The potential for destruction, injury and death continues after widespread devastation like that left behind by Hurricane Katrina.
And that's prompted the Consumer Product Safety Commission to issue stern warnings for those returning to devastated areas along the Gulf Coast.
An estimated 11 people have already died and others suffered injuries related to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the use of gas fired portable generators used in areas without power.
The commission says many of those using the generators are first-time users and may be using them in an unsafe manner. Gas-fired portable generators are not designed for indoor use because of their poisonous CO exhaust.
"As federal, state and local officials continue their important relief mission in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, thousands of families are fortunately beginning the process of returning to their homes," said CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton.
"So we're reminding all Gulf Coast residents that some of the biggest dangers lie in the aftermath of the hurricane, the greatest of which can be carbon monoxide poisoning," Stratton said.
The commission advises:
- Never use a portable generator anywhere indoors, including garages, basements, crawl spaces and sheds. Opening doors and windows, using fans, face masks or respirators won't stop CO build-up inside a structure.
- While in use portable generators should be outdoors, as far away from open doors, windows and vents, which can allow CO to build up indoors.
- Symptoms including sickness, dizziness, weakness, light-headedness while using a generator are red flags to get to fresh air right away. Continuing to inhale the exhaust will kill you.
- Keep generators dry and wait for the rain to pass before using a generator. Consumer-grade generators typically are not weatherproof and can pose the risk of electrocution and shock when used in wet conditions.
- Do not connect the generator directly into your home's electrical system through a receptacle outlet. That poses fire and electrocution hazards to utility workers and neighbors served by the same transformer.
Instead, plug individual appliances into heavy duty, outdoor-rated extension cords and then plug the cords into the generator.
The extension cord must have a wire gauge adequate for the load it carries and have three prongs, one for grounding.
- Look for signs that your appliances have gotten wet. Discard electrical or gas appliances that have been wet because they pose electric shock and fire hazards.
- Before using your appliances, have a professional or your gas or electric company evaluate your home and replace all gas control valves, circuit breakers, and fuses that have been under water.
- Likewise, keep charcoal grills and propane gas fired appliances outside. Never use them indoors.
- Check to make sure your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms have batteries and are working.
As for other potential hazards that crop up after storm damage:
- Discard water-damaged mattresses, wicker furniture, straw baskets and the like that have been water damaged. These cannot be recovered and are likely to grow mold. Mold and other microorganisms may grow in these water-damaged products and may cause allergic reactions and infections.
- Throw out wet room-size carpets, drapes, upholstered furniture, stuffed toys, ceiling tiles and anything that can't be picked up and cleaned by dry cleaning, steam cleaning or put in a washing machine or dryer.
- Remove and replace wet insulation.
- Discard medicines and chemicals. Water may have infected their integrity, stability and effectiveness.
- Watch children around all bodies of water, large and small, buckets, tubs and standing water in and around the home. Even small amounts of water can be a drowning hazard.