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12 ways to stay safe after a flood

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Submerged streets in Waterville, Minn.
Health officials say to avoid walking in flood water because there is a risk of injury and infection. In this Monday, June 23, 2014 photo, a man walks down a flooded street in Waterville, Minn. to reach his property in the lagoons area of Lake Tetonka.
John Cross/AP

The Minnesota Department of Health says people should avoid contact with flood water and take precautions even though skin contact usually isn't harmful.

"People need to remember that flood water may be contaminated with sewage, disease-causing germs and other potential contaminants," said Kristen Ehresmann, director of infectious diseases for the Minnesota Department of Health.

The MDH says people should assume that there could be sewage or organisms in flood water that could cause infection through open wounds. 

The bigger danger may be what's under the water.

"There can be a very real risk of injury from submerged objects that aren't visible from the surface, or by debris that may be carried along with the flood," Ehresmann said.

5 ways to stay safe after a flood

1. Wash your hands often, then use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Dry off with paper towels, then throw the towels out.

2. Clean surfaces that hold food, using soap and warm water. Soak for one minute with a mix of one tablespoon of household chlorine bleach in one gallon of safe water. Allow to air dry.

3. Throw out food likely to spoil or stored in containers that may have been in contact with flood water, including unopened cans and bottles.

4. If your well has been flooded, then it is most likely not safe for drinking. Use safe water for drinking, cooking, making ice or baby formula, washing dishes and brushing teeth. Showering is not advised using flooded well water.

5. Gasoline engines used to pump water or make power should never be used indoors or in enclosed spaces. Keep away from garages, open windows, doors, vents or air intakes.

7 tips for re-entering a flooded home

1. Watch for loose plaster, drywall and ceilings that could fall.

2. Wear sturdy shoes. Cut feet are the most common wound after a disaster.

3. Use battery-powered lights or flashlights.

4. Beware of fire. Look for broken or leaking gas lines, flooded electrical wires, furnaces and electrical appliances that are under water, or other items that can catch fire or explode.

5. Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, leave the house, turn off the gas outside at the main valve, and call the gas company.

6. Do not step in water. Look for electrical damage. If you see sparks, broken or frayed wires, smell burning insulation, turn off the electricity if you can reach the fuse box or circuit breaker, and call an electrician.

7. Pump out basement water slowly -- about one-third of the water each day to prevent damage to basement walls. Outside the walls, pressure from water in the soil can break walls if you pump too fast.

Bonus tip: Watch out for bugs

  Standing water can increase mosquito numbers, and greater river flow can lead to larger numbers of black flies or biting gnats. Other insects like wasps may become very aggressive.

  Only a few types of mosquitoes and ticks can cause or carry disease. The risk of any diseases from insects often goes down right after a flood. 

Mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus or La Crosse encephalitis are most common from July to September in western Minnesota farm country and southeast Minnesota wooded areas. The risk of Lyme disease and Human anaplasmosis is most common from May through July in wooded parts of east central, central and southeastern Minnesota.

Wear insect repellent, long-sleeve shirts and pants in light colors, avoid outdoor activities at dawn and dusk, and get rid of containers that are holding water on your property.