Stay Safe and Healthy During and After a Flood

Contact: Dale R. George, SEOC 517-284-3882

May 3, 2019

With recent flooding in Southeast Michigan, residents are reminded to stay safe and healthy both during and after a flood by following some of these steps.

“Restaurants and other food-based businesses should be following their emergency action plans to help protect the safety of their employees, customers and businesses,” said Gary McDowell, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. “MDARD’s food inspectors are in those counties working with local health departments to ensure all potentially-contaminated food is discarded and properly disposed of. By working together, we can ensure the safety of the food supply in the flood zones.”

To keep you and your family safe both during and after a flood, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MDARD, and the Michigan Department of Environmental, Great Lakes, and Energy offer the following recommendations:

Prevent illness from FOOD

  • Identify and throw away food that may not be safe to eat. Throw away food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water including any canned foods that are bulging, opened or damaged. Throw away food with an unusual odor, color, or texture. Throw away perishable foods (including meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers) that have been above 40 degrees for two hours or more. Thawed food containing ice crystals or is 40 degrees or below can be refrozen or cooked. If unopened cans have come in contact with floodwater or storm water, remove the labels, wash the cans and dip them in a solution of one cup of bleach in five gallons of water. Re-label the cans with a marker.
  • Store food safely. While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Add block ice or dry ice to your refrigerator if the electricity is expected to be off longer than four hours. Wear heavy gloves when handling ice.


Prevent illness from WATER

  • Listen to, and follow, public announcements. Local authorities will tell you if public water is safe to drink or to use for cooking or bathing. If the water is not safe to use, follow local instructions to use bottled water or to boil or disinfect water for cooking, cleaning, or bathing.
  • Consider well water safety. If flooding occurs around your water well, your drinking water may become contaminated. When flood waters rise over the top of the well, contaminants can enter through the well cap or vent and increase the risk of illness.

Flood water contains bacteria and viruses from soil, organic debris and sewage systems, along with fertilizers, pesticides and other chemical contaminants. Shallow wells and old, poorly-constructed wells (e.g., dug wells) are vulnerable to water quality changes when muddy flood waters deposit contaminants close to the well. Older wells located in below-grade pits are vulnerable to contamination from flooding, even if flooding at the ground surface did not occur. Well pits are unsanitary and are prone to flooding after heavy spring rains or rapid snowmelt and surface water or the water level within the surrounding soil gathers within the pit.

If your well has been flooded, you should immediately refrain from drinking the water and take the following steps:

  • Once the flooding recedes, begin flushing the water system. Hook a hose up to an outside faucet or a faucet near the water storage tank and flush the water for at least two hours after the water clears up. If a large volume of water entered the well, several hours of pumping may be needed. Once the water is clear at the storage tank, flush the home distribution piping.
  • Contact a state of Michigan-registered water well drilling contractor and request that your water system be disinfected.
  • After flushing the chlorine from the system, collect a water sample and submit it to a certified laboratory for coliform bacteria analysis. 
  • Contact your local health department for further assistance if needed.
  • If under a boil water advisory, correctly boil or disinfect water. Hold water at a rolling boil for one minute to kill bacteria. If you can't boil water, add 1/8 teaspoon (approximately 0.75 mL) of newly purchased, unscented liquid household bleach per gallon of water. Stir the water well, and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. You can use water-purifying tablets instead of boiling water or using bleach. For infants, use only pre-prepared canned baby formula. Do not use powdered formulas prepared with treated water. Clean children's toys that have come in contact with water. Use a solution of one cup of bleach in five gallons of water to clean the toys. Let toys air dry after cleaning.

Prevent and treat OTHER ILLNESS and INJURIES

  • Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas produced by many types of equipment and is poisonous to breathe. Don't use a generator, pressure washer, charcoal grill, camp stove or other gasoline- or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement or garage or near a window, door or vent. Don't run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open. Don't heat your house with a gas oven. If your carbon monoxide detector sounds, leave your home immediately and call 911. Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed or nauseated.
  • Avoid floodwater. Follow all warnings about water on roadways. Do not drive vehicles or heavy equipment through water. If you have to work in or near floodwater, wear a life jacket. If you are caught in an area where floodwater is rising, wear a life jacket or use some other type of flotation device.
  • Avoid unstable buildings and structures. Stay away from damaged buildings or structures until they have been examined and certified as safe by a building inspector or other government authority. Leave immediately if you hear shifting or unusual noises that signal the structure is about to fall.
  • Beware of wild or stray animals. Avoid wild or stray animals. Call local authorities to handle animals. Dispose of dead animals in accordance to local guidelines.
  • Beware of electrical and fire hazards. NEVER touch a fallen power line. Call the utility company to report fallen power lines. Avoid contact with overhead power lines during cleanup and other activities. If electrical circuits and equipment have gotten wet or are in or near water, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel. Do not turn the power back on until electrical equipment has been inspected by a qualified electrician. DO NOT burn candles near flammable items or leave the candle unattended. If possible, use flashlights or other battery-operated lights instead of candles.
  • Beware of hazardous materials. Wear protective clothing and gear (for example, a respirator if needed) when handling hazardous materials. Wash skin that may have come in contact with hazardous chemicals. Contact local authorities if you are not sure about how to handle or get rid of hazardous materials.
  • Clean up and prevent mold growth. Clean up and dry out the building quickly (within 24 to 48 hours). Open doors and windows. Use fans to dry out the building. To PREVENT mold growth, clean wet items and surfaces with detergent and water. To REMOVE mold growth, wear rubber gloves, open windows and doors and clean with a bleach solution of one cup of bleach in one gallon of water. Throw away porous items (for example, carpet and upholstered furniture) that cannot be dried quickly. Fix any leaks in roofs, walls or plumbing.
  • Pace yourself and get support. Be alert to physical and emotional exhaustion or strain. Set priorities for cleanup tasks and pace the work. Try not to work alone. Don't get exhausted. Ask your family members, friends or professionals for support. If needed, seek professional help.
  • Prevent musculoskeletal injuries. Use teams of two or more people to move bulky objects. Avoid lifting any material that weighs more than 50 pounds (per person).
  • Treat wounds. Clean out all open wounds and cuts with soap and clean water. Apply an antibiotic ointment. Contact a doctor to find out whether more treatment is needed (such as a tetanus shot). If a wound gets red, swells or drains, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Wash your hands. Use soap and water to wash your hands. If water isn't available, you can use alcohol-based products made for washing hands.
  • Wear protective gear for cleanup work. Wear hard hats, goggles, heavy work gloves and watertight boots with steel toes and insoles (not just steel shank). Wear earplugs or protective headphones to reduce risk from equipment noise.

Prevent and treat PET ILLNESS and INJURIES

  • Be aware that a pet’s behavior may change before, during and even after a disaster. Familiar scents and landmarks may be altered, and your pet may become confused and lost. In the first few days after the disaster, leash your pets when they go outside. Always maintain close contact. Reintroduce food in small servings, gradually working up to full portions, especially if animals have been without food for a prolonged period.
  • Pets can be poisoned by exposure to harmful chemicals, products or foods. If you suspect that your pet has been poisoned, call the Animal Poison Control Center toll-free 888-426-4435.

The public is encouraged to monitor local media for up-to-date weather reports and emergency information. For updated information and additional safety tips, follow the MSP/EMHSD on Twitter at @MichEMHS or visit