Federal health and safety officials are warning residents who suffered through Hurricane Sandy’s meteorological wrath to guard against potentially life-threatening dangers in the wake of the storm, as people without power turn to alternative fuel sources and encounter downed live power lines.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Fire Administration are urging consumers to use great caution during a loss of electrical power, as the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from portable generators, fire from candles, and electrical shock from downed lines increases.
During extended power outages from storms like Sandy, many people turn to gas-fueled generators to power lights, keep food cold, or cook. Authorities are reminding consumers never to use portable generators indoors, in basements, garages, or close to a home. The exhaust from generators contains high levels of CO, which can quickly kill.
"Our goal is to save lives and prevent further disasters in the aftermath of Sandy," said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. "Never run a generator in or right next to a home. Carbon monoxide is an invisible killer. CO is odorless and colorless and it can kill you and your family in minutes."
Added U.S. Fire Administrator Ernie Mitchell: "We know from experience as victims try to recover from disasters, they will take unnecessary risks with candles, cooking and generators. These risks often result in additional and tragic life safety consequences. When you consider the challenges faced by firefighters and their departments to also recover from the same disasters, it is important that all of us remember even the simplest of fire safety behaviors following disasters of any type."
Deaths involving portable generators have risen since 1999, with at least 755 CO deaths reported through 2011 — including 73 last year. Most resulted from the use of generators inside a home's living space, in the basement, or in the garage.
What you need to know:
PORTABLE GENERATORS: Never use a generator inside a home, basement, shed, or garage even if doors and windows are open. Keep generators outside and far away from windows, doors and vents.
GRILLS AND CAMP STOVES: Never use grills or camp stoves indoors. Burning charcoal or using camp stoves in enclosed spaces can produce lethal levels of CO.
CO ALARMS: Install carbon monoxide alarms outside each sleeping area of your home and on every floor to protect against CO poisoning. Change the alarms' batteries at least once a year.
ELECTRICAL AND GAS SAFETY: Avoid downed wires, including cable TV feeds, which may be live and carrying deadly voltage. Electrical components, including circuit breakers, wiring in the walls and outlets that have been under water should not be turned on, but inspected and tested by a qualified electrician. Natural gas or propane valves that have been under water should be replaced. If you believe there is a gas leak, immediately leave the house, leave the doors open, and call 911.
CANDLES: Use caution with candles and take care not to burn them on or near anything that can catch fire. Never leave burning candles unattended.
For more information call CPSC's hotline at 800-638-2772 or visit www.Ready.gov or www.usfa.dhs.gov