After a storm: The dangers you could face and how to avoid them

WSAV Hurricane Central

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — When a natural disaster like a hurricane ends, that does not mean the threat to your safety is over, as well.

Research has shown that many deaths continue to occur even after the worst of the storm has passed. 

These fatalities added to a storm’s overall death toll are considered indirect deaths. They are defined as casualties that, while not directly related to one of the physical forces of a hurricane, likely wouldn’t happen if a tropical storm or hurricane had not occurred.

It’s not uncommon for people to survive the storm’s main threats only to be killed indirectly after the storm.

This was the unfortunate case for 25-year-old Houston resident Andrew Pasek, who on Aug. 29, 2017, waded through floodwaters following Hurricane Harvey.

Pasek was trying to reach his sister’s house to rescue her cat.

A light fixture near a sidewalk along someone’s yard sent a current through the water, shocking him to death.

Researchers with the National Weather Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have studied storm-related deaths.

They found that 1,418 deaths were indirectly related to the 59 hurricanes studied during a recent 50-year period, including 1992’s Hurricane Andrew and 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

For seven of 10 storm storms, indirect deaths actually outnumbered direct fatalities.

A large chunk of the deaths were related to electrical problems, heart failure, evacuations and vehicular accidents.

A number of other indirect deaths, the study found, were caused by house fires due to misuse of open flame and carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from mishandling generators.

In general, emergency management experts strongly encourage people to be careful even after the storm is over.

Locally, there are common practices to keep in mind post-storm. Chatham Emergency Management Agency Outreach Volunteer Coordinator Chelsea Sawyer shared some top advice with News 3.

Floodwaters

People often think that after a hurricane’s strong winds dissipate in their area, it’s safe to venture outside. That’s not the case if there is any floodwater present.

“[You have to think]—water that’s risen: what has it gotten into? Could it be filled with contaminants? Could there be live wires that are in that water that could shock you as you’re walking your way through?” Sawyer asked.

She also noted that any kind of animal or creature displaced from their natural habitat by the storm could be lurking beneath the floodwater’s surface.

“Six inches of water that’s moving fast could float a car,” Sawyer warned.  “If you were driving somewhere and you tried to drive around barricades that were put up by police, thinking that you’d be able to get home safer, chances are, you’re not.”

She advised people to keep the phrase, “turn around, don’t drown” in mind if traveling after a hurricane. 

Post-storm debris

“Another thing to consider, especially with our large tree canopy here in Chatham County, is debris after a storm,” Sawyer told News 3. “Driving around with debris stacks, we saw that after Hurricane Matthew, is a potential hazard of you not being able to see, and cars not being able to see you.”

She added that it’s important to be extra cautious if walking or driving around after a hurricane, especially at night or first thing in the morning.

People cutting and moving storm debris should also be careful in the heat. 

“At peak storm season, right around Sept. 10, it is hot,” she said. “Right after a storm, you’re trying to cut trees down or cut things up that are leaving a mess in your yard.

make sure that you’re staying hydrated, you’re following all the protocols for heat exhaustion.”

Using chainsaws

Sawyer also warned about using chainsaws safely, as the average person doesn’t have experience using them on a regular basis.

“Unless you have a lot of land where you’re going out and doing that on a regular basis, I feel like it’s a skill set that not a lot of people possess anymore,” she said, adding that those using chainsaws should read all the safety protocols and ask questions if they’re uncertain how to operate the potentially deadly tool. 

“You’ve made it through the storm; don’t get hurt afterwards,” she said.

Generators

It often occurs that people die during or after storms due to misuse of generators, which emit carbon monoxide.

“A lot of people try to put them in closed garages, or they try to keep them inside of a house,” Sawyer said.

“You’ve got a huge issue for carbon monoxide poisoning and other poisonings that can happen with just an enclosed space and those generators running,” she added.

After the storm is a good time to open up garages or any windows so that the generator isn’t emitting poisonous carbon monoxide into the home.

Generators should never be operated indoors, and should instead be placed away from the home by at least 15 feet, according to experts.

For more storm advice and a look back at hurricanes past, tune in Saturday at 7 p.m. for Storm Watch on WSAV. After it airs, catch it right here online in English and Spanish.

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