Is it safe to flush toilets during severe flooding?

Weather

In this photo provided by the Orange County Fire Rescue’s Public Information Office, firefighters in Orange County, Fla., help people stranded by Hurricane Ian early Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. Hurricane Ian marched across central Florida on Thursday as a tropical storm after battering the state’s southwest coast, dropping heavy rains that caused flooding and led to inland rescues and evacuations. (Orange County Fire Rescue’s Public Information Office via AP)

(WFLA/WRIC) — As Hurricane Ian brings catastrophic flooding in several U.S. areas, those impacted may find themselves asking, “Can I flush my toilet?”

The answer depends on how your community plumbing system works, according to Lou Hidalgo, owner of Master & Sons Plumbing in Richmond, Virginia. Hidalgo said massive rainfall places pressure on city storm and sewer systems. If those systems become filled and rainwater floods into the streets, flushing should be avoided, the plumber advised.

For people in rural areas using septic tanks, Hidalgo said heavy rain can cause drain fields to become saturated and distribution boxes to reach their limits. People living in these areas should avoid flushing until they are confident their septic tank is not at capacity.

Hidalgo recommends that septic tank owners who believe their tanks are flooded should contact a plumber once the storm passes. Sewer lines that have become compacted during flooding may need to be cleared by a professional. Pumping is not always the solution, as it can cause damage to tanks that are unnaturally full.

When power outages and flooding happen at the same time, plumbing issues can worsen, particularly in rural communities with older water systems. Limiting water usage during flooding can prevent further damage to water systems, Hidalgo said.

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