The Texas Department of State Health Services offers guidance to people who may be returning home to begin the recovery process following the West explosion disaster. State and local health officials urge extreme caution to people cleaning up debris and inspecting damage caused by the explosion.
Tetanus shots and N-95 masks will be made available by the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District. For information, people can call the local family assistance center at (254) 826-4113.
DSHS and McLennan County health officials urge people to be aware of the following hazards:
Damaged Structures and Debris: Use extreme caution when entering damaged structures. Wear sturdy shoes or boots, long sleeves and gloves when cleaning up. If your home is damaged, be sure the electricity and gas are shut off before entering. Get a tetanus shot if you have not had a booster in 10 years or can’t remember when your last shot was, and be careful. Broken glass, exposed wires, nails, wood, metal, plastic and other debris can cause puncture wounds, cuts and burns. Using chain saws and power tools improperly can cause severe injuries.
Ash: Adults should use a protective respirator mask (N-95 or P-100) while cleaning up areas in which ash particles cannot be controlled. Ash and dust from burned buildings may contain toxic and cancer causing chemicals including asbestos, arsenic and lead. Children should not be in the area while cleanup is in progress.
Electricity: Avoid downed or damaged electrical lines. Electrical repairs should be done by a qualified technician.
Carbon Monoxide: Place generators, power washers and other fuel burning devices at least 20 feet away from the house and away from open doors and windows to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Natural Gas: Do not enter an area or building where you smell gas. Do not turn on the lights or light a match. Leave the area immediately, then call 9-1-1.
Propane: If a home propane tank is damaged and leaking, call 9-1-1 and the propane service provider. Do not transport leaking propane tanks in a car or dispose of them in the trash.
Food: Discard food that may have spoiled, thawed or come into contact with hazardous materials like fire retardant or ash. Loss of power to refrigeration and freezer units can cause food to spoil. If you’re not certain food is safe, throw it out.
Water: Check with the water provider to be sure that water is safe to drink because water pressure may have been lost. Water from a damaged water system or well may require disinfection by boiling for one minute or stirring in 1/8 teaspoon of unscented bleach per gallon and letting it sit for 30 minutes.
Behavioral health is also a concern as people deal with the traumatic events that surround a disaster. Common feelings after a disaster may include fear, anger, sadness and guilt. People can have trouble sleeping or feel jumpy, irritable, or numb. These symptoms are common, and there are things people can do to cope with traumatic events:
• Take breaks from cleanup efforts and don’t overdo it. Get rest, drink plenty of water, and accept help from others.
• Return to as many personal and family routines as possible, and find ways to relax and do something that you and your family have enjoyed in the past.
• Talk about your experiences and feelings with family, friends or clergy, and keep a journal.
• Upsetting times can cause some people to use alcohol or drugs to cope with stress. In the long run, that will not help and may lead to other problems.
For behavioral health assistance or additional information, dial 2-1-1.
(DSHS press release)