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Know before you go: Hurricane safety tips for new coastal residents

Almost 100 million Americans live within 80 kilometers of a coast and so risk being in the path of a hurricane. Although we haven’t seen a major hurricane since 2005, this might just be the calm before the storm. The long-term effects of previous hurricanes are still being felt, which can influence people’s decisions on where to live. Although coastal areas have always been popular, people have had “second thoughts” after hurricanes hit these areas, according to research expert Bert Sperling.

Newcomers to hurricane-prone areas can feel apprehensive. “We are from Arizona where we don’t have natural disasters, so I’m a little green on what to expect,” said Jessica Marchese Theroux in North Carolina, when Hurricane Irene was approaching the coast. Though hurricanes like Gustav and Katrina have made longer-term residents more safety-savvy, newcomers like Theroux are often in the dark. If you’re moving to a coastal area without hurricane safety knowledge, the solution is proactively seeking information. An emergency plan and a few hurricane safety tips can help you wade through the crisis.

House affected by the hurricane

A house wrecked by Hurricane Sandy. Image by Pamela Andrade.

Plan for food and water during the storm

It is crucial to accumulate ample food and water supplies way ahead of the storm. This way, you can avoid paying inflated prices and battling through crowds when a hurricane warning is issued. Stock up on water in as many places as you can. Aside from your bathtub, fill up all clean containers like soda bottles, trash cans, big bowls, ice bins, etc.

“We start gathering hurricane supplies in January, just one or two things every trip to the store. By season, we’re pretty set to feed four for one month,” says one New Orleans resident. Store non-perishable foods like granola bars, canned items, hard candy, powdered milk, and chocolate, that need little or no cooking, and no refrigeration. If you have children or pets, store food for them too. Avoid salty food as it makes you thirstier. If you need to evacuate, take a versatile kitchen appliance with you, such as an electric skillet or a rice cooker.

Prepare a grab-and-go bag

The most important thing that newcomers and seasoned residents alike should have on hand is a grab-and-go bag. Prepare a bag, keeping in mind the daily needs of your entire family. A roll of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and breath freshener can help you feel calm and comfortable during an evacuation. Include medications, prescriptions, first aid supplies, and painkillers. Also, pack all important documents like identification, financial records, school records, health records, cash, credit cards, and checkbooks.

In your emergency kit, add in survival supplies like batteries, flashlights, bottled water, non-perishable food, candles, insect repellent, camp stove fuel, matches, lightweight rain gear, mylar blankets, and lamp oil. Remember that the hurricane might leave you with a messy house. Keep closed-toe shoes, socks, and work gloves handy for cleaning up later.

Manage your fridge, freezer, and coolers

Power outages are quite common during storms, and highly perishable contents like cheese will stay fresh for only 4-6 hours in your refrigerator. Consume seafood and meat as soon as possible. Cook and slice large slabs of meat to make sandwiches for the evacuation period.

According to The Times-Picayune, an unopened, full freezer keeps food safe for consumption for about 48 hours without power; and a half-full one for 24 hours. If a hurricane is approaching and you expect a power failure, put 30 pounds of dry ice inside your refrigerator or freezer to keep your food safe for at least a couple of days. To retain the temperature of the freezer/refrigerator, avoid opening it as much as you can. Get a big cooler that can be powered by your car battery and guarantees to keep contents cold for days.

Maintain personal hygiene and sanitation

If water supplies are cut off during the disaster, you might not be able to shower for days. As an alternative, you can use moist baby wipes, or waterless washcloths or wash gloves. Keep plenty of toilet paper handy. Portable camping toilets can be ordered online. If you want to go the economical way, use a newspaper for better absorbency.

Prepare your garden, home, and cellphone

Move outdoor plants, patio furniture and other loose items to an enclosed place, possibly indoors. Move as much furniture to the second level as you can. Keep heavy furniture elevated on blocks. Prune trees and shrubs before a hurricane to reduce the likelihood of tree limbs falling. Trim trees to keep limbs away from overhead power lines. If you have extra vehicles, park them in downtown parking garages. Check if you can park on neutral grounds during the disaster, like in New Orleans.

Know the elevation level of your home to judge the intensity of potential damage, and prepare accordingly beforehand. Secure all windows with permanent storm shutters or plywood and strengthen your doors.

In an emergency, your cell phone might be your only tool for communication. Ensure that dead batteries do not cause you any trouble. Get cheap, disposable backup batteries to keep your phone alive. Internet/Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS are battery vampires. Disable them to extend your battery life. While running low on battery, keep your phone on airplane mode to make emergency calls later. Install life-saving apps on your smartphone beforehand.

Evacuating with kids and pets

hurricane relief snacks

Non-perishable food distributed by relief personnel during Hurricane Wilma, 2005. Image by Cynicalplanet.

Remember that kids and pets might have to sit in hot cars for hours together. Screaming kids or restless pets will just add to your woes. Figure out ways to keep kids engaged. Pack board games, DVDs, and snacks that your kids love. Let them pack their school bags with things they consider important. For children with special needs,  keep a copy of the child’s last IEP and evaluation.

Plan for a week of pet food and medication. Clean cages and carriers beforehand. If you anticipate being on the road for long hours, prepare a couple of DIY litter boxes (plastic boxes with tight lids).

General tips

Do not ignore or resist an evacuation order from safety officials. Leave the area for your safety and the well-being of your family.

  • Create a backup of all important files on a flash drive and take it with you while evacuating.
  • Work out a good communication system between your family and relatives. Identify a “contact person.”
  • Take pictures of everything in your house before evacuating if you want to claim insurance.
  • Take your blank checks with you so that if looting occurs, your savings are safe.
  • Coming back to rubble that was once your home can be traumatic. American Psychological Association recommends giving yourself time to mourn and refraining from watching footage of the disaster.

Handy things to have during a hurricane

Certain items might prove useful once you evacuate during a hurricane emergency.

  • A weather radio that operates on batteries to keep you updated on the weather condition.
  • A good pair of walkie-talkies with a 5-mile range will help communication between family cars while on the road.
  • Solar-powered garden lights can be used as candles during a power cut.
  • Maps of the area will help you navigate when you are on the road.
  • An emergency blanket and sleeping bags will keep you safe from the cold.
  • A multipurpose tool like a good quality Swiss Army knife might come in handy for cutting, cleaning food, or fastening a loose hook.


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