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Why do you need bottled water for a hurricane and why do you fill up the bathtub during one?

Parts of the eastern United States are threatened by Hurricane Ian and extreme storms. Facing infrastructure damage, residents should stock up on water.

Update:
Store water to prepare your home for hurricanes
OLIVER CONTRERASGetty

Hurricane Ian made landfall as a powerful Category 4 storm on Wednesday, reaching the southwestern coast of Florida near Cayo Costa. The hurricane brings with it the risk of catastrophic flooding and a severe storm that poses a serious risk to life.

Beyond the immediate threat, a storm of this magnitude will almost certainly have major implications for infrastructure, both in the local area and potentially further afield. Drinking water could become less available in the coming days, so officials have recommended that local residents stock up on water, as part of their emergency response kit.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) advises that people “buy commercially bottled water and store it in the sealed original container in a cool, dark place” to ensure they are not left without.

Extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, can disrupt municipal water sources and lead to contaminated tap water.

“Keeping safe, reliable drinking water around all year is important, but it’s especially critical to have it on hand before emergency events,” says Jill Culora, Vice President of Communications for the International Bottled Water Association.

Should I fill up the bathtub to prepare for a hurricane?

You may have heard suggestions to fill your bathtub with water in preparation for a hurricane or similar extreme weather event, but is there any point?

The Red Cross explicitly warns against drinking water that has been stored in a bathtub for a number of reasons. Firstly, without being sterilised and then stored in an airtight container there is no way know what dangerous bacteria may be growing in the liquid. Furthermore, bathtubs are often glazed with a lacquer which contains lead, so you run the risk of lead poisoning if you were to drink it.

Where bathtub water can be useful, however, is to flush the toilet in the event of a major water outage. It probably does not occur to most people but a severe storm can even affect access to grey water, the type used to flush the toilet and in hose pipes.

In the event of a storm, you will want to avoid using your carefully stored bottled water to flush the toilet. However a bathtub full of water will give you dozens of flushes, simply by pouring it down the toilet when necessary.

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