Water in a Disaster

If a hurricane or other disaster strikes your community, you might not have access to food, water, and electricity for days.

By taking some time now to store emergency water supplies, you can provide for your entire family. After a disaster, water may not be safe to use.

In addition to having a bad odor and taste, contaminated water can contain chemicals and germs that cause diseases such as Dysentery (Shigellosis), Cholera, Typhoid Fever, and Hepatitis A.

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What to do...

Emergency Water Storage
Below are recommendations for storing water supplies:

  • The minimum water supply is 1 gallon per person per day. Store a 3-5 day supply of water for each person.

  • Water should be stored in sturdy plastic bottles with tight-fitting lids. Rinsed chlorine bleach bottles work well for water storage.

    Plastic containers for juice and milk do not work as well because they tend to crack and leak. All containers should be labeled.

  • Stored water should be changed every 6 months.

  • Avoid placing water containers in areas where toxic substances, such as gasoline and pesticides, are present. Vapors may penetrate the plastic over time.

  • Do not store water containers in direct sunlight. Select a place with a fairly constant, cool temperature.

Ask local officials or listen to the news to find out whether you can drink tap water or use it for washing. If it’s not safe, use bottled water if you can.

If you do not have enough water stored, there are sources in your home that may provide safe, clean water for drinking purposes:

  • Water drained from the water heater tank, if the water heater has not been damaged.

    To use water in your water heater tank, be sure the electricity or gas is off and open the drain at the bottom of the tank.

    Start the water flowing by turning off the water intake valve at the tank and turning on the hot-water faucet.

    After you are notified that clean water has been restored, you will need to refill the tank before turning the gas or electricity back on.

  • Melted ice cubes.

  • Canned fruit, vegetable juice, and liquids from other canned goods.

  • Water from swimming pools and spas can be used for personal hygiene, cleaning, and related uses, but not for drinking.

Unsafe Water Sources
Never use water from the sources listed below for drinking.

  • Radiators

  • Hot water boilers (home heating system)

  • Water beds. Fungicides added to the water or chemicals in the vinyl may make water unsafe for use)

NOTE: Remember that carbonated beverages do not meet drinking water requirements. Caffeinated drinks and alcohol dehydrate the body, which increases the need for drinking water.

 

Ask local officials or listen to the news to find out whether you can drink tap water or use it for washing.

If it’s not safe, use bottled water if you can. If you don’t have bottled water, there are some things you can do to kill germs in dirty water and make it safe to drink.

Treat all water of uncertain quality before using it for drinking, food washing or preparation, washing dishes, brushing teeth or making ice.

There are many ways to treat water. None is perfect. Often the best solution is a combination of methods.

Before treating, let any suspended particles settle to the bottom or strain them through coffee filters or layers of clean cloth.

Make sure you have the necessary materials in your disaster supplies kit for the chosen water treatment method.

Boiling

Boiling water kills harmful bacteria and parasites. It does not remove other contaminants (heavy metals, salts, and most other chemicals.)   

  • In a large pot or kettle, bring water to a rolling boil for one full minute. Start counting when the water comes to a constant boil.

  • Let the water cool before drinking.

  • Boiled water will taste better if you put oxygen back into it by pouring the water back and forth between two clean containers. This also will improve the taste of stored water.

Chlorination

Chlorination kills harmful bacteria and parasites. It does not remove other contaminants (heavy metals, salts, and most other chemicals.)

Use only regular household liquid bleach that contains 5.25 to 6.0 percent sodium hypochlorite. Do not use scented bleaches, color safe bleaches or bleaches with added cleaners.

Because the potency of bleach diminishes with time, use bleach from a newly opened or unopened bottle.

If tap water is clear:

  • Add 1/8 teaspoon (9 drops or about 0.75 milliliters) of household liquid bleach to 1 gallon (16 cups) of water.

  • Mix well and let stand for 30 minutes.

If tap water is cloudy:

  • Add 1/4 teaspoon (18 drops or about 1.5 milliliters) of household liquidbleach to 1 gallon (16 cups) of water.

  • Mix well and let stand for 30 minutes.

The water should have a slight bleach odor. If it doesn’t, then repeat the dosage and let stand another 15 minutes. If it still does not smell of chlorine, discard it and find another source of water.

Distillation

While boiling and chlorination will kill most microbes in water, distillation will remove microbes (germs) that resist these methods, as well as heavy metals, salts and most other chemicals.

Distillation involves boiling water and then collection of only the vapor that condenses. The condensed vapor will not include salt or most other impurities. To distill:
  • Fill a pot halfway with water

  • Tie a cup to the handle on the pot’s lid so that the cup will hang right-side-up when the lid is upside-down (make sure the cup is not dangling into the water)

  • Boil the water for 20 minutes.

  • The water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled.
Fill a pot halfway with water. Tie a cup to the handle on the  pot’s lid so that the cup will hang right-side-up when the lid is upside-down. Boil the water for 20  minutes.


Sources: Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), American Red Cross, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)