of Health & Human Services recommends these individuals drink bottled water. However, if bottled water is not available, boiled water is still preferred over untreated drinking water sources.
You should continue to use bottled water or to boil your well-water until tests on samples taken since the last flooding or loss of electricity show the water is safe.
Septic Systems & Storms: Take Precautions
During a storm, flooding and winds may damage septic systems within Dare County. Affected residents not served by central water and wastewater systems may need to take precautions to prevent possible sewage contamination. Human exposure to wastewater may lead to disease transmission.
Those who have publicly supplied water service but private wastewater systems should also take precautions.
If your area is affected by the hurricane, assess your system and be prepared to take the following steps:
- Wastewater systems may not work until floodwaters recede and the water table drops below the septic tank. If your property is flooded do not use your septic system.
- Try to reduce the amount of debris such as yard waste, clean-up materials and sediment that may enter the septic tank and plumbing systems after the storm.
- Residents should use extreme water conservation practices until power is fully restored to the area. Flush toilets only when necessary, take sponge baths and do not run water while brushing teeth, shaving or cooking.
- Do NOT continue to use a plumbing system if water or sewage surfacing near the septic system is visible. Exposure to raw sewage increases the risk of disease. To reduce this risk, remove and discard household goods that become contaminated with sewage and cannot be disinfected, such as rugs, wall coverings and drywall. Wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves when cleaning up sewage. Contact the Dare County Department of Health & Human Services' Environmental Health Services Unit before beginning maintenance or repairs.