Disaster Outreach: Gulf Flooding and Chemical Hazard Awareness

The United States Gulf Coast is subject to severe storms, and Hurricane Harvey is the latest addition to the wave of devastating hurricanes to hit the region. While there are obvious negative impacts, such as destruction of property and infrastructure, there is more flowing below the surface of floodwaters than meets the eye.

As shown by other highly destructive hurricanes within the last several years — with Hurricane Katrina (August 2005) and Hurricane Sandy (October 2012) being the most notable examples — there are a great number of factors to consider in riding out the remaining days of the storm and preparing for the recovery process. Such factors include the dangerous and long-term consequences of the spill of hazardous chemicals. During floods, it is not unusual for fuels to spill out of vehicles and other sources, creating potential health hazards that can linger after the storm itself. Updated research from Sciencecorps, LLC shows that fuels leaked into flood waters and during natural disasters have varying negative health effects depending on exposure and population. Their Fact Sheet on Fuel Hazards in Floods summarizes the impacts of fuel hazards in floods, those most at risk, and protections for the general public as well as recovery cleanup workers.

To put the severity of Hurricane Harvey into perspective, in terms of health hazards and the aftermath of such a disaster, The Texas Tribune created an interactive publication, Hell and High Water. This publication analyzes the impacts of previous hurricanes and emphasizes the great potential for hazardous materials and chemicals to create lasting, devastating environmental and health consequences, as the Gulf Coast is now experiencing with Hurricane Harvey.

As Hurricane Harvey continues to move through the Gulf Coast region and plans for recovery begin to form, it is critical to remember that there is more to flood safety and the aftermath of hurricanes than is initially apparent. For up-to-date information regarding Hurricane Harvey, including safety, rumor control, and emergency preparedness, visit the Hurricane Harvey Resource Page maintained by FEMA. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center also provides current information regarding Hurricane Harvey, including advisories, warnings, forecasts, and satellite imagery.

For more information on hurricanes including preparedness and response, check out the Hurricanes Featured Topic at the Homeland Security Digital Library. The HSDL has a wide variety of resources on this topic, including hearings and testimonies, lessons learned, preparedness plans and strategies, reports, and websites.