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Natural Disasters


Always call 911 if you are in immediate danger and need emergency help.

Flooding during Hurricane Katrinaen español

Prepare for flooding

For communities, companies, or water and wastewater facilities:


During flooding

State and local response agencies are the primary responders for people who are concerned about or were affected by flooding. Find your state emergency office or agency from FEMA.

Avoid contact with flood water due to potentially elevated levels of contamination associated with raw sewage and other hazardous or toxic substances that may be in the flood water. EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services urge everyone in contact with flood waters to follow these guidelines:

  • Wash your hands before drinking and eating
  • Wash frequently using soap -- especially disinfecting soap
  • Do not smoke
  • Limit direct contact with contaminated flood water
  • Report cuts or open wounds, report all symptoms of illness
  • Keep vaccinations current

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Other sites related to recovery

Recover after flooding

ALERT: Generator exhaust is toxic. Always put generators outside well away from doors, windows, and vents. Never use a generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds, or similar areas. Carbon monoxide (CO) is deadly, can build up quickly, and linger for hours. More information.

  • Never try to heat your home using a "combustion appliances" such as a gas stove, oven, barbeque grill, or dryer. Never operate any gas-burning heater or other appliance in a poorly vented or closed room, or where you are sleeping.
  • Listen: Public Service Announcement about carbon monoxide (also en español)
  • en español: Proteja su vida y la de su familia: Evite el envenenamiento con monóxido de carbono (español) - conozca los síntomas del envenenamiento con monóxido de carbono.

Limit contact with flood water.

Flood water may have high levels of raw sewage or other hazardous substances. Early symptoms from exposure to contaminated flood water may include upset stomach, intestinal problems, headache and other flu-like discomfort. Anyone experiencing these and any other problems should immediately seek medical attention.


Alert: Boil Drinking Water

If your water may not be safe, bring drinking water to a rolling boil for 1 minute to kill water-borne diseases.

More information on drinking water (en español)

Drinking water and food:

Children and older adults:

  • Protect children after a flood. Be sure children are protected from chemicals and diseases in flood water. Behavior such as crawling or placing objects in their mouths can increase a child's risk of exposure and sickness.

Private wells and septic systems:

  • Home septic systems - Do not use the sewage system until water in the soil absorption field is lower than the water level around the house. If you have a home-based or small business and your septic system has received chemicals, take extra precautions to prevent contact with water or inhaling fumes. Proper clean-up depends on the kinds of chemicals in the wastewater.
  • Home or private drinking water wells. Warning - Do not turn on the pump. There is danger of electrical shock and damage to your well or pump if flooded. Do not drink or wash with well water. Water from a private well that has been flooded may be contaminated.

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For water and wastewater facilities:

Post-flood activities - suggested activities to help facilities recover (written for hurricanes but can apply to most any disaster type).

Disaster debris

Communities that had a large flood should plan to handle exceptionally large amounts of disaster debris from damaged or destroyed buildings, supplies, trees or other green waste, carcasses, or other materials. Disposal problems can result from large amounts of debris but also from hazardous or toxic substances in the debris that can contaminate air, water, land, and food if not handled properly. Burning large amounts of debris to reduce volume may not be an option. More information on disaster debris.

Clean-up and renovation

Natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes or floods often result in the need for emergency renovations to damaged homes and other structures. When common renovation activities like sanding, cutting, and demolition occur in structures that contain lead-based paint, they can release lead-based paint hazards, including lead-contaminated dust. Lead-based paint dust and debris are hazardous to everyone - adults, particularly pregnant women, and children.

Asbestos is still found in many residential and commercial buildings. During demolitoin or renovation, workers must understand the risks and know how to handle asbestos-containing materials safely. Exposure to asbestos dust can cause serious diseases such as lung cancer or mesothelioma.


Underground Storage Tanks

During a flood, underground storage tank (UST) systems may become displaced or damaged and release their
contents into the environment, causing soil, surface water, and groundwater contamination.


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