CDC: Third of Sandy deaths from drowning

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WASHINGTON -- One-third of those who died because of superstorm Sandy drowned, according to a U.S. report that emphasizes the need for plans that ensure residents are moved to safety.

Of 117 deaths caused by the October storm, 40 were from drowning, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday in a report. Flooded homes in New York City accounted for almost half the drownings. New York State was the hardest hit with 53 deaths from all causes, followed by New Jersey with 34 and Pennsylvania with 12, the CDC said.

Sandy hit the New York and New Jersey coastlines on Oct. 29, and within 48 hours the region had six to 12 inches of precipitation, as many as 8 million people without power and 20,000 people in shelters, the CDC said. Emergency plans need to make sure evacuation messages are clear and residents can leave, according to the report.

"Hurricane-related drowning deaths in evacuation zones are preventable," the CDC said. "A successful evacuation depends on officials providing timely messaging to all affected persons, on persons receiving those messages, and on persons having the capacity, resources, and willingness to leave."

Of the 40 drowning deaths, 21 were in homes, 11 were outdoors, one was in a commercial building and another person drowned while swimming off a storm-affected beach, according to the report.

The number of deaths attributed to the storm was compiled from American Red Cross reports, the CDC said. The American Red Cross notes listed reasons for not evacuating by 20 people who died in flooded homes in or near New York City's Evacuation Zone A, including a fear of looters, lack of transportation, and disbelief in the intensity of the storm after a previous one turned out to be mild.

While drowning also was the leading cause of death for Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast in 2005, that has not been the case in recent decades, the CDC said. Trauma was the leading cause of deaths in Florida hurricanes in 2004 and 2005, and carbon monoxide poisoning from Hurricane Ike in 2008.

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