Hurricane Matthew has caused widespread devastation across the Caribbean and is still hammering the eastern coastline of the United States
In the immediate aftermath of a hurricane, your safety is most important. Damaged electrical equipment, wild or loose domesticated animals, raw sewage, and floodwaters can still pose dangers as you return to your family and your home. Follow these tips to safely return to your home and begin cleanup.
- Listen to the radio or find out from authorities if it’s safe to return to your home after the hurricane if you’ve evacuated.
- Use a map to guide your way– streets may be closed due to high water and damage.
- Try to return to your home during daylight hours to minimize risks of tripping, falling, slipping, or cutting yourself on damaged building materials.
- Alert family members of your plans to return home.
- Be extra careful to watch out for debris, sinkholes, and high water.
- Do not drive through any water you cannot see the bottom of – standing water can hide large sinkholes, and even just a couple feet of fast-moving water can sweep a vehicle away.
- Avoid driving near fallen power lines. Do not drive over them or through water that is in contact with fallen power lines.
- If power lines fall on your vehicle while you’re driving, continue to drive through. If your vehicle stalls, do not get out, and do not turn off the ignition. Call for help from emergency rescue personnel.
- Keep your radio tuned to news and emergency alerts for new information.
- Keep a window slightly cracked to hear sirens or other warning signals more clearly.
Once at Home
- Be extremely cautious.
- Be wary of fallen power lines around you or your property. Alert your utility company of emergency hazards.
- Be cautious of flood damage around your home that may not be visible, especially in buildings near fast-moving current. Have a professional architect or engineer examine the structure of your home before you return if the damage warrants.
- If you feel your home shifting or hear any unusual creaking or groaning sounds, leave the area immediately – the building may be in danger of collapse.
- Turn on your flashlight before entering your home. A spark caused by activating the switch on your light may ignite leaking gas inside your home.
- If you smell gas in your home, open all the windows, shut the main valve into the home, and leave immediately. Report suspected gas leaks to your utility company.
- Do not operate any lanterns, candles, or smoke, or turn on any lights before you are certain there are no gas leaks or vapors.
- If you see exposed wiring, sparks, or can smell something burning, but can’t see it, your home may have experienced electrical damage. Shut off the electric system at the fuse box or circuit breaker, or have a professional do so.
- Never hook up a generator to your home’s wiring. Doing so can feed unexpected electricity back into the grid and shock utility personnel.
- Only operate generators in accordance with instructions – on flat, level surfaces in well ventilated and open areas away from open windows. Carbon monoxide is odorless and tasteless, and can be deadly!
- Be sure to completely dry all appliances before using them. Have an electrician check your appliances if you’re unsure of their safety.
Food and Water Safety
- Beware of food spoilage. Refrigerators can keep food safely cold for about four hours, and freezers can keep food safe for 24-48 hours (longer if the fridge is more full).
- Food should be kept below 40 degrees, especially meat, poultry, fish and eggs.
- Discard any food that may have come in contact with flood water. If the food is in a metal can or waterproof, take careful steps to remove the labels and disinfect the outside of the package before opening them.
- Sanitize dishes, pots, pans, utensils, and countertops before preparing meals. Wash items using hot water and soap if possible, and then sanitize them by boiling in clean water or immersing in a water/bleach solution for 15 mins (1 tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach per gallon of water).
- Use bottled water for drinking. If you don’t have access to bottled water, you should boil water for at least one minute, and let it cool before storing in covered containers. Cloudy water should be allowed to settle or filtered before boiling.
- If your well has flooded, contact your local health department or agriculture extension for advice.
How to Clean Up Safely
- Wear clothing that can protect you. Work gloves, boots, earplugs, goggles, and other appropriate protective gear should be worn if you are working with power equipment or machinery.
- Be careful of injury from stress and strain. Ask for help if moving objects over 50 pounds, or if the object is unwieldy. Lift with your legs, and don’t overextend yourself. Take time to perform tasks carefully, taking the time to rest and avoid over-exertion.
- Be aware of animals. Domestic animals and wild animals will be disoriented after storms, as their familiar sights and sounds will be altered. Do not attempt to capture animals – call a local animal shelter or the proper authorities to take care of such animals.
- Beware of increased rodents, snakes, and other animals that may be displaced from their natural habitats. Contact animal control or your solid waste department to dispose of dead animals. If you are bitten by an animal, seek the appropriate medical attention.
- Watch out for chemicals or containers that may have washed onto your property. Propane and fuel tanks can pose explosion threats and should be reported to the fire department to safely handle.
- Stay out of high water. As little as six inches of moving water can sweep away a person, and two feet of water can wash a vehicle off a road. High water can also hide downed power lines, and contain raw sewage, ants, pests, and snakes!
- Always have fire extinguishers at your cleanup site, as water resources may be low and fire department response times may be extended.
- Be sure to keep records of all damaged items and cleanup costs for insurance purposes - take photos of items before discarding, and keep all receipts related to cleanup and replacement!
How to Rebuild
- Remember to stay tuned to local media and follow instructions of the authorities in your area.
- If your home is beyond repair, you may be able to stay at a Red Cross shelter. Locate one near you: redcross.org/nss-app/
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, offers assistance to businesses and individuals to help rebuild.
- Register for FEMA or state assistance: