How to Prepare for a Hurricane

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

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What to do after a hurricane (hurricane aftermath health concerns)

How can I store food safely?

A refrigerator will keep foods cool for about 4 hours without power if it is unopened.

Thawed food can usually be eaten if it is still "refrigerator cold," or re-frozen if it still contains ice crystals. Discard any food that has been at temperatures greater than 40 F (4.44 C) for 2 hours or more, and any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture. Eat foods that are likely to spoil first, such as meats and dairy, to minimize waste; however it is better to dispose of foods if there is any question about its safety or contamination status.

If the power is out for longer than 4 hours, follow the guidelines below:

  • Use dry ice, if available: 25 pounds of dry ice (solid carbon dioxide or CO2) will keep a ten-cubic-foot freezer below freezing for 3 to 4 days. Use care when handling dry ice, do not allow it to touch skin because it can cause frostbite and do not it in confine areas where CO2 gas can accumulate.
  • For the freezer section: A freezer that is half full will hold food safely for up to 24 hours. A full freezer will hold food safely for 48 hours. Do not open the freezer door unless it is absolutely necessary. Before the storm, you can fill water bottles or empty soda bottles with water and freeze them to help keep the freezer full and cold.
  • For the refrigerated section: Pack dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, gravy, and spoilable leftovers into a cooler surrounded by ice. Discard this food if it seems spoiled.
  • Use a digital quick-response thermometer to check the temperature of the food right before you cook or eat it.

How can I make sure our water is safe?

Hurricanes, especially if accompanied by a tidal surge or flooding, can contaminate the public water supply, which can cause illness. Do not assume water in a hurricane-affected area is safe to drink.

Listen for public announcements about the safety of the municipal water supply. Use bottled water for eating or drinking. If you do not have bottled water, and are not sure that your tap water is safe, follow these directions to purify tap water published by the government for public information:

  1. Filter the water using a piece of cloth or coffee filter to remove solid particles.
  2. Disinfect using one of the following methods:
  • Boiling: Boil water vigorously for 1 minute. To improve taste, pour from one clean container to another several times to aerate. Allow water to cool for 30 minutes before using.
  • Purification tablets: Purification tablets are available at most drugstores or camping supply stores. Follow directions supplied on the packaging.
  • Filters: Use a "backpacking" type filter and follow the directions on the filter.
  • Bleach purification: Liquid household bleach can be used for water disinfection. The only active ingredient in the bleach should be sodium hypochlorite of the concentration of 5.25% to 6%. There should not be any added soap or fragrances. (A major bleach manufacturer has also added sodium hydroxide as an active ingredient, which they state does not pose a health risk for water treatment.) Add bleach to the water according to the amounts listed in the table below. Stir to mix and let stand 30 minutes prior to using.
Amount of Water Clear Water Cloudy Water*
1 quart 2 drops of bleach 4 drops of bleach
1 gallon 8 drops of bleach 16 drops of bleach
5 gallons 1/2 teaspoon of bleach 1 teaspoon of bleach
*Excessive turbidity (cloudiness) will greatly reduce the effectiveness of the bleach.

The bleach method may not kill all parasites and the filter methods must be followed carefully; people need to read the directions carefully to produce the safest possible drinking water.

If there is flooding along with a hurricane, local waterways may become polluted with waste. There is risk of disease from eating or drinking anything contaminated with floodwater.

Do not allow children to play in floodwater areas. Wash children's hands frequently and disinfect any toys that have come into contact with flood waters, using a solution of one cup of bleach in five gallons of water.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/13/2016

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