Health risks from Hurricane Sandy

Posted on Oct 30, 2012 in Environment, Medical Rewind


The United States experiences hurricanes nearly every year and the public has a general knowledge of the risks. There are a number of health risks that people forget about in every storm and those risks cause unnecessary deaths, injuries, and illnesses. The approach of Hurricane Sandy and its predicted impact on over fifty million Americans means that now is the time for a reminder of a hurricane’s risks to health.

Many people believe that high winds are the greatest risk from a hurricane. That is not true. Winds and tornadoes produced by a hurricane are a threat but the majority of deaths are from flooding caused by the hurricane, according to Flooding deaths often result from the victims trying to wade or drive through moving water or water of unknown depth. says that six inches of water may stall most vehicles. A foot of water may float a vehicle. Many flood deaths happen when the victims drive around barricades set up to restrict travel in flood danger areas. Other deaths happen when people walk or drive through flood water and discover that the ground has been washed away or the water is too deep to cross.

Falling trees and tree limbs are often a cause of hurricane deaths and injuries. Wait until the storm passes to begin any work on these hazards, even if they have fallen on a house or car. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a web page with information about preventing chain saw injuries. The site warns about the dangers of trees or limbs that have fallen onto something or been trapped in a bent conditions. They can move with warning or be freed to fall by a mistaken cut of a saw.

High winds and flood produces power outages and electrical dangers. Electrical provider Dominion suggests that all downed wires should be considered as live. Stay ten feet away, at minimum. Do not tough tree limbs, fences or other objects that a power line is touching since they can conduct electricity, sometimes for hundreds of feet.

Underwriters Laboratories reminds storm victims that flooded homes and the flooded appliances inside represent another electrical hazard. Do not use the outlets or lights in a building that was flooded until the electrical system has been inspected by an electrician. Many parts of the building’s electrical system may need to be replaced, as will many of the appliances that were flooded.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is often an issue after a hurricane. Generators should only be operated outside, according to the CDC. Charcoal grills, hibachis and other similar cooking methods also belong outside. Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless and exposure can be deadly.

As things dry out, nearly everything that got wet in the hurricane or flooding will begin to mold. The CDC offers a web page about how to reenter a flooded home and they also offer a web page on dealing with the dangers of mold. Hurricane victims should also keep in mind that any surface that was flooded may be contaminated with sewage and germ infested. The risk of infectious diseases increases after a hurricane passes, especially those that cause intestinal illnesses with diarrhea and vomiting, the CDC warns.

Stay safe during Hurricane Sandy and stay healthy after the storm passes.


Source: Charles Simmins