New Orleans about a week after Hurricane Katrina in September 2005.*

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

Whether it’s a hurricane, earthquake, or tornado, oftentimes as many people get hurt after the event as during it. Here are a few common injuries and diseases that pose dangers after a natural disaster—some I’ll bet you haven’t thought of.

Water Hazards

Many types of disasters will include flooding. The water will be contaminated with bacteria, viruses, chemicals, you name it. As we found in Hurricane Katrina, that leads to lots of rashes and causes minor scratches to turn into nasty infections.

After a natural disaster, stay out of the water as much as you can, or at least wear rubber boots high enough for the water not to splash over the inside.


Stay away. Don’t depend on rubber boots for protection. If someone is down and needs help, look before you act. Are there downed lines nearby? How about water? Is the victim still in contact with the lines? You’re not going to be any help if you get electrocuted also.

It happens all the time. Water and downed electrical lines don’t mix. Many years ago, a schoolmate of mine was electrocuted volunteering on the Gulf after a major hurricane. He worked for a power company and thought the lines were off.

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Right now, West Nile is a risk. Mosquitoes are going to love all that stagnant water left over from a disaster. They’ll multiply like crazy. Wear insect repellent. Read my post on West Nile beforehand.

Stray Animals

After natural disasters you’re likely to see lots of strays, especially dogs—some pretty pitiful looking. Be very careful. They’ll be scared and hungry and much more likely to bite. Some may be rabid.


It’s deathly hot in August in many areas of the country. If the air conditioning is down or you’re going to be outside a lot, do what’s necessary to keep from getting hyperthermia.

Carbon Monoxide

Many will be using generators if the electricity isn’t working. And, if all goes as usual, some will get carbon monoxide poisoning. Always keep the generator outside and away from windows, doors and vents. And read my post on carbon monoxide poisoning.


One thing guaranteed after any natural disaster is the emergency room will see some chainsaw injuries. Don’t use one if you don’t know how. And if you do know how, don’t get cocky. I see veteran users all the time with bad cuts. Wear safety goggles. Use chainsaw-resistant gloves and chaps.


Everybody’s adrenaline is sky-high after a natural disaster. You want things done now. But save yourself some grief by taking a moment to think, so you don’t become one of the injured.

How about you? Do you have other tips? Or do you have a story to tell about post-disaster safety?

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*Photo by Amma Abd Rabbo on Flickr. The caption is based on the photographer’s description and has not been verified by The Survival Doctor.