The Market Street kayakers of Tuesday’s Biblical flood have become folk heroes. But just how smart is it to grab a flotation device — be it boat, surfboard, or air mattress — and take to the waters of Charleston’s swamped streets? What kind of dangers and diseases did our kayaking celebrities face?
According to SCE&G, no power outages were reported during Tuesday’s downpour. Flooding alone doesn’t typically cause outages, since the power company’s underground vaults in downtown Charleston are built to be submersible. When wind and other stormy conditions come into play, that’s when you’ll have branches knocking down powerlines, and that’s when things get dangerous. SCE&G advises that if you see a down powerline, assume that it is energized and report it immediately.
Bryan Kleskie, the Charleston Fire Department’s battalion chief for safety, points out that streets are made for cars, not kayakers, and if there’s flooding, you shouldn’t even be in a car. “Basically, they’re setting themselves up with us where we have to rescue them, which puts us at risk, or anybody else that happens to be in the area that wants to help them out,” he says.
As he points out, it doesn’t take much water for a person to drown. Plus no one really knows what might be in that water — fertilizers, feces, you name it. “People getting into it just for amusement doesn’t really make much sense health-wise,” he says.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) agrees. Jim Beasley, the organization’s public information director, says that skin contact itself doesn’t pose a health risk, but you may be able to contract something from eating or drinking anything contaminated. And while that may sound like common sense, just remember to wash your hands if you decide to take a dip on Ashley Avenue. It’s extremely important to not let children play in floodwater, and to wash their hands and disinfect any toys that might come in contact with floodwater (For the toys, use one cup of bleach for five gallons of water). If you’ve come in contact with floodwater and later notice that open sores or cuts — which you should have cleaned — have developed redness or swelling go see a healthcare provider.
DHEC’s number one concern in flooding situations is actually standing water, since it creates a breeding ground for mosquitoes. As you may know, this has been an especially bad year for West Nile Virus.