The Mighty Mississippi is on the move!  Many persons in areas along the Mississippi River have already seen their homes flooded over the past several days.  Friday, Memphis authorities urged citizens to leave their homes that are located in low-lying areas.  The Mississippi is expected to crest by late today (Monday), or early Tuesday morning in the Memphis area.  The Mississippi crested at 48’7” in 1937.  Floods from northern Iowa to the Gulf of Mexico may cause heavy damage to farmlands, as well as homes.  In Arkansas, Interstate 40 closed this weekend because of rising waters of the White River.  This latest threat brings to mind the time when persons in the heart of the Delta were victims of the Great Flood of April 21, 1927 – the great Mississippi broke through a levee, crushing homes, destroying sharecroppers’ farms, trapping thousands on their rooftops for days, and hundreds of people died.

We know we are probably “preaching to the choir,” about filling, moving and placing sandbags in getting ready for floods, because that part of the work may already be done by now.  However, we want to pass on some safety tips for this physically demanding work.  Repetitious lifting and carrying heavy loads, and working in awkward positions can cause back and other injuries.  For those who will be doing this work, please follow this advice from OSHA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: 

General rules:

  • Three-person teams work best: bagger: holds open and closes sandbags; shoveler: shovels sand into sandbags. (use a short handled, #2 rounded point shovel with straight shaft and D grip, bagger scoop or funnel to fill sandbags; and mover: carries and places sandbags.
  • Do not overfill sandbags – fill them ½ to 2/3 full.  Overfilled bags can leave gaps in levees.
  • Keep the load in front of and close to body, both when filling, and later carrying.
  • Do not reach out, bend over or twist when lifting.
  • Lift with legs, not back.
  • Take frequent rest breaks.
  • Alternate positions every 20 to 30 minutes.
  • If using automated filling, put the bag on a support (pallet) to reduce the stress on hands, shoulders, and lower back.
  • Fold the bag opening closed; tie only if necessary.
  • Use pallets when available when moving them to staging area.
  • A brigade team should be used when passing bags to areas that are further away.  The line should be staggered and workers should face each other to avoid twisting and turning.
  • Never throw sandbags, as this stresses the shoulders and back.
  • Straddle drop point with the bag between your ankles as you place it. 

Working around floodwater is hazardous because of debris and bacteria in the water.  Please heed these general safety and health warnings:

  • Wear gloves to protect hands from chemically-treated sandbags and contaminants in sand and floodwater.
  • Do not touch your eyes and mouth.
  • Wash your hands and face before eating or drinking.
  • Wear safety glasses, especially on dry and windy days, and when working with automated equipment.
  • Waterproof gear is necessary when working in floodwater or rain.
  • Use protective clothing if exposed to polluted floodwater.
  • Wear reflective clothing when working at night.
  • Use a personal floatation device when working near floodwater.
  • Wear work boots (waterproofed if working in floodwater.)
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Keep several first-aid kits handy. 

Tomorrow we will share more information regarding other safety measures that should be taken when working in flooded areas.  We appreciate all those who work in rescue and recovery following natural disasters, such as floods and tornadoes.  They should take every precaution to stay healthy and safe, as many hazardous situations exist.