A flooded house in North Charleston, South Carolina, after Hurricane Joaquin. Photo by Ryan Johnson, shared via North Charleston/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

A flooded house in North Charleston, South Carolina, after Hurricane Joaquin. Photo by Ryan Johnson, shared via North Charleston/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.


by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

Areas in South Carolina are experiencing an unprecedented emergency—one that many of the affected residents never thought they’d need to prepare for: devastating flooding.

“We haven’t seen this level of rain in the low country in a thousand years,” Gov. Nikki Haley said in a press conference.

“The flooding is unprecedented and historical,” Dr. Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia, told the Associated Press.

The rains are starting to subside, according to The Weather Channel, but there’s more flooding to come from the overflowing rivers. And then there will be the aftermath, which can be as bad as or worse than what happens during the storm.

I think devastation caused by flooding is often underrated. People lose everything they own—sometimes even their lives. Here are some of the dangers people are facing—beyond the floodwaters themselves—and what to expect in the days to come.

The Biggest Medical Concern Right Now

One big concern I have for the people in the flooded areas is whether they can get to a hospital if they need it—and whether ambulances can get to them. The Weather Channel is showing roads that have been “completely destroyed” and is reporting that 550 roads and bridges are closed.

But the most widespread medical issue right now, ironically, is whether people have enough water to drink. WISTV.com, in Columbia, South Carolina, reports:

The South Carolina Emergency Management Division says there are more than 30,000 to 40,000 people without water in the state. Many folks could be without water for 3 to 4 days.

In the City of Columbia, all water customers receiving Columbia water are being asked to boil their water for a full minute before using it.

Ready.gov recommends storing three days’ worth of water—at least a gallon per day per person—in case of emergency. I recommend more if possible. Either way, if they’ve heeded such advice, many people should be prepared for this outage and will do relatively OK without the tap. We can hope. It’s certainly a cautionary tale for the rest of us: Prepare for the unexpected.


What About Filtering the Floodwater?

Some people may consider purifying the floodwaters, but that’s very risky because most “purification” techniques don’t remove chemicals. Those that do don’t remove all chemicals. And chemicals are plentiful in floodwater.

If you absolutely must use the floodwater for survival, following are the methods that will at least remove some chemicals, along with most germs. These are in order of preference:

  1. Distillation
  2. Boiling the water and then using activated charcoal.

Click here for more information on each of these methods. In addition, Berkey and some other commercial filter brands claim they manufacture products that remove a lot of chemicals along with most germs.


The Number-One Mistake to Avoid

The most common mistake I see people consistently make after flooding is getting into the floodwater. Though that water may look like a river, it is not. It’s more comparable to sewage—chockfull of germs and chemicals. If you can help it, don’t even touch floodwater, much less get in it.

Sometimes people have no choice; they have to wade the waters to save their lives. If you must do this, protect yourself as best you can, if you have time to prepare. (Here’s one way to waterproof your shoes, for example.)

More Information About Surviving Floods

Colorado faced unprecedented flooding a couple of years ago. Here are some lessons we learned then.

And here are some of the dangers people will be facing after this flooding—with tips on how to thwart them.

Have you ever faced flooding? Do you have any tips? How’s the weather in your area right now?