Atlanta, GA – CDC Says Misuse of Portable Generators After Hurricane Katrina Caused Deaths of 5 People

By Mike Stobbe, The Associated Press

The misuse of portable generators after Hurricane Katrina caused the deaths of five people and sickened dozens of others, federal health officials said Thursday.

The deaths were among 51 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning reported in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama following the storm, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All the cases involved the misuse of portable generators except for one that involved a gasoline-powered pressure washer. They occurred between Aug. 29 the hurricane’s landfall and Sept. 24.

Four of the victims died in one Louisiana house where a generator was used. In the fifth death, also in Louisiana, a generator was used in a garage that was attached to a home.

“We see this absolutely every time people there’s a disaster and people are using generators in close spaces,” said CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding in a phone interview with the Associated Press last week. “They don’t realize the hazard.”

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. It is produced by the incomplete burning of gasoline and other fuels.

The CDC recently designed a warning tag that explains the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning if equipment is used in poorly ventilated areas, Gerberding said. CDC officials have asked generator manufacturers to place the tag on their products, but they are not required to do so.