The dangers of floodwater: What you need to know

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. – As Hurricane Dorian creeps up towards the Tidewater region, it’s important to remember how dangerous flood water can be.

You may already know the phrase ‘turn around, don’t drown’, but the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has more tips and advice for those who may be affected by potential flooding.

Floodwater can pose a drowning risk for everyone – regardless of their ability to swim. Swiftly moving shallow water can be deadly, and even shallow standing water can be dangerous for small children. To prevent further danger, you should:

  • Always follow warnings about flooded roads.
  • Don’t drive in flooded areas—cars or other vehicles won’t protect you from floodwaters. They can be swept away or may stall in moving water.

Floodwaters contain many things that may harm your health. The CDC doesn’t know exactly what is in floodwater at any given point in time. Floodwater can contain:

  • Downed power lines
  • Human and livestock waste
  • Household, medical, and industrial hazardous waste (chemical, biological, and radiological)
  • Coal ash waste that can contain carcinogenic compounds such as arsenic, chromium, and mercury
  • Other contaminants that can lead to illness
  • Physical objects such as lumber, vehicles, and debris
  • Wild or stray animals such as rodents and snakes

Exposure to contaminated floodwater can cause:

  • Wound infections
  • Skin rash
  • Gastrointestinal illness
  • Tetanus
  • Leptospirosis (not common)

It is important to protect yourself from exposure to floodwater regardless of the source of contamination. The best way to protect yourself is to stay out of the water.

If you come in contact with floodwater:

  • Wash the area with soap and clean water as soon as possible. If you don’t have soap or water, use alcohol-based wipes or sanitizer.
  • Take care of wounds and seek medical attention if necessary.
  • Wash clothes contaminated with flood or sewage water in hot water and detergent before reusing them.

If you must enter floodwater, wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles.

Be aware of possible chemicals in floodwaters.

Floods can cause containers of chemicals to move from their normal storage spots.

  • Don’t attempt to move propane tanks you might find— they’re dangerous and can cause a fire or explosion. If you find any, contact the police, fire department, or your State Fire Marshal’s office immediately.
  • Be extremely careful when removing car batteries. Even if they are in floodwater, car batteries may still have an electrical charge. Use insulated gloves and avoid coming in contact with any acid that may have spilled from the damaged car battery.

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