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Flood Water Safety


Heavy rainfall can cause significant flooding in some areas, and rising flood waters carry many dangers for Virginia citizens. The following tips will help you stay safe as floodwaters rise.

Moving Flood Water

During flooding, the greatest threat comes from moving water. The deeper the moving water, the greater the threat. People should avoid driving in moving water, regardless of the size of their vehicle. You should never attempt to walk or drive through moving water, as there is no way of telling its depth and swift moving water can carry away people or vehicles trying to cross it.

Pooling Flood Water

Heavy rain causes flood waters to rise and pool on streets and throughout neighborhoods. In these situations, be aware of the following:

  • Road surfaces become obscured, and drivers can unknowingly steer into a deep body of water, such as a canal or pond.
  • Electricity from streetlights and power poles may be active through standing water causing a deadly shock to anyone coming in contact with it.
  • Children playing in contaminated standing water can become sick or be bitten by snakes or floating insects.
  • People coming into contact with floodwaters should thoroughly rinse any exposed body parts with soap and sanitized or disinfected water.

Contaminated Water Supply

Drinking contaminated water may cause illness. You cannot assume that the water in the hurricane-affected area is safe to drink. Listen to local announcements on the safety of the water supply.

If your public water system lost pressure, a boil water notice will likely be issued for your area.

People in these areas should take precautions to avoid contaminated water, especially individuals with private wells. If your well is in a flooded area, your water may contain disease-causing organisms and may not be safe to drink.

VDH recommends the following:

  • Boil water for at least one minute before using it for drinking, washing, cooking, etc.
  • Disinfect water by adding eight drops (about one-eighth teaspoon—this would form a puddle about the size of a dime) of unscented household bleach per gallon of water, and then let it stand for 30 minutes.  If the water is cloudy after 30 minutes, repeat the procedure
  • Use only bottled water, especially for mixing baby formula.

After the flooding subsides

  • Disinfect your well.
  • Have your well water tested by a laboratory certified by the state.

Contaminated Food

Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with floodwaters. Discard any food without a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with floodwaters. Undamaged, commercially canned foods can be saved if you remove the labels thoroughly, wash the cans, and then disinfect the cans with a solution consisting of 1/4 cup of unscented household bleach per gallon of water. Re-label your cans, including the expiration date, with a marker. Food containers with screw-caps, snap lids and home canned foods should be discarded if they have come in contact with floodwaters because they cannot be disinfected.

Contaminated Items

Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers. There is no way to safely clean them if they have come in contact with contaminated floodwaters. Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils with soap and hot water and sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of one-quarter cup of household bleach per gallon of water.

Hygiene

Basic hygiene is very important during natural disaster. Always wash your hands with soap and water that has been boiled or disinfected and cooled. You should wash your hands:

  • Before preparing or eating food
  • After using the bathroom or changing a diaper
  • After handling uncooked food
  • After playing with a pet
  • After handling garbage
  • After tending to someone who is sick or injured
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After participating in flood cleanup activities
  • After handling articles contaminated with flood water or sewage.

Last Updated: 07-30-2011

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