Once a storm has passed, it doesn't mean the danger is over. From downed power lines to spoiled food in the refrigerator, the hazards will be everywhere. And it's likely that things won't be back to normal for weeks afterward.
Here's a list of things to watch out for:
If someone is hurt, get medical attention for them as quickly as possible at a local hospital. That sounds like plain old common sense, but even minor injuries can quickly get infected in an environment where there's likely to be poor sanitation and other issues.
Don't touch loose or dangling power lines. Just because a power line is on the ground doesn't mean there's not the possibility of it being 'live.' Power lines are usually the first victims of storms and are knocked down by falling trees and other debris. That means a live power line can often be hidden in debris just waiting for an unsuspecting person to step on it. Be very careful about where you step after a storm, and report a downed power line as quickly as possible to your power company or a police officer.
If you evacuate, use caution when reentering your home. Look for structural damage like ceilings or walls that might fall. Use your nose to sniff out gas leaks, and report any broken water mains or sewage leaks to your utility company.
Floods & electricity
If your home has been flooded, don't turn on any electricity until it's been inspected by a qualified electrician. Flooding allows water to infiltrate all the wiring and appliances in your home that's been submerged. That water can linger long after the water recedes, leaving a very real danger of electrical shorts, fires, and the possibility of electrocution.
Beware spoiled food
If your power has been off for any length of time, there's a good chance that most of the food in your refrigerator has spoiled and you should throw it away. Whenever possible -- and if ice is available -- transfer what you can to coolers with ice to preserve it longer. Remember that most frozen food can't be refrozen once it's thawed.
No matter how good your intentions are, unless you're qualified to give valuable emergency assistance, it's best to stay away from disaster areas. Most likely, roads will be clogged, the hazards many, and you'll only hamper the ability of firefighters and other emergency workers who're trying to do their jobs.
The roads will be full of debris that can be hazardous. Aside from nails and other sharp things that can give you a flat tire, downed power lines are an electrocution hazard. Along the coast, the dirt may be washed out from under roads, and they could collapse under the weight of your car.
Be very careful about the possibility of starting fires. There's often no running water available after a storm, and that makes fighting fires almost impossible. A fire that gets started in one building can quickly spread to others. Before you know it, an entire city block can be ablaze.
Take down your storm shutters and save them. In a storm season like the ones we had in 2004 and 2005, having storm shutters ready to go can save you a lot of money, labor and time.
If you have damage to your home, be sure and document it, take lots of pictures, and call your insurance agent as soon as possible. There will be thousands of other people just like you, and getting your name in as soon as possible will get you help faster.
If you've lost your home or have other food or clothing needs, the place to call is the American Red Cross. Their number is 1-(800) RED-CROSS or you can visit their website.
Be sure to contact your relatives as soon as you can and let them know you're okay. Often, phone lines into a disaster are jammed with people trying to contact loved ones -- so be prepared for frustration -- but the people who care about you will want to hear from you.