After a devastating hurricane, here’s how to get help, stay safe and protect your mental health in the weeks ahead
By Holly Yan, CNN
Hurricane victims returning to damaged homes face a torrent of challenges – if they’re lucky enough to have a home standing.
Flood. Mold damage. Insurance headaches. Hidden deadly dangers.
The onslaught of mental anguish and post-hurricane dangers can seem overwhelming. Here’s how victims can stay safe, get help, and take the first steps toward recovery:
Don’t go home until it’s really safe
Just because the hurricane has passed doesn’t mean it’s safe to drive.
Residents should “return home only when local authorities say it is safe to do so”, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.
If you see a flooded road, officials insist on a life-saving but often overlooked mantra: “Turn around, don’t drown.”
Each year, more deaths occur from flooding than from any other thunderstorm hazard, according to the National Weather Service.
“Don’t drive through flooded areas – cars or other vehicles won’t protect you from floodwaters,” said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. “They can get swept away or can stall in moving water.”
You can also download the FEMA Mobile App to find open shelters, text SHELTER (or REFUGIO in Spanish) and your zip code to 4FEMA (or 43362).
Be extremely careful when you return home
When it is safe to return home, try to arrive during daylight hours so you don’t need lights, the CDC says. You may not have electricity in the area.
Once there, “Walk carefully outside your home to check for loose power lines, gas leaks, and structural damage,” the National Weather Service says.
If your house is flooded,wait to go home until professionals tell you it’s safewithout any structural, electrical or other hazard,” the CDC states.
If the house is damaged,leave immediately if you hear moving or unusual noises“, says the CDC. “Strange sounds could mean that the building (is) about to fall.”
If you must use lighting, bring a battery-operated flashlight – not candles or gas-powered lanterns.
“Turn on your flashlight before entering a vacant building,” the National Weather Service says. “The battery could produce a spark which could ignite the leaking gas, if any.”
Minimize the risk of electrocution
Flooded homes require extra precautions to avoid electrocution.
“If you have standing water in your home and you can turn off the main power from a dry location, then go ahead and turn off the power,” the CDC says.
“If you must enter standing water to access the main switch, call an electrician to turn it off. NEVER turn it on or off yourself or use any power tool or appliance while in water . »
In general, “Do not wade in floodwaters, which may contain dangerous pathogens that cause disease, debris, chemicals, litter, and wildlife,” FEMA’s website Ready.gov said. “Underground or fallen power lines can also electrically charge water.”
Photograph the damage and call for help if needed
If it’s safe to go inside, don’t start cleaning right away.
First, “contact your insurance company and take pictures home and your possessions,” the CDC states.
Those seeking federal assistance can call 1-800-621-FEMA (1-800-621-3362 or TTY 1-800-462-7585) or apply at DisasterAssistance.gov.
Residents who have flood insurance from FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program can begin their claim at FloodSmart.gov.
Clean Safely and Beware of Mold
“If your home has been flooded and closed for several days, suppose your house has mold“, says the CDC.
“You have to totally dry everythingclean up the mold and make sure you no longer have a damp problem.
The CDC has a list of ways to eliminate and prevent mold growth, with or without electricity.
Mold can be cleaned using a mixture of 1 cup of bleach with 1 gallon of water. Don’t use the bleach solution in an enclosed space — make sure doors or windows are open, the CDC says.
But anyone with a lung condition such as asthma or who is immunocompromised “should not enter buildings with indoor water leaks or mold growth that can be seen or smelled, even if they are not allergic to mold,” according to the FEMA website. Ready.gov said.
“Children should not participate in disaster clean-up work.”
Any remaining flood water may contain sewage and other hazards that may be difficult to see.
“Floodwater can contain dangerous bacteria from sewage overflow and agricultural and industrial waste,” the CDC states.
“While skin contact with floodwater does not in itself pose a serious health risk, eating or drinking anything contaminated with floodwater can cause illness.”
Don’t succumb to the deadly heat
With widespread power outages expected, it is essential not to overwork yourself when there is no air conditioning.
“If exertion in the heat makes your heart race and leaves you out of breath, STOP all activity.” the CDC warns. “Go to a cool or shaded place and rest, especially if you become dizzy, confused, weak, or passed out.”
With intense heat, it’s also important to drink plenty of fluids “regardless of your activity level,” the CDC says. “Don’t wait to be thirsty to drink.”
“Never use a portable generator inside your home”
Generators can be extremely useful for storm victims without power. They can also be fatal if misused.
“Carbon monoxide poisoning is a leading cause of death after storms in areas facing power outages,” the National Weather Service said.
“Never use a portable generator inside your home or garageeven if the doors and windows are open.
“Only use generators outdoors, more than 20 feet from your home, doors, and windows,” the NWS says.
Be very careful when using gas-powered appliances, as they can also lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. It’s also a good idea to have a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector, because carbon monoxide is invisible and odorless.
Make sure your food and water supplies are safe
Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible until power returns. If it’s been less than four hours, the food is still safe to eat. Otherwise, the food can be spoiled and cause serious illness.
“If in doubt, throw it out,” the CDC says.
Throw away any food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water, perishable foods that may not have been properly refrigerated, and anything that does not look, smell or the feeling it should have.
If your area is under a boil water advisory, take these tips seriously. If it is not possible to boil water, use bottled water.
But never use contaminated water – suspected or confirmed – for washing dishes, brushing your teeth, washing and preparing food, washing your hands, making ice cream or formula.
Find creative ways to keep your phone alive
Ideally, residents have ways to charge their cell phones without using electricity, such as with an external battery or battery-powered charger.
Those who don’t may need to get creative, like use your car and a car adapter to charge your phone.
Take care of your emotional health
“Stress, anxiety and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions after a disaster,” says the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
When logistical nightmares collide with overwhelming emotions, don’t try to figure it out alone. It can actually hamper your recovery, according to the CDC.
“Caring for your emotional health in an emergency will help you think clearly and react to urgent needs to protect you and your family,” the CDC states.
“Dealing with these feelings and getting help when you need it will help you, your family and your community recover from disaster.”
Storm victims can contact SAMHSA Disaster Hotline by calling or texting 1-800-985-5990.
The Helpline “is a nationwide 24/7/365 helpline dedicated to providing immediate crisis advice to people who are experiencing emotional distress related to a natural disaster or of human origin,” the SAMHSA website states.
“Our staff members provide advice and support before, during and after disasters and refer people to local disaster-related resources for follow-up care and support.”
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