Survivors of Hurricane Katrina may feel grateful to be alive, but the threats to life and limb will continue for weeks, public-health officials...

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Survivors of Hurricane Katrina may feel grateful to be alive, but the threats to life and limb will continue for weeks, public-health officials say.

Poisoned flood waters, severed electrical wires, carbon-monoxide leaks and long, hot days without medicines, drinking water or peace of mind are among looming threats.



Some of those hurt in the aftermath of the storm will be victims of bad judgment, impatience or fatigue.

More standing water means more breeding grounds for mosquitoes, including those carrying West Nile virus. Dirty waters increase the chance of tetanus and other infections.

Rats, snakes and other animals, cut off from regular food supplies, forage closer to humans.

Other dangers arise from the need for sustenance. Drinking-water supplies often are contaminated.

“The pipes are under pressure, and when there’s a loss of pressure at the pump” from power outages, “materials can get in,” said Tim Darnell, Mississippi’s assistant director of environmental health. “Until we can prove it is safe, we have put customers on boil-water notices that will affect the majority of the state.”

The list of potential contaminants is long: gasoline and other petroleum products; bacteria from dead animals, human feces or other sources; chemicals from industrial sites.

Disaster victims are tempted to eat food that may be spoiled.

“People are eating out of (nonworking) refrigerators,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “They think it’s good because it’s still a little cool.”

The second wave

The first priority of rescue workers is reaching and treating those directly injured by the hurricane. Injuries from broken glass, fallen trees and flying objects are common. Once the storm’s violence subsides and many survivors turn from frightened to angry or determined, a second wave of injuries occurs. “Most deaths and injuries occur after storms,” said Irv “Doc” Kokol, a Florida Department of Health spokesman. “Generally, it’s because people are trying to do things that they’ve never done before. Emergency rooms see terrible injuries from chain saws. And this is not the time for someone who has never used a ladder to get up on the roof.”

Hidden dangers

Floodwaters may seem navigable, but dangers often lurk below the surface.

“Two feet of moving water can move a vehicle,” Kokol said. “If you’re walking through, you don’t know what you’re walking on. It could be broken glass. And objects can run into you.”

With electricity expected to be out for weeks, some people likely will use candles carelessly, resulting in fires. Damaged electrical wires become deadly when power is restored.

With clean water in short supply, dehydration can be a problem, especially in hot states such as Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. Bored and frustrated, many people pour themselves into making repairs.

Not only physical

For some people, the emotional recovery can be the most difficult.

“Almost everybody gets very upset for a short period,” said Barry Hong, psychiatry professor at the Washington University of School of Medicine. “The kind of broad feeling of sadness and depression, that’s pretty universal at first.”

Over time, people may have trouble sleeping, become startled by rain or loud noises, suffer muscle aches, become sad or listless, said Daniel Dodgen, emergency management coordinator at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the federal agency that helps states provide counseling.

Serious depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder are much less common, Dodgen said. The goal after disaster is to try to return to life as it was before the event.