Flooding can happen without warning and when we least expect it. There are potential health risks associated with contaminated flood water such as the spread of gastroenteritis (diarrhoea and vomiting). The information below should be useful to help protect the health of you and your family and whānau during and after a flood event. Also, keep an eye out on the Tairawhiti Civil Defence facebook page for up to date information.
Personal Safety and Hygiene
Always assume that all flood water is potentially contaminated with farm run-off, faecal matter from animals, and sewage. Children, in particular, must keep away from flood waters.
The best advice is to keep away from flood waters, use only a clean water supply for drinking, cooking, and washing. Hand washing is always vitally important to help prevent the spread of disease.
For further information on how to help protect you and your family from getting sick from food following a flood check out, 'Food Safety in Adverse Events' from the Ministry for Primary Industries.
If a 'boil water' notice is issued, then water needs to be boiled before drinking. This means that the water needs to be brought to a rolling boil for at least 1 minute before it becomes safe to drink.
In some emergency situations the water supply may be cut off, or water and sewage lines may be damaged, and you may need to use improvised emergency toilets.
Flood-Damaged Houses and Buildings
There are potential health risks associated with contaminated flood water. It can be assumed that all flood water is potentially contaminated with farm run-off, faecal matter from animals, and, in some cases, sewage. Where a home, office, or retail premises has been affected by flood water above floor level, all soft furnishings will need to be effectively decontaminated or disposed of. This includes carpets, curtains, soft furniture, and any other fittings. In some cases, thorough cleaning (i.e boiled or washed and treated with a disinfectant) followed by exposure to sunlight will be sufficient, but some furnishings and fittings will have to be thrown out. Each situation needs to be assessed individually. Anything that is discarded should be disposed of appropriately rather than leaving it lying around for weeks. A general rule is if you can’t put a soft furnishing in a washing machine it must be thrown out. If any food is affected by flood water, or fridges or freezers were left without power such that food has not been chilled for more than two hours, this food will need to be thrown out. Any food premises will have to take extra care to ensure everything is decontaminated.
Cleaning and disinfecting hard surfaces
Dust from dried out flood water can be irritating and cause a nuisance for those cleaning up. Practical measures can be taken to keep dust to a minimum. Keep any area being swept moist and where possible work upwind.
Sewage Contamination Concerns
The sewage system is often affected in a flood. Most small rural communities rely on septic tank systems for collecting, treating, and disposing of sewage. The tank itself can be affected by flood waters, and its contents can find their way to the surface and mix in with the flood waters. In larger towns and cities there is a network of sewer pipes connecting each building to a single sewage treatment plant. Occasionally the network of pipes can be broken by flooding, or one or more of the pumps that are used to pump sewage through the pipes may fail. When things go wrong with a sewage system this usually results in flood waters being contaminated. Avoid contact with flood waters. Children in particular must keep away from flood waters.
Flooded Sports Fields, Parks and Gardens
Any sports fields, parks, or gardens which have been flooded should not be used until 48 hours after all surface water has disappeared. This time allows for the action of the fresh air, the wind, and sunlight to decontaminate most of the bugs that would have been left behind by the flooding. Of course, our environment is not sterile. There are always bacteria, viruses, and other microbes all around us. This is why we must always wash our hands after playing or working outside, and before cooking or eating.
As a public health precaution, it is routinely recommended that people avoid swimming in rivers, streams and harbour areas for at least 48 hours after a heavy rainfall. For flood events, this should be at least 72 hours after rivers have returned to normal flow and colour.
The recent flooding in the district may lead to a temporary increase in the number of mosquitoes and flies. Residents are advised to use insect repellent to help avoid being bitten and to tip water from containers around their properties.
Self Care and Wellness
It’s normal to feel upset after extreme weather events. If you need support or advice or have feelings of anxiety, stress, prolonged fear, hopelessness or anger and need to talk with someone, you can phone Healthline on 0800 611 116.
Other Health Concerns
Anyone experiencing any illness should consult their family doctor as usual or Healthline on 0800 611 116.