This article is intended as a general guide only. You should consult your state fire and emergency services for further information.
Tropical cyclones are well known for doing extensive damage to Australian communities. But once the cyclone has passed, the danger is not always over and the days and weeks after a cyclone can continue to pose a number of risks, which need to be navigated with care.
Returning home after a cyclone
Those who have had to evacuate their homes may be anxious to see the extent of the damage, but state-based emergency services caution people to remain in their safe location and check for cyclone updates until the official all-clear is issued. Even after this is given, the effects of a cyclone such as debris, downed power lines and unexpected wind gusts, can still be dangerous.
David Kneipp, QBE National Catastrophe Claims Manager, urges careful planning for those returning home after a cyclone. "Before you enter your property or go anywhere near a building make sure there are no hazards, no power lines down or effected," he says. "Don’t plug in electrical appliances if you suspect they’ve been wet and get them checked if you have any doubt about their safety."
The first sight of destruction caused by a cyclone can be confronting. It’s likely you’ll be facing a big clean-up. The QLD Government’s Department of Emergency Services warns that the breakdown of amenities such as power, sewage and water supply can increase personal risk.
Common hazards include:
- injuries from falls
- electric shock
- skin infections
- snake or spider bites
- mosquito-borne infection
- illness from contaminated water or food
- carbon monoxide poisoning from operating pumps in confined spaces
- polluted water can cause infections including diarrhea, conjunctivitis and leptospirosis.
David Kneipp warns those returning home after a cyclone to beware of the large amounts of debris. "In cyclones the wind speeds are so high that there will have been debris flying everywhere – trees, branches, leaves as well as household items and building materials," he says. "You also need to be really careful around trees because branches can be in a precarious situation. Cyclones are well known for lifting rooves, especially in older buildings without cyclones ratings."
Make sure you’re equipped to deal with the conditions you’ll encounter, using this basic checklist:
- ensure you have a well-stocked first aid kit including family medications
- wear protective clothing: closed-toe shoes, long sleeved shirts and trousers, thick gloves, a hat and sunglasses to protect yourself from infection from cuts and scratches, or sunburn
- beware of snakes inside your house
- protect yourself against insect bites, especially sandflies and mosquitos.
Health issues after a cyclone
Polluted water is one of the biggest hazards after a cyclone. Your local council will check the local water supply but until it is declared safe take the precaution of boiling water and cooling it before drinking. Contaminated food should be discarded, the Western Australian Government warns. David suggests having "plentiful supplies of fresh or bottled water, as well as stores of preserved or canned foodstuffs, as you may be cut-off for several days".
If you are injured, disinfect any wounds and keep them covered, avoiding contact with flood water or mud, and seek medical attention. Wash your hands after contact with damaged materials, flood water or mud to avoid infection.
If your home has not sustained structural damage and the authorities advise that it is safe to return, then open doors and windows to let the house dry out, the WA Department of Health advises.
Often the power will be out for some time after a cyclone. David Kneipp says a generator, if you can get access to one, could allow you "to return home sooner if there’s no significant structural damage to your home".
Insurers can also help with getting you the essentials you need for your family. "If you are in significant need, let us know," David says. "How much money will you need to get essentials like housing, clothing, food and toiletries for you and your family. We can then make an early payment by electronic funds transfer if you need it."
Cyclones can affect a very large area so getting services and trades to the people who need help can be a challenge. “Our assessors will work with you to come up with the best outcome on how to complete repairs,” David says. As cyclones often affect regional or remote areas with limited building and repairing resources available locally, the focus is usually on getting all the repairs up and running before the next wet season.
The clean up effort can also take time. "Cyclone’s cause a lot of debris, which means those affected will also need to work with their local council on the clean-up effort."
"Always heed advice from state and local authorities, police and the SES," David Kneipp advises.
It’s important to capture images of the damage before the clean up effort begins, if it’s safe to do so. "Take as much vision of the damage as you can, whether photo or video, as this can be used by the insurance assessor to help establish what happened."
Start a list of things which are damaged and note whether you think it’s damaged beyond repair or can be cleaned, advises David.
Your emotional welfare
Experiencing a cyclone can be traumatic for you and family members, including children. Contact Lifeline, the Australian Psychological Society or your GP for a referral and get the emotional support needed.
Contact QBE or submit your claim online.