Hurricane

After Hurricane Sandy

By Christina Catanese

Today in Philadelphia, life is beginning to return to normal after Hurricane Sandy.  Our buses, subways, and trains are up and running, most of the fallen tree branches have been cleared away from the streets and sidewalks, and the sun has even peeked through the clouds to help us all start to dry out.  But our concerns remain with those in other parts of the northeast facing a more difficult recovery.  Natural disasters are a reminder to all of us of the power of nature and the importance of being prepared.

Hurricane Sandy's approach to the Northeast United States.  Photo courtesy of NASA.

Hurricane Sandy's approach to the Northeast United States. Photo courtesy of NASA.

After a storm like Sandy, there are a number of things you can do to stay safe when it comes to water.

  • If you have concerns that your drinking water has been contaminated, don’t drink it.  Drink bottled water if it is available and hasn’t been exposed to floodwaters.  Otherwise, boil your water for one minute at a rolling boil to get rid of pathogens.  Learn more about emergency disinfection here.
  • Avoid contact with flood water, as it may have high levels of raw sewage or other hazardous substances.
  • If you have a private well and it has been flooded, do not turn on the pump due to danger of electric shock.  Do not drink or wash with water from the flooded well until it has been tested and deemed safe.
  • If you have a septic system and it has been flooded, do not use the sewage system until water in the soil absorption field is lower than the water level around the house.
  • For water and wastewater facilities, check out these suggested post-hurricane activities to help facilities recover.

Get more information on what you can do to protect health and the environment after severe weather and flooding.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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After the Storm

By Lina Younes

As millions of residents along the mid-Atlantic and northeastern regions of the United States are getting their lives back in order after Sandy’s vicious rampage, many are still dealing with the storm’s aftermath: severe flooding.

One of the many problems with flood water is that it may contain high levels of raw sewage and other contaminants that are hazardous to both your health and the environment. Above all, limit your contact with flood water!

If you were fortunate in not having flood water in your area, but still have water problems inside your home, remove and clean any water damaged items in order to avoid mold buildup. Controlling moisture is key to controlling mold in indoor environments. Exposure to mold has potential health effects that include allergic reactions, asthma attacks and other respiratory complaints. So address any water damage in your home quickly to protect your health and your family.

Are you concerned about the water quality in your area? Have you been informed by local authorities on the need to boil your water? Here you will find some valuable information on emergency disinfection of drinking water.

While utilities and local authorities are working around the clock to make sure that power is restored as quickly as possible, there are still residents without electricity due to Sandy’s wrath. Above all, do not use generators in enclosed areas inside the home or even in the garage. Why may you ask? Because generator exhaust is extremely toxic and may be lethal. Generator exhaust contains deadly carbon monoxide.  Avoid using a generator or other combustion appliances inside the home.

Please be mindful that children and the elderly need special attention during these natural disasters. I know from my own personal experience listening to my parents mention that they simply “don’t feel thirsty.” Losing the sense of thirst with age puts the elderly at a greater risk of dehydration. Make sure they drink enough water even when they say they don’t feel like it.

Simple tips to help us recover from the storm. Hope they are helpful. Do you have any tips you would like to share with us?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Around the Water Cooler: EPA researchers assist utilities during extreme weather events

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

Natural disasters or extreme weather events, like Hurricane Sandy that is headed toward the East Coast this weekend, can threaten our drinking water and wastewater infrastructure with flooding, increase peoples’ exposures to bacteria and toxins, and generally, wreak havoc on our communities.

Hurricanes can also have lasting effects on the water quality of lakes and coastal systems. Storm-related power outages are also a concern, something we all know very well here in the Washington, D.C. metro area.

Last summer, EPA, along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, State National Guard units, and others provided drinking water to many Vermont water utilities when Tropical Storm Irene put them out of commission for an extended period of time.

During larger-scale disasters like Hurricane Katrina, or the earthquake that devastated Haiti, the recovery period is even longer. These major events require extremely innovative approaches to scaling up mobile water treatment units, developing temporary distribution systems or even relocating people to areas that have better water supplies and shelter.

Hopefully Hurricane Sandy will take it easy on us this weekend and stay farther out to sea than predicted.  But in the event that we do experience flooding and power outages, here are some things you can do to make sure your water supplies are adequate and safe:

  • Keep at least a 3-day supply of bottled drinking water on hand per person–and don’t forget your pets!
  • Limit contact with any flood waters–they could have high levels of raw sewage or other contaminants.

In addition to these very practical suggestions, EPA scientists and engineers in the Homeland Security Research Program have published Planning for an Emergency Water Supply.  This report was a joint effort with the American Water Works Association and encourages utilities and communities to consider alternative ways of providing drinking water whenever disasters strike. It contains information on how local water utilities can develop an emergency drinking water plan.

For more information on hurricane preparedness, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/hurricanes/.

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry works with EPA’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources research team and a frequent “Around the Water Cooler” contributor.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Being Prepared

By Tom Damm

It wasn’t prophetic, just prudent to do a Healthy Waters blog earlier this year on preparing for water emergencies.  Since then, the Mid-Atlantic region has been pounded by a hurricane and drenching storms that have wreaked havoc in flooded communities across the area.

It’s time to revisit and broaden that topic since September is National Preparedness Month.  We can’t be reminded too often of the need to be ready for natural disasters and other emergencies.

That was clear when our EPA offices in a Philadelphia high-rise started to vibrate in the recent earthquake, and we trudged down flights of steps to evacuate and get over to a staging area.

The Department of Homeland Security encourages all of us to:

As we move on after marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, there will be activities across our area to promote emergency preparedness at home, at work and in the community.

Take advantage of these opportunities and check out these websites sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and EPA for more information.  And share with us any practical steps you’ve taken to be prepared.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.  Prior to joining EPA, he held state government public affairs positions in New Jersey and worked as a daily newspaper reporter.  When not in the office, Tom enjoys cycling and volunteer work.  Tom and his family live in Hamilton Township, N.J., near Trenton.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Prepárese para la temporada de huracanes

¿Alguna vez ha escuchado el informe del tiempo y deseado que se equivocaran? Bueno, después de escuchar el pronóstico de la Administración Nacional Oceánica y Atmosférica anticipando una “temporada activa de huracanes en el Atlántico”  este año, todos esperamos que sus predicciones no se materialicen. Dada la situación del derrame de petróleo en el golfo de México, las repercusiones ambientales de un fuerte huracán en esa área podrían ser aún más devastadoras. Como no podemos controlar las condiciones climatológicas, lo mejor que podemos hacer con este pronóstico es prepararnos antes de que los vientos huracanados se acerquen a nuestras costas.

Todos sabemos la locura que se genera en los supermercados y ferreterías en vísperas de una tormenta. Como podemos anticipar la posibilidad de apagones durante o después de un huracán, ¿por qué no nos aseguramos de tener linternas y baterías con antelación de un huracán? También es aconsejable tener un radio que funcione a base de baterías para monitorear la tormenta. Me acuerdo durante una de las tormentas de nieve este año, mi pequeño radio de baterías me permitió recibir noticias cuando mi familia y yo estábamos encerrados en la casa sin electricidad por un plazo de 15 horas!

Hablando de apagones, nunca use un generador dentro de su hogar o en un espacio encerrado como sótano o garaje. El escape del motor genera monóxido de carbono, un gas tóxico y mortal. Asegúrese de usar los generadores portátiles de manera segura.

Como resultado de un huracán o emergencia natural, se puede contaminar el suministro de agua. Usted se puede preparar al tener agua embotellada a mano. Escuche los informes noticiosos locales durante y después de la tormenta para información sobre la condición de su agua potable.

Mientras se prepara para proteger a su familia y hogar del huracán, no se olvide de sus mascotas. Si vive cerca de la costa o una zona propensa a inundaciones, existe la posibilidad de que tenga que ser evacuado con corto aviso. Planifique con antelación dónde va a llevar sus mascotas durante una emergencia. Sobre todo, no se olvide de sus documentos importantes como pasaportes y polizas de seguro. Siempre es mejor prepararse para lo peor para estar seguro antes de que los vientos huracanados y lluvias torrenciales azoten.

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Reconnaissance After Gustav Begins!

About the author: Mary Kemp is currently the Homeland Security Coordinator in the Dallas, TX regional office. Mary started at EPA in 1985 and has worked in the asbestos, Superfund, and air programs. She’s keeping us updated on how her office is responding to Hurricane Gustav.

Trailer at a household hazardous waste dropoff

Hurricane Gustav has left the Gulf Coast and moved into northern Louisiana, close to Shreveport. We have a team of individuals in the field currently conducting the Rapid Needs Assessment. We have been in touch with Louisiana today and understand that the state is planning on requesting FEMA to activate Emergency Support Function-10, which is the collection of household hazardous waste. The first picture is what a collection site for household hazardous waste might look. This picture is from Hurricane Rita.

From today’s Regional Incident Coordination Team meeting, we learned that there is wind damage in Terrebonne Parish. EPA’s Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology (ASPECT) plane will be doing flyovers in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes. We will be conducting helicopter flyovers in other parts of the state of Louisiana later today. Some of the drinking water facilities are down due to no power. A boil water advisory will be issued by the State for some areas that were impacted. We are also working with FEMA to disseminate flyers.

Damage from Hurricane RitaOne might wonder what kind of damage occurs during a hurricane. I’ve enclosed another picture from Hurricane Rita showing damage in Cameron Parish. What I remember most from hurricanes Katrina and Rita were the number of trees uprooted, the number of church steeples blown off, the golden part of the McDonald’s arches being gone, and getting lost a lot because road signs were down. I am always amazed at the kind of destruction that Mother Nature can leave behind.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Hurricane Gustav Makes Landfall

About the author: Mary Kemp is currently the Homeland Security Coordinator in the Dallas, TX regional office. Mary started at EPA in 1985 and has worked in the asbestos, Superfund, and air programs. She’s keeping us updated on how her office is responding to Hurricane Gustav.

Hurricane Gustav made landfall this morning at 9:30 am at Cocodrie, Louisiana as a Category 2 hurricane. Both Hurricanes Rita and Katrina were Category 3 hurricanes at landfall. We have been in contact with both Louisiana and Texas throughout the day.

In today’s Senior Regional Incident Coordination Team (RICT) call, we were given an update. We are mobilizing a Rapid Needs Assessment team for reconnaissance. The Rapid Assessment team will likely be in the field on late Tuesday/Wednesday.We have been activated by FEMA to have a Public Information Officer in Baton Rouge.We are looking at additional ways to distribute public information.

I have been working with the Response Support Corps Coordinator on development of a deployment form. I expect that things will be very busy tomorrow when we are all back in the office.

The storm seems to be moving very fast. We are already seeing a little more breeze here in Dallas. I can see the clouds from the outer rain bands off in the distance looking east. Here in Dallas, I am hoping for the rain and very little damage for the folks on the Gulf.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Gustav Preparation

About the author: Mary Kemp is currently the Homeland Security Coordinator in the Dallas, TX regional office. Mary started at EPA in 1985 and has worked in the asbestos, Superfund, and air programs. She’s keeping us updated on how her office is responding to Hurricane Gustav.

Our Regional Administrator set the tone in today’s meeting, “People in harm’s way along the gulf coast are depending on EPA to respond to their needs. They could not be better served than they are by the federal, state, and local partners who are ready, tried and proven through hard earned experience in recovering from the environmental impacts of natural disasters. We will not let them down.”

Preparation efforts continue at EPA Region 6. In this morning’s meeting, we discussed when to begin flyer dissemination, fuel waivers, and when we expect to have people on the ground doing damage assessment. A Gustav website should come up later today detailing how Region 6 is preparing.

As Homeland Security Coordinator, my job during disasters is to work with our Regional Incident Coordination Team and also work with Response Support Corps deployment. We learned from Katrina and are using these lessons in our Hurricane Plan that we are following. We are setting objectives and timeframes for specific actions next week. I have been working on a deployment one-pager for Response Support Corps personnel. I have also been setting up a meeting schedule for next week’s Regional Incident Coordination Team. We continue to coordinate with State and Local officials. We continue to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

EPA info about hurricane preparedness. This page is also available in Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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