Tips for Staying Safe and Healthy After a Natural Disaster

Tips for Staying Safe and Healthy After a Natural Disaster

NEW ORLEANS – As residents return to their homes following a major disaster like the flooding across South Louisiana, Ochsner Health System physicians are advising everyone to be extremely cautious as they begin the clean-up process.

Joseph Guarisco, MD, Chief of Emergency Services, Ochsner Health System, shares tips to prevent unnecessary injuries.

Post-storm clean-up

“There are dangers everywhere that weren’t there a few days ago,” warns Dr. Guarisco. “Wear protective clothing that covers as much of your body as possible. In order to protect your skin from scrapes, this clothing should be of substantial weight. This can prevent lacerations from branches and sharp objects.”

Use safety goggles, gloves, masks, hats, cut-resistant legwear and boots that cover the ankles when moving debris or cutting down branches and trees. Always wear socks and closed-toe shoes – never wear sandals or go barefoot.

Be aware that the most serious and most frequent injuries are hand injuries related to use of chain saws and eye injuries from contact with downed tree branches. Slips and falls are another common source of injuries as well as back problems from lifting heavy objects.

Inside the home, be careful about mixing household cleaners and disinfectants like bleach products, as combining certain types of products can produce toxic fumes and result in injury or death.

Dr. Guarisco recommends having a First Aid kit available with supplies that include:

  • Several gallons of clean water/soap for hand washing and cleansing any injuries
  • Paper towels
  • Clean cloth towels that can be used to wrap an injured body part
  • Alcohol-based products for hand washing if you run out of water

If an injury occurs, apply direct pressure over areas of bleeding and seek medical care. If heavy bleeding occurs go to the nearest ER or call 911.

Electrical hazards

If water has been present anywhere near electrical circuits and electrical equipment, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel. Do not turn the power back on until electrical equipment has been inspected by a qualified electrician.

Dr. Guarisco cautions against entering flooded areas or touching electrical equipment if the ground is wet, unless you are certain that the power is off. Additionally, never touch a downed power line.

When using gasoline and diesel generators to supply power to a building, switch the main breaker or fuse on the service panel to the off position prior to starting the generator.

If clearing or other work must be performed near a downed power line, contact the utility company to discuss de-energizing and grounding or shielding of power lines. Extreme caution is necessary when moving ladders and other equipment near overhead power lines to avoid inadvertent contact.

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning

Generators, grills, camp stoves or gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices should never be used inside a home, garage or camper – even outside near an open window. Every home should have at least one working carbon monoxide detector that runs on batteries.

Common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion

If carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected, consult a healthcare professional immediately.

Be Prepared for Fires

Fire can pose a major threat to an already badly damaged flood area because of inoperable fire-protection and firefighting water supply systems, hampered fire department response and flood-damaged fire-protection systems.

To protect yourself against fires after a natural disaster, keep at least two fire extinguishers, each with a UL rating of at least 10A, at every cleanup job.

Chemical burn treatment

If you come in contact with a chemical, remove the potential cause as soon as possible.

“Read instructions to see if water should be used,” advises Dr. Guarisco. “Then flush the chemicals off of the skin (20 minutes is ideal). Do not use soaps, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide or iodine which can make the wound worse.”

Remember to remove any clothing that has been in contact with the chemical, including jewelry. Dress the wound with gauze moistened with clean water and do not allow the area to “dry out.” If the area continues to burn, rinse the wound again and re-dress as stated above. If blisters develop, see a physician as soon as possible.


Ochsner Health System is Louisiana’s largest non-profit, academic, healthcare system. Driven by a mission to Serve, Heal, Lead, Educate and Innovate, coordinated clinical and hospital patient care is provided across the region by Ochsner's 28 owned, managed and affiliated hospitals and more than 60 health centers. Ochsner is the only Louisiana hospital recognized by U.S. News & World Report as a “Best Hospital” across three specialty categories caring for patients from all 50 states and more than 80 countries worldwide each year. Ochsner employs 17,000 employees and over 1,000 physicians in over 90 medical specialties and subspecialties, and conducts more than 1,000 clinical research studies. Ochsner Health System is proud to be a tobacco-free environment. For more information, please visit and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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