Health Officials Are Warning Texans To Stay Out Of Harvey Floodwaters For A Disturbing Reason

As flooding from Hurricane Harvey continues to rise and spread, officials are warning thousands of Texans to avoid the water.

Floodwaters act as sponges for hazards. As they bubble past city streets and inundate cars and homes, they collect sharp objects, sweep up insects and wildlife, and gather human waste.

But staying out of the water is easier said than done.

Just before she was rescued at around 4 a.m. on Sunday from Harvey, 17-year-old Maya Wadler watched as brownish-gray floodwaters “bubbled up from the doors, seeped in from the windows,” she told The New York Times.

Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, told NPRthat although his group was advising people to avoid floodwaters, “of course, people have had to be in the water — they haven’t had a choice.”

The Environmental Protection Agency warns that floodwaters can pull in raw sewage as well as industrial chemicals and solvents. It urges anyone exposed to frequently wash their hands and ensure children don’t play in it.

“Floodwater mixes with everything below it,” Richard Bradley, the chief of emergency medical services and disaster medicine at the University of Texas’ McGovern Medical School, told Time. “If it covers a field with pesticides, it picks up the pesticides. It can also carry animal waste from fields and forests.”

Rachel Noble, a professor of marine biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, sees two major risks with floodwater. The first is that failing, flooded infrastructure can increase the chances that people come into contact with dangerous bacteria from sewage and other sources. One such concern is tetanus, an infection caused by bacteria in soil, dust, and manure that can enter the body via a cut or puncture wound. When the bacteria enter the body, they produce a poison that causes painful muscle contractions. These can cause a person’s neck and jaw muscles to lock, hence the other name for tetanus: lockjaw.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention typically recommends adults get a tetanus booster shot every 10 years. Because of Harvey, Texas health officials are urging people to make sure they’ve had theirs, NPR reported. They are also sending supplies of the vaccine to the affected areas.

Skin lesions caused by Vibrio vulnificus bacteria after Hurricane Katrina.

The second type of risk, according to Noble, is that ocean waters are being introduced to urban areas, so marine bacteria that naturally thrive in the sea are suddenly posing unforeseen risks to people. A major issue in this arena is Vibrio. Unlike the bacteria that cause tetanus, Vibrio bacteria are naturally-occurring marine microbes that can pose a rare but potentially deadly risk. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, five people died and 22 lost limbs as a result of Vibrio infections.

Overall, infections from both types of bacteria pose a significant threat to people near Harvey floodwaters.

“The bacterial count in floodwater is extremely high,” Bradley told Time. “The chance of getting a skin infection is really quite serious.”

As far as Vibrio is concerned, Noble said that anyone in direct contact with floodwater and who is experiencing infection-like symptoms should be keeping a close eye on themselves. She advises paying close attention to any open wounds and looking out for those that get “hot and angry,” or red and raised. Symptoms like fever and chills can also be a warning sign for Vibrio infection, she said.

Yet another risk in flooded areas is wildlife, as snakes, insects, and other wild animals can be drawn to the water or swept up in it.

“Storm activity definitely increases the potential for snakebite as the snakes get flooded out and seek higher ground,” Bryan Fry, an expert on venomous snakes at the University of Queensland in Australia, told The Washington Post.

These dangers don’t necessarily subside once the storm ends, since stagnant water poses risks of its own. Wet environments in houses and buildings are ideal for mold. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, close to half of all inspected homes had visible mold, according to the CDC. Mosquitoes and other pests are also attracted to still water.

Regardless of where you are, the ways to keep yourself safe are the same: ensure you’ve gotten your vaccinations, wash your hands frequently, and let your doctor know if you have any cuts or open wounds that have come into contact with potentially dangerous water.

Source:

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CNN reporter dramatically rescues man caught in Harvey's floodwaters

A CNN reporter rescued a Texas man when the truck he was driving started sinking in floodwater in a treacherous moment caught on camera.

CNN’s Drew Griffin was preparing for a live shot Wednesday in Beaumont, Texas, where the man drove into a ravine, mistaking it for a road flooded by Tropical Storm Harvey. The man’s truck started sinking, and Griffin pulled him out using a rope, assisted by producer Brian Rokus and photographer Scott Pisczek, CNN said.

The man, Jerry Sumrall, from Winnie, Texas, said he was staying in a motel in Beaumont. Sumrall gave an impromptu, out-of-breath interview directly after the rescue and thanked Griffin for “saving my life.”

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'There's nowhere to go': Texan recalls abandoning her home amid deadly floodwaters

“If I start crying, I’m so sorry,” Ashley Yell began.

Yell, a resident of Dickinson, Texas, evacuated her home early Sunday after Tropical Storm Harvey brought massive flooding to Gulf Coast cities. Harvey touched down as a Category 4 storm Friday, and rescue efforts are still underway in Houston and the surrounding area. In an interview, Yell described how her family evacuated their flooded home, relying on strangers driving boats to ferry them to higher and higher ground until they finally made it safely to a friend’s home.

Yell and her husband, Travis, decided to have their 1-year-old daughter Murphy sleep in their bed. When she started stirring, Travis volunteered to change her diaper and get her a new bottle.

“When he stepped down, there was two feet of water off of our bed,” Yell recalled. “So we both got up and there was already water throughout our entire house.”

After that discovery, they wasted no time, quickly packing food and diapers for their daughter.

“We jumped into the car and realized there’s nowhere to go,” Yell said. “All the major roads around us in a circle were all underwater. I had called 911 to ask them if there was any access to just leave and they said no, just stay to higher ground.”

Yell estimated that for two hours, they hunkered down in their car near their home. But when water started to enter the vehicle, they went to a neighbor’s home.

“Their home is just a little bit higher and there was no water inside,” Yell said. “Well, after a few moments, now water was starting to come inside their house, and it was rising very fast, coming in through their windows.”

Someone with a boat took Yell, her husband and their daughter to another neighbor’s house, which was on higher ground and where the water was “just maybe ankle-deep.”

“We stayed there throughout most of the day, until water started rising up to our knees and we realized we needed to get out, it’s rising too high,” Yell said. “So we were contacting family and friends and all of our friends were trying to get to us, but the water was so high in the area.”

Finally, they resolved to walk a mile and a half through chest-deep water to a main road where, hopefully, they would be able to flag down a boat. Yell said her ankles and legs are badly bruised from hitting debris in the water. They were successful, but the driver first had to pick up a woman who had had a C-section two weeks ago and her newborn son.

“They drove us very far, all the way to a Chevron on 517 and 646, on a boat, that’s all on a main road that people drive on,” Yell said. “And it was higher ground. A lot of people were standing underneath this plaza with this gas station, waiting for pickup or what they could do when the water goes down. And that’s where one of our friends met us and he has a really high truck so he drove us every which way to get us to another friend’s house, and that’s where we are right now.”

Both of the family’s vehicles are completely underwater, and in a video online Yell spotted her house in over eight feet of water. She felt that her area’s voluntary evacuation order — instead of a mandatory one — downplayed what eventually became a catastrophe.

“Everybody on our street was in their homes,” she said. “Nobody left.”

While she said she saw first responders in helicopters and boats, many rescuers were area residents “packing in the most they could without the water coming into the boat to try to get people out.”

“I did see on the news that there have already been two deaths in Dickinson,” Yell said. “I really have the feel for that, just from us walking through the water with our daughter. That could have been us.”

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