The Mississippi River has crested at 48′ at this time, and the main part of the city is safe, thanks to levees and walls that are holding firm. Many residents in outlying areas, however, have been evacuated from their homes, which are now underwater.
If you have ever seen the remnants of buildings that have been flooded, you know that it is a huge mess! Some that I have seen looked the same as if they had been ravaged by a tornado. There are so very many dangers lurking for those rescue, recovery and volunteer personnel that we cannot emphasize enough the importance of precautions that should be taken to stay safe.
After flooding, the strength of the waters may have moved and/or buried hazardous waste and chemical containers far from their normal storage places. This is a risk for anyone who comes into contact with them, and should be handled only by the police or fire department. Flooded areas may also contain electrical or fire hazards connected with downed power lines. Extreme caution should be exercised with these particular hazards, which hold the potential for fires and explosions.
Floods can cause sickness in those workers who come in contact with contaminated floodwater. This can be caused by the disruption of water purification and sewage systems, overflowing of toxic waste sites, and dislodgement of chemicals previously stored above ground. This being said, workers should be aware that floodwater can contain infectious organisms, which include intestinal bacteria such as Salmonella, Shigella, E.coli, Heptitis A virus, and agents of typhoid, paratyphoid, and tetanus. It is important that workers’ tetanus shots are current. Tetanus can be acquired from contaminated soil or water entering broken areas of the skin. This is an infectious disease that affects the nervous system and causes severe muscle spasms, known as lockjaw.
Pools of standing or stagnant water also become breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which can cause West Nile virus or other mosquito-borne diseases. By wearing long-sleeve shirts, long pants, and using insect repellants, the threat of mosquito and other insect bites can be decreased. Workers should also be alert for animals that have been displaced by the flood – frightened, and prone to biting someone. Seek immediate medical care for all animal bites. (And be sure to watch for cottonmouth snakes, they have been seen often in the flooding Mississippi.)
Cleanup workers may need to wear special chemical resistant clothing and protective goggles. They should also have on plastic or rubber gloves, boots, and other protective clothing needed to avoid contact with floodwater. In addition to toxic and chemical wastes, agricultural wastes may be in floodwater. Children should never be allowed to play in floodwater. All toys recovered must be disinfected.
All water should be considered unsafe until local authorities announce that the public water supply is not dangerous. Keep an adequate supply of safe water available for washing and potable water for drinking. Do not use contaminated water to wash and prepare food, brush your teeth, wash dishes, or make ice. If you are unsure about the safety of a food or beverage, throw it out.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides emergency personnel to assist with restoring power and other tasks in disaster areas. Their engineering expertise is used for inspecting and assessing damage and clean up in disaster areas. They recommend that workers wear appropriate life-saving equipment, such as vests, when working around deep water or where the currents are swift.
This is a very unpleasant job for all persons concerned, especially those who citizens who have watched their homes and property disappear right before their eyes. We hope that those who have been warned to leave will do so, and seek shelter until it is safe to return, and know that help is on its way.