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Surviving the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is warning residents of the Gulf Coast hit by Hurricane Katrina not to let disaster strike a second time.

Deadly dangers exist in and around homes affected by the hurricane. The most serious hazard involves portable generators, which are used in areas where the electricity has been knocked out by hurricane force winds and flooding.

CPSC strongly warns consumers to never use a generator indoors including garages, basements, crawlspaces and sheds even with ventilation. Exhaust fumes contain extremely high levels of carbon monoxide (CO) which can rapidly become deadly if inhaled. Last year, numerous deaths were reported throughout the Southeast due to CO poisoning while using generators in the aftermath of the four hurricanes that hit the region.

Consumers should only use a portable generator outdoors in a dry area away from doors, windows and vents that can allow CO to come indoors. Wait for the rain to pass before using a generator, as consumer-grade generators are not weatherproof and can pose the risk of electrocution and shock when used in wet conditions.

Additional life-saving safety tips from CPSC include:

  • If using a generator, plug individual appliances into heavy duty, outdoor-rated extension cords and plug the cords into the generator.
  • Check that the extension cords have a wire gauge adequate for the appliance loads and have all three prongs, including a grounding pin.
  • Never store gasoline in the home or near a fuel-burning appliance, such as a natural gas water heater, where gasoline fumes could be ignited.
  • Never use charcoal inside homes, tents, campers, vans, cars, trucks, garages, or mobile homes. Burning charcoal in an enclosed space can produce lethal levels of carbon monoxide.
  • Make sure the batteries in your smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm are fresh. Test these alarms to make sure they are working.
  • Do not use electrical or gas appliances that have been wet, and do not turn on damaged appliances because of the hazards of electric shock or fire. Replace all gas control valves, circuit breakers, and fuses that have been under water.
  • Exercise caution when using candles. Use flashlights instead. If you must use candles, do not burn them on or near anything that can catch fire. Never leave burning candles unattended. Extinguish candles when you leave the room.
  • Chain saws can be hazardous, especially if they "kick back." To help reduce this hazard, make sure that your chain saw is equipped with a low-kickback chain. Always wear shoes, gloves, and protective glasses.
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