Storm debris, floodwater-soaked furniture pose health risks, doctors warn

Emergency room doctors say they've seen many people with Irma-related injuries

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Following Hurricane Irma, hospital workers have been busy tending to people injured both during and after the storm.

Over the last couple of days, emergency room doctors and nurses at all Baptist Hospital locations have seen people come in with everything from broken bones to snakebites. 

As Hurricane Irma's high winds and heavy rain made their way into the Jacksonville area, many people began showing up at the ER.

"People who were trying to put up boards in the middle of the storm, things that were blown over, ladders that were blown over, people who fell," Dr. Heidi Ashbaugh, a Baptist emergency room physician, told News4Jax on Friday. "We had a handful of people who fell off ladders and roofs." 

After the storm, more people started arriving at the ER with injuries that happened while clearing away dangerous debris.

“We’ve seen a lot of lacerations, sprains, broken bones. We’ve seen injuries related to exertion, such as heart attacks," Ashbaugh said. “We’ve seen a handful of poisonous snakebites."

Steven Sing said he’s taking every precaution to stay safe while cleaning, but many others are not.

“I’ve seen people barefoot, walking through water -- definitely something I wouldn’t recommend," Sing said. 

Others admitted they are not being careful.

“I have not taken precautions that I should take," said Riverside resident John Hurtubise. 

Furniture damaged by floodwater during Hurricane Irma that's now sitting in front of people’s homes has started attracting people looking to salvage metal from it.

But there is a hidden danger that could lead to infection if you aren’t careful. 

On Jacksonville's Northside, which saw a lot of flooding, two men were seen salvaging materials from soaked furniture.

The men risked their health by using their bare hands to dig into furniture that had been sitting in filthy floodwater for more than a day. They told News4Jax they were scrapping metal. But without wearing gloves, they’re risking infection.

Ashbaugh said items soaked in floodwater that’s been in contact with sewer water poses health risks.

“E.coli is the most common bacteria that can cause a variety of different problems," Ashbaugh said. "Also, people with staph and strep -- that can become a big problem with cellulitis, different abscesses and skin diseases.”

The threat is even higher when a person has an open cut.

Something as simple as floor staples can not only cut you, but also give you an infection that could send you to the emergency room.

“Wounds can get infected," Ashbaugh said. "There’s variety of bacteria in high levels in sewage water, so you can have a lot of problems after the fact.”

Hurtubise was handling flood-soaked items all day, and he has an open cut in this finger.

“Every time I get it in water, I hit it with peroxide trying to keep it clean," he said.

Ashbaugh said open sores that are not kept clean could lead to life-changing problems.

“If it’s not taken care of or treated properly, it could get to a point where these could end up being amputated or debrided," she said.

Symptoms of infection include redness in the skin, pus that is draining from an open sore and a fever that comes out of nowhere. If you have been handling flood-soaked material and are noticing these symptoms, you need to see a doctor.

To prevent injuries, doctors said, make sure you're wearing gloves and boots, be mindful that snakes could be hiding under debris and make sure you're cooling off because many people have been suffering from heat exhaustion. 

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