When Victoria resident Sandy Walston returned home after three nights in Austin, she passed by a neighbor’s house and saw a part of it was gone.
“It was just so devastating,” she said.
Now that she’s back home, she is trying to figure out how to wash dishes and cook food while the city is under a water boil notice.
Walston also has a small, open wound on her arm and doesn’t want to get sick.
Officials say it may take another week to ensure the city’s tap water is safe to consume after Hurricane Harvey.
So what’s safe?
Dr. Michael Chang, an infectious disease specialist affiliated with Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, advises people to heed the warnings of local officials.
Chang said public water systems often issue boil water notices to residents because they can’t guarantee its water has been disinfected in the proper way.
“These warnings are there to ensure public safety,” he said. “They do it as a precaution.”
According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the public water system can rescind the notice after ensuring that adequate pressure and chlorine levels have been restored and after bacteriological monitoring shows the water is free of contamination.
Chang said people should take the notice seriously because the presence of contaminants in water could potentially lead to adverse health effects.
Infants, young children, the elderly and people whose immune systems are compromised may be especially susceptible to illness.
Problematic bacteria found in water systems includes shigella and E. coli or microscopic parasites like giardia and cryptosporidium.
Exposure can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps.
People with open wounds should avoid contact with contaminated water, he said.
While most people can recover from these illnesses, there’s no way to predict who will be fine and who won’t.
Chang said it’s important for people to plan to boil water before they need it to allow time for water to cool down before storing in a clean container.
He said people should not count on a household water filter to be able to clean their water.
“In a setting where there’s some limitations to resources and access to medical care, you definitely don’t want to take that chance,” Chang said.