By Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, AJN editor-in-chief
Well, Hurricane Irene has come and gone in the northeast United States. While it certainly destroyed property, downed power lines, and caused flooding, many are thinking that we escaped the worst, since Irene morphed from a hurricane into a tropical storm when it made landfall in Long Island, New York.
This is not to diminish the tragedy that it caused—in loss of life (CNN reports 25 Irene-related deaths) and destruction of property. And I sympathize with those who experienced flooding or lost power. Cooking, showering, and basic daily activities become major challenges and require ingenuity, creativity, and sometimes a touch of genius. While initially this merely seems inconvenient, after a few days it’s exhausting. I’m sure there will be many households without power for weeks, judging from some local news reports.
An important potential health hazard that wasn’t covered in depth on the news is walking or wading in flood waters in shorts and bare feet or flip-flops. Flood waters often contain contaminants from storm drains and sewers, including raw sewage (as one news reporter discovered only after he was covered in it). Debris, sharp objects, and even power lines may be hidden underwater, as well as ditches or drains (47-year-old postal worker Ronald Dawkins, from Orange, New Jersey, was killed when he tried to wade through rising water to a postal facility where he worked and stepped into a hidden drainage creek).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a guide to preventing illness after a disaster and also has information for how to stay safe while cleaning up after flooding. Check it out and spread the word.