After a hurricane passes, returning to the disaster area or venturing outside of your home can pose a unique set of dangers and challenges.
Here are some tips to help you stay safe after the storm.
Listen to authorities
Before you venture out or head back home, listen to the information provided by your local authorities. Roads along your normal route home could be damaged or flooded. Buildings may be destroyed. There are countless dangers in a post-hurricane world. Your local authorities will tell you when and how it is safe for you to go outside or drive back home.
Stay out of floodwaters
The No. 1 killer during a hurricane is storm surge. This is when water from the ocean is pushed inland by the storm. A hurricane can also produce a tremendous amount of rainfall, which could lead to flooding.
No matter where the water comes from, floodwaters are dangerous.
"Floodwater can contain many things that may harm health, including germs, dangerous chemicals, human and livestock waste, wild or stray animals, downed power lines, and other contaminants that can make you sick," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote in guidance published in 2019.
Never drive through floodwaters. Vehicles can be swept away or stall in the water. Remember the adage: Turn around. Don’t drown.
Watch for powerlines
Hurricanes usually knock out power as they come ashore. That means that downed powerlines become a real threat in a disaster zone.
If you come across a felled powerline, stay as far away from it as you can. According to CenterPoint Energy, an electricity provider in the Houston area, you should also stay away from things the powerline is touching. This includes tree limbs, vehicles and puddles.
Cautiously clean up
When it comes time to pick up the pieces, do so with caution.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests you wear protective clothing and masks while cleaning up after a storm.
"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," FEMA wrote in guidance published in 2021. "Children should not take part in disaster cleanup work."
The CDC also recommends you wear long sleeves, pants and socks when you’re outside. This will help protect you from mosquito bites.
Running water that is safe to use can be hard to come by after a hurricane, but the CDC says that handwashing is critical to preventing the spread of disease after a storm. The agency recommends creating a designated handwashing station using water from a safe source or that has been boiled or disinfected.
The likelihood of injury during any natural disaster is high. The CDC says it is imperative you receive first aid for any small injuries as quickly as possible to prevent infection. There’s more information about post-disaster wound care here.
Naturally, your stress and anxiety levels will be elevated after a disaster. The CDC says it is important to manage those feelings by connecting with your community, family and friends. It’s OK to ask for help.
"Coping with these feelings and getting help when you need it will help you, your family, and your community recover from a disaster," the CDC wrote in 2018 guidance.
Save your calls for emergencies
According to FEMA, phone systems are often down or busy after a hurricane. Limiting the number of calls can help free up valuable space for people who have emergencies. Instead, use social media or text messages to communicate with family and friends.