When homeowners survive a beast like Irma, they breathe easy after the brutal winds and gushing storm surge have moved on.
But be wary, safety experts say: The post-hurricane period is laced with danger for returning and recovering residents — and the darkest menace may be inside your house.
One person died Wednesday and three were hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator being used inside a home, Daytona Beach Police said. Two of the injured were being moved to a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.
Overall in the Hurricane Irma aftermath, at least five people have died and more than a dozen have been treated for breathing carbon monoxide fumes from generators in the Orlando, Miami and Daytona Beach areas.
Authorities have opened a criminal probe into the deaths of six nursing home residents in Hollywood, Fla., who died of apparent heat-related causes after their facility lost air conditioning. Investigators say they haven't ruled anything out, including carbon monoxide from generators.
"I would consider carbon monoxide a larger potential hazard at this point," says Mike Bidwell, spokesperson for Neighborly, a home services group. "People who are unaware of the dangers of using generators in an enclosed space often underestimate how easily and quickly carbon monoxide poisoning can happen."
During power outages, homeowners often rely on generators for cooling and cooking. But using a generator in an enclosed space such as a garage or camper can have dire consequences for people and pets when the CO builds up, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
Carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that causes about 400 deaths a year, can quickly lead to a loss of consciousness and death, the CDC says. The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, weakness and confusion.