Staying Safe During a Flood: Essential Tips for Families

This article was last updated on May 4, 2017.

When you think of floods, you probably imagine your home begin swept away in a wall of water. And while floods can certainly destroy personal property, they can also have another, even more dangerous effect — on your health.

There are several different types of floods, from those caused by hurricanes and other storms to flash floods that occur suddenly and without warning. By being prepared, you can help protect yourself and your loved ones against flood-related injury, illness, and even death.

The Hidden Dangers of Flood Waters

The most obvious risk of flooding is being swept away by moving waters. Indeed, it takes just 6 inches of moving water to knock you off your feet. For this reason, you should never walk through flood waters. If you find yourself trapped, move to the highest area you can find and call 911.

Likewise, you shouldn’t attempt to drive through flooded roadways. Even if the water doesn’t look deep, it could be concealing other hazards, such as electrical wires, uneven road surfaces, sharp objects, or chemical spills.

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And keep in mind that water could start moving, sweeping you and your vehicle away, quickly. According to the National Weather Service, just a foot of water is enough to make a car or SUV float, while 18 inches can sweep away larger vehicles.

RELATED: How to Stay Safe During a Thunderstorm

Other Flood Health Hazards

You might be surprised to learn that floods can carry other health risks, too. To prevent illness and injury, follow these steps.

  • Keep it clean. Flood waters can harbor a variety of bacteria and viruses, so avoid standing in water when possible. After a flood, make sure to dry and disinfect your home, car, and belongings to protect against further growth of bacteria, viruses, mold, mildew, and other substances that can cause infectious diseases and other illnesses. Wear rubber boots and gloves while cleaning up. And don’t forget to wash your hands often with soap and disinfected water.
  • Watch what you eat. Food and water may be contaminated after a flood. Drink bottled water and boil tap water to disinfect it for cooking. Local authorities should alert you whether it’s safe to consume.
  • Don’t touch. Never touch or drive near electrical wires or downed power lines, and don’t turn electricity on or off while in standing water.
  • Treat open wounds. Clean, disinfect, and bandage wounds as soon as possible to prevent exposure to contaminated water. See a medical professional if you think you need a tetanus booster shot.
  • Avoid mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can thrive in standing flood water and can carry diseases such as West Nile virus. Wear insect repellent and drain standing water if possible.
  • Seek help. Like other natural disasters, floods can be traumatic, especially if your property has been destroyed. Understand that it’s normal to feel anxious, angry, and sad and to lose sleep immediately following such an event. If negative feelings persist, consider seeking mental health counseling to help cope with them.

Learn more by visiting the UPMC Emergency Care website. And learn more about the UPMC trauma center services available to you with our guide.