Hurricane Aftermath Health Concerns: How You Can Help

The stresses and strains of an approaching hurricane or major storm can take a toll on family, friends, and neighbors. There are also worries about the psychological stress on the thousands who have fled storm-damaged homes to stay with friends and family, sleep in crowded shelters, or stay in cramped motel rooms. The stresses and strains created by displacement can promote domestic violence, substance abuse, depression, and even suicide.

FEMA has listed the following agencies as needing cash to assist the Katrina hurricane victims:

  • The American Red Cross, (the site may be slow due to high traffic volumes). You can call the Red Cross directly at 1-800-HELP-NOW (435-7669) English, 800-257-7575 Spanish, to donate as well.
  • The Salvation Army, 800-SAL-ARMY (725-2769)
  • Network for Good
  • Operation Blessing, 800-436-6348.
  • America's Second Harvest, 800-344-8070.
  • Adventist Community Services, 800-381-7171.
  • Catholic Charities, USA, 703-549-1390.
  • Christian Disaster Response, 941-956-5183 or 941-551-9554.
  • Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, 800-848-5818.
  • Church World Service, 800-297-1516.
  • Convoy of Hope, 417-823-8998.
  • Lutheran Disaster Response, 800-638-3522.
  • Mennonite Disaster Service, 717-859-2210.
  • Nazarene Disaster Response, 888-256-5886.
  • Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, 800-872-3283. 
  • Southern Baptist Convention - Disaster Relief, 800-462-8657, ext. 6440.
  • United Methodist Committee on Relief. 800-554-8583.

For information on helping pets displaced during the disaster, go to the following websites:

Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.
Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editors,

How to Store Food Safely

Your refrigerator will keep foods cool for about 4 hours without power if it is unopened. Add block or dry ice to your refrigerator if the electricity will be off longer than four hours.

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 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 hours or more, and any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture.

While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep food cold for as long as possible.

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

  • Use dry ice, if available. 25 pounds of dry ice will keep a ten-cubic-foot freezer below freezing for 3-4 days. Use care when handling dry ice, and wear dry, heavy gloves to avoid injury.
  • 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 if you can avoid it.
  • For the refrigerated section: Pack milk, other dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, gravy, and spoilable leftovers into a cooler surrounded by ice. Discard this food if it is held at a temperature greater than 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 2 hours.
  • Use a digital quick-response thermometer to check the temperature of your food right before you cook or eat it. Throw away any food that has a temperature of more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

How to Make Sure Your Water Is Safe

Hurricanes, especially if accompanied by a tidal surge or flooding, can contaminate the public water supply. Drinking contaminated water may cause illness. You cannot assume that the water in the 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:

  • Boil the water vigorously (water should be bubbling and rolling) for 1 minute.
  • If you can't boil water, add 6 drops of newly purchased, unscented liquid household bleach per gallon of water, stir it well, and then let the water stand for 30 minutes before you use it. Note that using bleach will not kill parasitic organisms.
  • You also can use water-purifying tablets from your local pharmacy or sporting goods store.

If there is flooding along with a hurricane, the waters may contain fecal material from overflowing sewage systems and agricultural and industrial waste. Although skin contact with floodwater does not, by itself, pose a serious health risk, 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 (always before meals), and do not allow children to play with floodwater-contaminated toys that have not been disinfected. You can disinfect toys using a solution of one cup of bleach in five gallons of water.

For more, please read the Tips for Safe Drinking Water article.