For those dealing directly with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and for concerned loved ones, here are some important safety tips.
How do I contact someone in the affected area?
You can, of course, try calling. Many landlines will be down, but some are operating. If you use your mobile phone, you may get a busy signal because mobile bandwidth may be overloaded in the storm areas, or some cell towers may be damaged. If you can’t reach someone by phone, try texting. All of the wireless carriers are recommending people text because it has a greater chance of getting through and will use less battery power of the person you’re trying to reach.
If that doesn’t work and you’re trying to contact someone in the area who may be housebound or evacuated, contact FEMA (800-621-FEMA) or the American Red Cross (800-RED-CROSS). Both have Internet locators where people in the storm areas can register their names to let their loved one(s) know where they are, and if they are safe. FEMA’s site is called the National Emergency Family Registry and Locator System (https://egateway.fema.gov/inter/nefrls/home.htm). The Red Cross has a site called “Safe and Well” that offers the same service. (https://safeandwell.communityos.org/cms/index.php).
Once the power is out, how long will refrigerated foods last?
Refrigerated foods, once the power is off, will stay cold for about four to six hours. To increase the time, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed.
If a freezer is full, the temperature will be maintained for about 48 hours. If it’s half full of food, figure 24 hours.
What foods should be eaten first, after power is off?
Start by eating leftovers, meat, poultry, and any foods with milk, cream, soft cheese, or sour cream.
If frozen foods still contain ice crystals, they may still be safely cooked and eaten (or re-frozen, if power is restored).
Fruits that were frozen can be eaten if they still taste and smell good.
Vegetables that are completely thawed shouldn’t be eaten, since bacteria multiply quickly.
If meat or poultry has thawed and has been warmer than 40 degrees F for two hours, discard it.
Discard melted ice cream.
Some foods typically refrigerated keep at room temperature for a few days. Among them: butter, margarine, hard cheese, fresh fruit, and vegetables (except sprouts or fresh, sliced fruit), fruit juice, dried fruits, or coconut. Opened jars of vinegar-based salad dressing, jelly, relishes, taco sauce, and barbecue sauce are typically also OK to eat. Mustard, ketchup, and olives generally keep at room temperature for a few days, too.
What about water? If we run out, what supplies can we take?
Use ice, soft drinks, and fruit juices as water substitutes. Remember that older adults, nursing mothers, and children need more water than others.
Check hidden sources of water: the hot water tank, water in the plumbing, the reservoir toilet tank (not the bowl). These water supplies need to be disinfected, however.
To disinfect by boiling, bring water to a rolling boil for one or two minutes, then cool. If you have no power, disinfect with bleach. Bleach will kill some but not all organisms that could be in the water. Add eight drops to a gallon. Stir, then let stand for 30 minutes. If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw off the clear water for disinfection.
If you have iodine tablets, follow package directions. Be sure their expiration date has not passed.
What precautions do I need to take for medications that need refrigeration, such as insulin or reconstituted drugs?