Many injuries after major storms, like the recent Hurricane Sandy, are preventable with good judgment.
Common injuries during and after major storms include physical harm as a result of live wires or fallen trees and carbon monoxide poisoning from improper use of generators. Based on data from past outages and storms, “there’s a definite correlation between power outages and people doing dangerous things,” said David Knauf, Darien’s director of health. His hope is that with awareness, people will think carefully about actions like running generators in a garage or closed deck where fumes can build up.
“Last year we saw it [and] saw it again this year, statewide,” he said, “I know people get cold and it’s hard, but you also have to remember it’s dangerous.”
There were about 25 emergency room visits for carbon monoxide in Fairfield County, according to the Connecticut Hospital Emergency Department Syndromic Surveillance. The surveillance report shows that hospitalizations for carbon monoxide exposure peaked between the weeks of October 29 and November 5. Lower Fairfield County felt the effects of the recent storm starting on October 29.
Hospitalizations for asthma also peaked right after the storm, representing between 1.5 and 2% of the total emergency department visits. Connecticut’s Department of Health suggests that residents who rely on medications stock up on several days worth of medication before storms.
Before the storm, about 15% of emergency room visits were for injuries. The number dipped just below that immediately after. Though the data between November 5 and 11 is still incomplete, preliminary data shows that emergency room visits for injuries shot up to 17 or 18% of all visits in Fairfield county.
Representatives at Norwalk Hospital could not be reached for comment.
Darien’s fire departments are the first responders for carbon monoxide alarms. The three firehouses responded to a total of 18 carbon monoxide alarms between October 29 and October 31, including one canceled alarm. These alarms did not require hospitalization or treatment, according to Angela Clark, secretary at the fire marshal’s office.
Post 53 transported two victims of carbon monoxide, according to Ron Hammer, director. “[It] is often the case with increased generator usage,” he said,“ but overall I think we were very fortunate that folks stayed safe throughout the storm.”
Stamford Hospital treated 10 carbon monoxide poisoning cases Tuesday, October 30. The day of the storm, the emergency department had less visits than usual but picked up the day after, according to Scott Orstad, media liaison for the hospital. By the end of the week, they had a regular number of admissions, he said.
The state department of public health shared tips for staying safe during and after storms and power outages, particularly before Sandy. Gasoline-powered generators, charcoal or gas grills, gas lanterns and camping stoves all release carbon dioxide and should be placed outside of enclosed area or away from homes if possible.
Gas stoves and ovens can have the same effect and should not be used for heat. It is also important that carbon monoxide alarms have back-up battery power, if they are connected to a source that can go out during an outage.
The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness and confusion, according the health department. Residents with these symptoms should be brought outside right away and call 9-1-1.
There were 33,554 deaths by “accidental poisoning and exposure to noxious substances” in the United States in 2011, and 33,041 in 2010, according to a national vital statistics report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. There were also 16 infant deaths in the same category in 2011, and six in 2010.
Other tips include not touching downed electrical wires or attempting to use a saw for fallen trees. In both cases, the department suggests residents call their local utility company, police or fire department.