Hurricane experts say that unless you are in the direct path of a category 4 or 5 storm, you live near the beach, you live in a trailer, or your area is prone to flooding, you should probably stay home. The rule is “Hide from wind; run from water.” And some people are unable to evacuate whenever a hurricane threatens.
Here’s how to prepare to ride out a storm and for the days afterward, when electricity and water supplies may be disrupted for a week or more. This list was developed over many generations by families living on the Gulf Coast of Texas. It has been updated recently to reflect advances in technology, such as hand-cranked radios and LED flashlights.
The same list could apply anywhere that hurricanes or similar storms may hit. Widespread tornados or cyclones—or even just severe rain or windstorms—can cut off water or electricity supplies and make roads impassible for days due to downed trees and power lines.
In Houston, TX, for example, a severe thunderstorm with high winds (not a hurricane) knocked down thousands of trees in the early 1980s, blocking roads and cutting off electricity in parts of the city for up to 10 days.
Preparing for Hurricanes
The best time to prepare for a hurricane is before the hurricane season starts. Make a checklist and use it each year to make sure you have everything you need on hand.
Once a hurricane is headed directly toward you, stores are quickly emptied of many important supplies. Because some hurricane supplies can be stored for years, hurricane veterans collect supplies throughout the whole year to spread out the expense and to take advantage of sales.
Before you begin to gather supplies, find out as much as possible about the place where you live. Is it safe to stay there? Should you simply plan on an early evacuation. Have a plan already made.
Some of the supplies on this list should also be in your car if you evacuate. Make a checklist and follow it. It could save your life or that of someone you love.
Also consider your specific situation. If you are caring or an infant, a very old person, or an invalid, you may need to evacuate well before the authorities suggest it. Think of any friends or relatives you could stay with who live inland. Make arrangements and go. Don’t take chances.
At all costs, avoid getting stuck in a day-long traffic jam like the one in and around Houston, TX, before Hurricane Rita. People and pets died in the heat while cars were stranded on or beside the freeway. It’s better to stay put than to put your loved ones at that kind of risk. Better still, leave well in advance and beat the crowd.
If you live near a seacoast (within 25 miles) and are staying home during a hurricane, here is a basic list of things you should have on hand:
Stockpile enough drinking water (at least 1 gallon for each person and pet per day for at least a week) That means for a family of four with two pets, you will need a minimum of 42 gallons of sterile water (preferably commercially bottled, sealed in gallon or larger jugs). Preferably have more, at least enough for 10 days.
With no electricity, it gets very hot. People and pets need to drink much more water than usual. It is better to have extra than not enough. And accidents happen. plastic can be punctured accidentally and leak. Jugs can get spilled.
Also you may have a health emergency and need more water. You may need to share water with others. Don’t be optimistic. Be safe. Prepare for the worst.
Inventory your prescription medications. Make sure you have enough for at least one week, preferably two weeks or more.
If you have a baby, stock up on enough baby supplies such as diapers, small jars of baby food, wipes, clothes, and such for two weeks or more. (You may not be able to wash clothes the minute the water and electricity come back on.)
If you have a vehicle, make sure it is full of fuel.
If you plan to have coffee, heat infant formula, or make instant soups or oatmeal, for example, you will need cooking water (also sterile). Plan for at least a gallon a day for four people. (7 gallons a week). Again, more is better.
If you plan to use a small grill or camp stove (outside only!), make sure you have plenty of extra fuel for it.
You will need washing water for people (more than you expect) and for other items as needed. Fill every clean bottle, jar, jug, cooking pot, tea kettle and other food container you can with tap water before the storm hits. You can always dump it later. Clean and fill the bathtub(s).
Stock up on paper plates and plastic utensils. Washing dishes takes too much water. Remember that boiling polluted water does not remove toxic waste, such as spilled chemicals, gasoline and hydrocarbons.
Stock up on food that does not need to be refrigerated or cooked. Peanut butter. Chips and bean dip, etc. Fruit. Nuts. Cookies. Granola bars. Don’t count on bread to last more than two or three days outside of a cooler. It will tend to mold in the heat.
Some foods can be kept in an ice cooler and safely eaten even after a few days. They include cheese, smoked ham, salsa, fruit, raw vegetables such as carrots, cream cheese.
Next most valuable is food that can be kept in an ice cooler and eaten for a day or so without heating, such as fried chicken, deviled eggs. roast beef, etc. Cook up whatever you can from your refrigerator right before the storm hits, and put it in the cooler(s).
Stock up on both dry and canned pet food. If your pets cannot survive on just dry food, buy the smallest cans of pet food that you can get. You probably will not want an open can of pet food in the cooler with your regular food, and it will spoil fast once opened.
Be sure to buy the very large, well-insulated coolers designed for camping and fishing–preferably 42 gallons or larger. When it comes to keeping food cold, bigger is better. There is more room for ice, and massed ice, especially water frozen in large containers, will stay frozen much, much longer.
Be sure you have plenty of waterproof containers to seal the food in, because as the ice melts, the water level rises. You do not want to drain off the melted icewater, because it will help keep the food cool and make the ice last longer. It may not be ice anymore, but it is still much cooler than the surrounding air—even in the cooler.
You will need a huge amount of ice for coolers. Buy and/or freeze as much as possible! It is best to make ice yourself by freezing water in large containers. See the section later in this article on how to have enough ice.
Make sure you have a well-supplied first aid kit, especially plenty of antiseptic and bandages.
You will want lanterns for general light, preferably with rechargeable batteries. Kerosene lamps can be used with caution, but they will create more heat. If you use kerosene lanterns, be sure to stock up on kerosene and store it safely.
If the water goes off, you will need a large supply of paper towels and paper napkins.
Buy a roll of builder’s plastic (preferably clear) for patching windows (and maybe the roof). It is also good to have one or two large tarps in case you need to patch the roof. In that case you will need some thin woood lathe (such as tomato stakes) to hold the plastic in place. Be sure you also have a hammer and plenty of tacks or large-headed nails, a saw, and some strong shears.
Heavy clear packing tape can be used to reinforce for windows and has many other uses.
Remember that even when the water comes back on, it may be polluted. Bathing in polluted water is almost as dangerous as drinking it. So stock up on premoistened towelettes (such as baby wipes) and waterless hand cleaner.
You will need flashlights, preferably hand-cranked LED lights (no need for batteries). They are easily misplaced in the dark, so make sure you have extra flashlights.
You should have a radio (battery-powered or hand-cranked) for weather reports. If running on batteries, limit the use of the battery to weather reports, keeping it on only when strictly necessary.
Stock up on extra batteries for any essential devices, such as hearing aids, that require them
If you have mobile phones, make sure they are fully charged. If there are several phones in the family, it might be best to gather them in one place, take charge, and ration their use. Once the electricity goes out, don’t chat. Save the charge for emergency calls. It could be a matter of life and death.
If you have a car or truck, make sure you have a car charger for mobile phone. In an emergency, you could draw on your car battery to charge the phone while you call 911. If not an emergency, don’t take a chance on draining the battery in the car. You might need to leave.
Water that has been used for washing should be saved to use again for flushing the toilet. Don’t waste water that might be needed for drinking or washing.
You will need lots of clean towels and clothes. Make sure the laundry is done before the storm hits.
It would also be a good idea to have plenty of sanitizing wipes for counters and other surfaces (or alcohol and paper towels).
Also nice to have (and essential if you have a tiny baby or elderly person to care for are battery-operated fans. It would be ideal to have solar cells and a truck battery (with appropriate wiring) for powering the fans.
The Importance of Ice, and How to Have Enough
When the electricity goes out, ice becomes an essential supply—and impossible to get. Make sure you have plenty. In hot, humid weather, ice is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.
The most effective ice is the kind you freeze yourself in large jugs or other plastic containers. Be sure that the lid is loose so the jug/container doesn’t burst.
Start as soon as the storm is predicted. As soon as a container of water is frozen, put the lid on, put it in the ice cooler, and put in another container to treeze. Such ice will stay frozen *much* longer than the bags of ice you buy, and as it melts, you can pour off the cool water to drink.
Rotate Supplies Regularly
Commercially bottled water should be used up after the hurricane season and replaced at the beginning of the next season. Tap water drawn up for the storm should be used to water plants or just dumped. It cannot be safely kept for more than a couple of weeks.
Canned goods should be used or discarded before the expiration date. Always check your supplies before the season starts and replace whatever needs replacing.
Don’t Take Chances
Do not assume that the storm will blow over and all will be back to normal in a day or two. Even municipal water supplies may become severely polluted or damaged and take days to come back on line. Preparing properly, even over-preparing, is far better than risking your life or causing severe hardship for those around you.