The muddy floodwaters now soaking through drywall, carpeting, mattresses and furniture in Houston will pose a massive cleanup challenge with potential public health consequences.
It’s not known yet what kinds or how much sewage, chemicals and waterborne germs are mixed in the water. For now, health officials are more concerned about drownings, carbon monoxide poisoning from generators and hygiene at shelters. In the months and years to come, their worries will turn to the effects of trauma from Hurricane Harvey on mental health.
At a shelter set up inside Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center, Dr. David Persse is building a clinic of doctors and nurses and trying to prevent the spread of viruses or having to send people to hospitals already stretched thin.
“This is rapidly evolving,” said Persse, Houston Director of Emergency Medical Services. “I always worry in these large congregations of people about viral outbreaks that cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. And we are just getting started.”
Medics have been at the convention centre since it started taking in evacuees, along with police and other first responders. Over the last 24 hours, doctors and nurses arrived at the convention centre to volunteer.
Fewer than 20 people have been hospitalized so far from the convention centre.
“One of our goals is to appropriately treat people here with minor things so we don’t send everybody off to the hospital,” Persse said.
Many of the around 3,000 people who fled from Harvey’s flooding waited hours in water mixed with sewage, oil and gasoline. Some weren’t able to grab their medications or medical devices. Police officers on Monday afternoon were looking for more wheelchairs.
Donors have brought diapers, baby formula and other basic necessities to the convention centre. Officials are working with local pharmacies to replace lost medicines and dialysis clinics to serve patients in need of treatment. The Red Cross is arranging to bring in portable showers. A shipment of 50 wheelchairs was on the way Monday afternoon.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will begin sampling the floodwaters as soon as possible, said EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman in an email Monday. EPA teams will also be visiting water and sewage…