Hurricane Supplies: The Bare Essentials

No one knows how to prepare for a hurricane like a Floridian. Years of practice runs, close calls and even direct hits have given Florida residents an appreciation for what is needed in the aftermath of a hurricane.

When it comes to preparing for a storm, the first piece of advice is reminiscent of Christmas: shop early. Although the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season isn’t until August through October, the season officially starts on June first. Around this time, the state of Florida conveniently offers a “tax holiday” on hurricane supplies. Obviously, there is no better time to get prepared.

To cover all of the items one needs to prepare for a hurricane in a few pages is nearly impossible, so the scope of this article is limited only to the basics and a few whimsical notes of comfort. If a hurricane is in your future, your local government is very likely to publish lists of essential supplies in your local newspaper. Be sure to consult these lists and take heed.

Big & Luxury Buys

For those accustomed to the luxury life, the days after a hurricane can be barbaric. With widespread power outages making air conditioning very hard to find, the sweltering Florida heat is a stark contrast to the cool indoor summers most Floridians enjoy. Fortunately, large generators are capable of producing enough electricity to power an air conditioner. Even better, generators are part of the tax-free hurricane shopping period. If you doubt your ability to survive heat indices soaring into the 120+ range without support of an air conditioner, then a generator and small window air conditioning unit are must-haves. In the devastation after a major storm, these two everyday basics become the staples of luxury; the “haves” and “have nots” no longer apply to money in this situation but, instead, to air conditioning.

The Basics

There are, of course, a few things which every living being must have in order to survive: food and water. Immediately following a hit by a hurricane, though, both are in short supply. In the absence of electricity, indoor cooking is not available, and frozen food quickly becomes a thawed biohazard. Stocking up on food before a storm is absolutely essential. Non-perishables such as canned vegetables, pastas and meats, are critical pieces of a post-hurricane diet. Pre-packaged treats such as Pop-Tarts and Little Debbie cakes become prized desserts.

When shopping for hurricane food, Floridians observe two rules: go early and don’t skimp. Waiting until the last minute is a costly mistake, as hordes of the ill-prepared swarm supermarkets trying to stock up. Since hurricanes are completely unpredictable and often change course at the last minute, much of the food bought during these frenzies is either wasted or consumed as regular meals, creating a repeat of the shopping nightmare at the mention of another storm.

It is important to also remember to buy sufficient food for a prolonged period. In the days immediately following a hurricane, many restaurants are either powerless or structurally unsafe. Those that do manage to open are quickly crowded and run short of supplies due to disrupted distribution cycles. Without the supplemental food of restaurants, a light supply of food can disappear in the blink of an eye. To stress the importance of ample food supplies, consider the state of affairs in August, 2004 central Florida: Hurricane Charley left the average resident without electricity for about two weeks. A few cans of baked beans would hardly suffice.

The other item essential to survival is water. As hurricanes dump water measured in feet instead of inches, municipal and well water supplies are quickly disrupted. The lack of electricity to drive municipal water pumps adds to the inability to move necessary water. Bottled- or, at least, prepared- water becomes a must. Water is another area in which it is unwise to skimp: the average person will need at least a gallon per day for drinking and basic hygiene (not including showers). This rule of thumb means that a family of four will need approximately 56 gallons of water to be sufficiently prepared for a large storm. While a gallon per person per day may sound like a lot of water, remember that it is critical to keep hydrated when soaring temperatures are not offset by air conditioning.

Durable Goods

Food and water aside, there are a few other items which are essential during and after a hurricane. A battery operated radio is important for keeping abreast of storm advisories during and immediately after the impact. Of course, plenty of batteries are also required for the radio and other small electronics. A flashlight (and batteries!) becomes necessary as days without electricity loom. Basic tools such as a hammer, screwdriver and pliers may be helpful to make temporary repairs to structures. Sandbags can help keep quickly rising floodwaters at bay. A first-aid kit, including snakebite treatment, is an excellent item to have on hand. Finally, rope can be used for many tasks unimaginable even just before the storm.

And don’t forget:

When a storm targets your area, make a bee-line for your local gas station. Everything from your transportation to your neighbor’s chainsaw (which may be used to remove the tree from your car) to your generator run on gasoline, and it will be a hot commodity just before the storm arrives. Many Floridians waited for hours in gas station lines during the hurricanes of 2004, and many wished they had.

While gas may not sell completely out, it tends to become unavailable following a hurricane. After the storm ravishes the area, most gas pumps lack the electricity they need to run. Impassable roads mean that deliveries are delayed or non-existent, and the little gas that is available is gobbled up by those fortunate enough to be first in line. Make your local gas station your last stop after picking up last minute supplies; if a hurricane hits, you will be glad you did.

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