Preparing for a Hurricane in Florida

Floridians know how to prepare for a hurricane or tropical storm. Those of us who have lived our lives here have likely seen our share or at least have had many close calls. If you want to know how to prepare and what to buy for a hurricane, just ask us!

Should I stay or should I go?

The first thing to consider when making a hurricane plan is whether or not you should evacuate. Because of the havoc captured on film and in print in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, the whole world saw what can happen to those who should have evacuated. Florida’s coastal areas are low-lying and contain numerous barrier islands, all of which would be susceptible to flooding due to storm surge. Anyone near the coast or near another body of water that can rise significantly in flood conditions should evacuate. Mobile home residents should also evacuate if there is a chance they will be in the path of the hurricane, no matter where they live.

Where should we go?

Hotels and motels fill up fast when a hurricane is approaching. Reservations may not even help much, because hotels tend to overbook in these situations. Shelters are always available when a hurricane or tropical storm approaches. These shelters are usually located in schools, churches, and city buildings. Those who decide to go to a shelter should remember to bring necessary prescriptions medications (enough for at least two to three days, in case you can’t get back home right away), blankets, games, and toys for the kids. Diapers, formula, and baby food will be necessary if you have an infant. Water and light snacks are usually available, but those who require special diets should plan accordingly.

What about pets?

If you have pets, you must plan well in advance – before the storm season even begins – what you will do with them. Some shelters allow pets, but they must be in crates. Bring enough pet food for two to three days, it will not be supplied. If you decide to put your pets in a kennel, ask questions before a hurricane threatens. Will they accept pets during storms? Will someone stay with the animals? Do they have a backup plan if the building floods or suffers major damage? If you decide to stay home with your pets, bring them inside. Outdoors anywhere is not a safe place to be.

What supplies should I buy?

Even if you go to a shelter, you will need several items at home. Shelters will close soon after the storm passes, yet you may be without power for days or even weeks. Flashlights, batteries, candles, matches, water, canned food (this is Spam’s time to shine), a manual can opener (so easy to forget this one), a corded phone and/or cell phone, a car charger for your cell phone, a battery-operated radio, a grill, charcoal or a tank of gas, and, if you can afford it, a generator and gas to operate it. Many of these items sell out at the hint that a hurricane or tropical storm is headed in our direction, so shop early.

How should I prepare at home?

Before storm season, you should check your trees for weak or dead branches and have them cut down. Tree limbs cause significant damage during hurricanes and tropical storms, ripping down power lines and tearing holes in roofs.

Freeze as much water as you can. Not only does this provide you with a good supply of ice and water, it keeps your freezer colder, protecting your frozen foods if you lose power. If you do lose power, open the freezer only if necessary and close it quickly to maintain the temperature inside. Save some milk and/or soda jugs, clean them out, fill them with water, and put them in the freezer when forecasters begin to wonder if the storm might head your way.

Fill the bathtub and all your sinks with water. This water is useful for flushing toilets if your water supply is interrupted. Have some cash on hand (ATM’s and credit card machines won’t work if the power is out.) Fill your cars with gas. Gas stations tend to get severely backed up and sometimes run out of gas at the last minute, so do this early. Tie down or bring inside anything in your yard that could blow away. Besides losing your belongings, these items can become projectiles. Board up your windows. Taping the glass is pointless, plywood or storm shutters are the only protections against strong winds and projectiles.

How do I survive the storm?

If you decide to stay home during a hurricane or tropical storm, stay put. Many people panic and risk their lives by trying to get to a shelter in the middle of a hurricane. This is extremely dangerous and not recommended. Keep the news on and stay apprised of the situation. If you lose power, you will be glad you have that battery-operated radio. In a direct hit, the eye of the hurricane or tropical storm will pass over creating an eerie calm. The rain and winds will stop for a period of time. Do not venture out during this time. The eye will pass quickly and the storm will start again. Think of this as an intermission between acts one and two.

What do I do after the storm?

Only drive if you must. Traffic lights will be nonfunctional everywhere. Treat these as four way stops. Fallen power lines may be live even if there is no power in the area, so walking around is dangerous as well. Debris will be everywhere, in the streets, in your yard, on your roof. This creates further danger when driving (tire damage) or walking around.

Call your insurance company if you suffer damage to your home or car. You can make immediate repairs to prevent further damage such as boarding up broken windows or covering damaged roofs. If you purchase anything to help in those repairs, keep the receipts and give them to the insurance adjuster.

If you lose power and you have a generator you can use it to operate one appliance at a time. A window air conditioner is nice to have so you can keep one room cool. One of the most important things to remember about generators is to keep them outside. Generators emit carbon monoxide and will kill you if you bring it inside, even in your garage.

The best thing to do from this point is to just sit tight and wait. Think of it as a bonding experience with your family. If you don’t have power, you won’t have TV, air conditioning, and many other modern comforts of home, and complaining about it won’t get your power on any faster. Check with other family members and friends, and plan some meals at the person’s house who has their power on first. Everyone is in the same situation. A whole lot of patience goes a long way.

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