Things to look out for following severe weather


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — With severe weather affecting many parts of Alabama today, there are several things people should be careful of.

On Wednesday, the Alabama Department of Public Health released a list of things that could become serious if not noted.

Here is what the ADPH is telling people to look out for:

Carbon Monoxide (CO)

-Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if breathed. When power outages occur, people often try to use alternative sources of fuel or electricity for heating, cooling or cooking. CO from these sources can build up in a home, garage or camper and poison the people and animals inside. Look to friends or a community shelter for help. If you must use an alternative source of fuel or electricity, be sure to use it only outside and away from open windows.

-Never use generators, grills, camp stoves or other gasoline, propane, natural gas, or charcoal-burning devices inside a home, basement, garage or camper–or even outside near an open window. Keep these devices at least 20 feet away from any door, window or vent and also use a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector any time you use one of these devices.

-The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. People who are sleeping or who have been drinking alcohol can die from CO poisoning before ever having symptoms. Consult a health care professional right away if these symptoms occur.

Food Safety

-Power outages associated with storm force winds can cause concerns about the safety of frozen and refrigerated foods. As a general rule, a full upright or chest freezer will keep foods frozen for about two days without power.

-A partially full freezer will keep foods frozen for about one day. This time may be extended by keeping the door shut. A refrigerator will keep foods cool for four to six hours if the door is kept closed as much as possible.

-Any thawed foods that have been at room temperature for more than two hours should be discarded. Foods still containing ice crystals can be refrozen, although the quality of the food may decrease. Foods that have thawed to refrigerator temperatures (that is, no more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit) can also be cooked and then refrozen.

Chain Saw Injuries

-Follow these safeguards against injury while using a chain saw:

  • Operate, adjust and maintain the saw according to manufacturer’s instructions provided in the manual accompanying the chain saw.
  • Properly sharpen chain saw blades and properly lubricate the blade with bar and chain oil. Additionally, the operator should periodically check and adjust the tension of the chain saw blade to ensure good cutting action.
  • Choose the proper size of chain saw to match the job, and include safety features such as a chain brake, front and rear hand guards, stop switch, chain catcher and spark arrester.
  • Wear the appropriate protective equipment, including hard hat, safety glasses, hearing protection, heavy work gloves, cut-resistant leg wear (chain saw chaps) that extend from the waist to the top of the foot, and boots which cover the ankle.
  • Avoid contact with power lines until the lines are verified as being de-energized.
  • Always cut at waist level or below to ensure that you maintain secure control over the chain saw.
  • Bystanders or coworkers should remain at least two tree lengths (at least 150 feet) away from anyone felling a tree and at least 30 feet from anyone operating a chain saw to remove limbs or cut a fallen tree.
  • If injury occurs, apply direct pressure over site(s) of heavy bleeding; this act may save lives.

Power Lines

-If power lines are lying on the ground or dangling near the ground, do not touch them. Notify your utility company as soon as possible that lines have been damaged, or that the power lines are down, but do not attempt to move or repair the power lines.

-Avoid driving through standing water if downed power lines are in the water. If a power line falls across your vehicle while you are driving, continue to drive away from the line. If the engine stalls, do not turn off the ignition. Stay in your vehicle and wait for emergency personnel. Do not allow anyone other than emergency personnel to approach your vehicle.

Septic Tanks

-During heavy rains and floods, the ground can become saturated. Residents who use an onsite sewage disposal system (a septic tank system) may be experiencing performance problems due to these rain-soaked conditions.

-Follow these suggestions that may provide some relief:

  • Limit water usage when possible by reducing toilet flushing, dishwashing, clothes washing and showering.
  • Consider laundering at commercial establishments, as this will significantly reduce the demand on your own system.
  • Inspect disposal areas for depressions where rainwater ponding may occur. Adding soil to these depressions will aid in surface drainage.
  • Inspect roof draining and gutters to ensure that rainwater run-off is diverted away from the disposal area.
  • Consider having your septic tank pumped out. This may provide temporary relief and may help with maintenance for long-term system performance. The Alabama Department of Public Health recommends having your septic tank pumped out every three to five years to eliminate sludge build-up. After weather conditions improve, the system should return to normal functioning. If you continue to experience problems with your system, contact your local health department environmentalist for assistance.

Signs that a septic system is not working properly include the following:

  • Sinks drain slowly
  • Toilets drain slowly
  • Floor drains overflow
  • Sewage becomes visible outside the home

Precautions related to septic systems include:

  • Avoid contact with any septic system electrical devices until they are dry and clean.
  • Do not pump out the septic tank more than halfway or the tank may float out of the ground.
  • Reduce all nonessential water use (for example, dishwashing, clothes washing, showering).
  • Flush toilets as little as possible or use a temporary toilet. If you suspect septic system damage, get the system professionally inspected and serviced.

Well Water

-Severe flooding can put drinking water wells at increased risk for contamination from floodwater that may contain sewage. Persons in areas where there may have been flash floods should test their private water wells before drinking water from them. Private wells that have been covered by flood water should be assumed to have been contaminated.

-Do not drink water from your well or feed it to your animals until you have tested it and have received a satisfactory test result. Sample kits may be obtained from the local health departments and state health department laboratories, which are equipped to sample well water for bacteriological contamination.

-Once a satisfactory sample is obtained, the well should be monitored by continued sampling to ensure the quality of the water supply. Until water is known to be free of contaminants, residents should only use clear water which has been brought to a full boil for one minute. Contact your health department for a list of septic system contractors who work in your area.

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