Health risks remain after evacuees return to flood-afflicted homes, official warns


With widespread flooding across parts of British Columbia, health officials are reminding people to take precautionary measures when out in the floodwater — and especially when they are able to return to their affected properties.


Courtney Hesketh, director of environmental public health at Interior Health, said floodwater mixed with sewage can further the spread of water-borne diseases like E. coli or salmonella.

“It’s not high volume because the water has been diluted, but it’s important to take some precautionary measures,” Hesketh said.

Simply walking in the floodwaters isn’t dangerous, Hesketh said, but any way that water can get into your body — either by ingesting it or coming in through an open wound or injury — is cause for concern.

“Wearing rubber boots is a good idea,” she said.

A home inundated by floodwater near the Kettle River in Grand Forks, B.C. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Returning home

The greatest health risks, Hesketh said, are when people begin to return to their homes and when people start to get involved in cleanup activities.

It’s best to return only after a safe supply of water is available, and proper disposal of human waste and garbage has been arranged.

People need to be wary of debris and sludge and potentially large amounts of still water remaining in the home. Hesketh says the provincial government has a step-by-step guide online that can help residents slowly work their way through the clean up procedures.

After a few days, lingering moisture in certain building materials, like drywall, can make a home susceptible to mould, which can trigger allergies and asthma.

“In situations where people come back and people start to see things like mould and mildew growing, that may be time to contact an actual disaster cleanup company that can guide you through that process safely,” Hesketh said.

See what searchers found when they went house-to-house looking for pets:

Volunteers look for lost pets to stop human evacuees from heading back into flooded homes. 5:13

Leftover food has to be carefully dealt with. Never eat or drink uncooked or raw foods exposed to flood waters and discard any previously opened bottled food or drink products as it is hard to clean under caps.

Another key tip?

“Simple things like wearing gloves and frequent hand-washing can help reduce any risk of getting diseases,” Hesketh said.

More information can be found on the Emergency Management B.C. website.

Listen to Courtney Hesketh’s interview on Daybreak South:

Here’s how people should protect themselves during — and after — a flood. 5:18