Irma’s deadly rampage is over but authorities say the risk of deaths and injuries rises significantly after natural disasters.
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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says all kinds of hazards can endanger storm survivors, returning evacuees, emergency responders and cleanup crews.
“The aftermath of disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma can be just as dangerous as the storms themselves,” notes CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald. And Orlando Fire Department Lt. Aaron Rhodes, notes stress and fatigue can lead to trouble after a disaster: “For one, people get tired, people get frustrated and start cutting corners.”
Here’s a look at some of the dangers:
Heat and humidity. Eight patients at a sweltering Hollywood, Florida, nursing home died after Irma knocked out the air conditioning. The deaths are being investigated as heat-related. Meanwhile, power outages afflicting millions in Florida could last days or more. Heat-related ailments can include dehydration and breathing difficulties.
Experts say heat stroke can send the body’s temperature soaring, while heat exhaustion can lead to heavy, sweaty, pale and clammy skin, a fast and weak pulse and even fainting. Heat cramps also can cause muscle spasms.
Lethal fumes such as carbon monoxide from gas-powered generators and clean-up equipment. Many in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia without power may turn to portable generators.
When used improperly, generators can trap toxic fumes and cause death. Experts say generators, as well as charcoal and gas burning grills, should always be used outdoors and never inside where they can’t be properly ventilated.
Florida has reported at least six carbon monoxide deaths since Irma. Possible symptoms include headaches, dizziness and nausea.
Electrocution. Power lines downed by storms, live wires lurking under water, downed transformers, light poles and more can pose electrocution hazards to the public.
The CDC says utility workers under duress to make repairs need to guard against electrocution as well. Another threat: the use of portable generators that are improperly sized, installed or operated can send power back into electrical lines — so-called backfeed — which can seriously hurt or kill repair workers or people in nearby buildings.
In Cuba, government authorities say a 71-year-old man was electrocuted by a live wire while trying to remove a TV antenna after Irma.
Debris removal and cleanup hazards. Chainsaw accidents can cause death and serious injuries. So can falling trees and debris loosened by a storm’s passage.
A Tampa, Florida, man died after the chainsaw he was using to remove trees recoiled and cut his carotid artery.
Debris falling from buildings was a major concern in Havana, where two Cuban women were crushed by a balcony falling on a bus after Irma.
Debris loosened by Irma’s winds also fell from an Atlanta building facade, forcing street closures. Falls from ladders also can be deadly.
Experts say the risk of injury rises among workers near or using heavy equipment — as well as when proper hard hats, goggles, heavy work gloves and steel toed-boots aren’t used on major cleanup tasks.