The spring thaw has begun in Southwestern Montana. With our recent accumulation of snow and cold weather we are beginning to see water courses swell as spring nears. Flood waters can contain bacteria, fecal material, viruses, and other organisms that may cause disease. Below are basic tips for you and your family for how to deal with a flood, stay healthy, and prevent injuries.
Basic Hygiene Measures
- Avoid skin contact with flood water, especially cuts and sores. Keep them clean and covered.
- Do not allow children to play in flood water.
- Do not eat or drink anything exposed to flood water.
- Keep contaminated objects, water, and hands away from mucous membranes (mouth, eyes and nose) in flooding situations.
- Wash hands frequently, especially after bathroom use, before eating, and immediately following contact with flood water or contaminated objects or surfaces.
Food and Water Safety Measures
If the safety of any food or beverage is questionable, follow this simple rule: When in doubt, throw it out.
- Do not eat any food that has come in contact with flood water, including food in refrigerators or freezers.
- Throw away all fresh fruits and vegetables exposed to flood water – especially those in home gardens.
- If the power has gone out, a fully stocked freezer will keep food frozen for two days if the door remains closed. A half-full freezer can keep foods frozen about one day.
- Food in the refrigerator can normally stay cold for four to six hours.
- Throw away milk, cheeses, and other foods that can spoil easily.
- Completely thawed meats and vegetables must be thrown away.
For Canned Goods
- Throw out food in containers with cork-lined lids or caps, screw tops, or pop tops that have been exposed to floodwater. They are nearly impossible to clean thoroughly around the opening.
- Undamaged cans are usually safe. Wash them in bleach water (1/4-cup bleach per one gallon of water) for one minute, and then dry to prevent rusting.
- If cans have dents or pitted rust spots that cannot be buffed off with a soft cloth, contamination may have entered through corroded holes, so these should be thrown out.
- Cans with ends that bulge or spring in and out when pressed should be thrown out.
- Do not taste the contents in the cans to see if it has spoiled.
For Water Supplies
- Public and private water supplies may be contaminated in a flood. Listen for public announcements on the safety of your area’s water supply.
- If your water is contaminated, use only bottled or disinfected water for drinking, cooking, tooth brushing, and bathing until you are sure the water supply is safe.
- If you have to use tap water, boil it vigorously for at least five minutes.
- Private water wells should be pumped out, allowed to recharge naturally, and disinfected. The water should be tested before drinking or being used for cooking.
It is important to take the following precautions to prevent injury:
- Turn off main power switches.
- Air out and wipe dry all appliances and electrical outlets exposed to water before using.
- If you have fuel oil or gas systems, be sure tanks are secure and all lines are free from breaks.
- Wear rubber boots, gloves, and a dust mask during removal and cleanup.
- Open windows to ventilate and dry the area.
- Fans can be used to help with drying.
The following cleaning guidelines may help prevent the transmission of disease and reduce property loss:
- Discard any contaminated objects that cannot be thoroughly washed or laundered.
- Wash contaminated surfaces and objects with warm, soapy water and then disinfect them with a bleach and water solution made of no more than one cup of bleach per one gallon of water.
- For objects that would be damaged by bleach, use a home or laundry disinfectant.
- Make sure to read and follow label instructions.
- Do not use ammonia; ammonia vapors mixed with bleach vapors create a toxic gas that could be deadly.
If you have any questions please feel free to contact the Gallatin City-County Health Department’s Environmental Health Program at 406.582.3120 and ALWAYS call 911 in case of emergency.
For more resources see our Emergency Preparedness Flood Resource page.