Many people believe that hurricanes only hit coastlines, and that unless you live near water, you do not need to prepare.
However, it is far from the truth, and thinking that could be a costly mistake.
The impact of the high and heavy winds, inland flooding, rip currents, and tornados that come with a hurricane can be felt hundreds of miles inland.
Hurricanes not only cause an extreme amount of external destruction, they can also be emotionally and mentally destructive to those who are in their paths, and also to the relatives, friends, and people watching from a safe distance.
Therefore, it is essential, and possibly lifesaving, to be well prepared.
Before a hurricane hits, one of the things that causes the most distress is that no one really knows exactly how much—or how little—devastation will occur. No one can predict nature, and extreme weather can alter from moment to moment, so it can be difficult to know exactly how to prepare and how far to go (literally) to avoid potential trauma.
Close curtains, blinds, and shutters.
Ensure your home has a fire extinguisher.
It is worthwhile to take the time to prepare in advance, and also to be aware of what to do before, during, and after a hurricane.
Before a hurricane:
If you are within 100 miles of the coast, it is advisable to evacuate if possible.
Research the evacuation route and plan ahead to stay with friends, relatives, at a hotel, or safe shelter. Also research the safest, highest place to go in case of flash floods.
Decide on the safest place to go to, and then travel at the first opportunity as roads and public transport can get hectic as the hurricane draws nearer. Let family and friends know where you are heading.
RVs and high-rise buildings are unsafe during storms. Winds are stronger at higher altitudes, which is why many storm shelters are underground.
Fuel your car as soon as you hear a hurricane is potentially on its way.
Stock an emergency bag that you can take at short notice. Include at least three days’ worth of nonperishable food, water, medicines, first aid supplies, and toiletries.
Withdraw some cash from an ATM as they may be temporarily out of service following the storm.
Take photos of the interior and exterior of your home, cars, and other insured items just in case they suffer storm damage. Save the photos and send them to your e-mail.
If you are driving away from the storm, take a map, flares, spare gas, jumper cables in case the car battery goes flat, nonperishable foods, and plenty of water.
If you are staying in your area, choose the safest room in the house, and research shelters near your home just in case you need to relocate to one (if it is safe to do so).
Ensure all pets are inside or taken with you if you evacuate. Often only service animals are allowed in shelters, so check in advance and make suitable arrangements for pets. Make sure pets are microchipped just in case they become separated from you. Some shelters now allow your pets if they are in a secure crate, so it is worth investing in one beforehand. Stock up on pet food and, if you are evacuating, take it along with you.
If there is a call for evacuation in your area, heed the warning and evacuate.
Stock up on canned foods (make sure you have a tin opener) that do not need water or milk added to them. Also, ensure you have a battery-powered radio and store spare batteries in airtight containers. Do not use candles as they can cause a fire; use battery-operated flashlights.
Ensure you have plenty of bottled water for drinking as, after a storm, the water from the faucet may potentially be contaminated. Fill as many containers as possible.
Make sure your first aid kit (including a whistle for help) is stocked up. Also, have enough prescribed medication available for those who take it regularly.
Set refrigerator temperatures to the coldest setting possible: if there is a temporary loss of power, there will be less risk that the food will defrost and ruin. Stock the fridge and freezer as much as possible, as the more items that are in there, the more the cold will be retained should the power go out.
Fill the bathtub and sinks with water, just in case water supplies are temporarily lost. Freeze as much water as possible and put bags of ice in between any spaces in the freezer.
Ensure there is at least one corded phone in use, so that you do not need to rely on cell phones. Charge all cell phones in advance and back up computers or any devices that store important information. If possible, store the data away from home—just in case there is storm damage.
If you evacuate, unplug all appliances before leaving home and remove fuses from air conditioning. Turn off the water to prevent flooding if pipes break and turn off the gas to prevent a gas leak.
Carefully think through escape routes and arrange a safe meeting point with friends and family once the hurricane has passed—in case of no cell phone connection. Write important contact numbers down and ensure every family member has them—just in case anyone gets separated.
Close shed and garage doors because, if they are loose, they can get carried with the wind and become dangerous missiles. Also, shut away anything else outside the home that could easily get carried with the wind. For example, take flags, garden ornaments, plant pots, wind chimes, awnings, chairs, tables, umbrellas, and the like indoors.
Securely close all doors and windows and, if you do not have storm shutters, board up doors and windows with plywood. If possible, also reinforce garage doors to protect all the items inside.
Secure firearms, ammunition, and anything that could be flammable.
If any trees or branches are unstable, arrange for them to be cut down. Secure gutters and fences if they are unstable.
Ensure cars are not parked underneath trees. If possible, move cars to a secured car shelter—particularly if you are close to the coast.
Secure outdoor pool covers and lower the water level.
Check roofs, outbuildings, and the general condition of the exterior of your home to ensure there is nothing damaged or that can come loose before the storm. Arrange for any necessary repairs to be carried out as soon as possible.
Stay away from coastlines and low-lying areas due to the potential of storm surge floods.
Place sandbags around the exterior of your home and towels on the inside of windows. You can even make your own sandbags.
Locate the gas, power, and water mains in case they need to be turned off in an emergency.
Check on friends, family, and neighbors, and those who may be vulnerable during a storm.
Ensure your insurance covers storm, wind, and flood damage, and be aware that, for most policies, the insurance won’t be effective for the first 30 days after taking it out.
If your house, car, or boat are destroyed, you will require proof of ownership. If you are evacuating, take important documents with you, or leave them in a secure location where they are not likely to be destroyed.
During a hurricane:
Even if it seems as though the storm has calmed, do not go outside until you receive official notice that the storm is over. The “eye” of the storm appears calm, but is only a temporary respite, and many people believe, during this period, that the storm is over. However, the “eye” is just the middle of the storm—and the other side is still to arrive.
Stay away from windows, skylights, glass, and external doors. Bathtubs can provide some shelter if covered with plywood or similar material, and many people retreat to basements. But, be wary as they can be prone to flooding. A room with no windows is possibly the safest option—for example, a closet.
If your home is damaged, evacuate to the nearest shelter or a neighbor’s house.
If there is a risk of flood, it is recommended to turn off the electric at the breaker, but do not do this while standing in water. If you can’t safely reach your breaker, then call your electrical company and request they turn off your power at the meter. When dealing with electricity, always seek professional guidance.
Move electrical appliances to higher areas. If there is a power loss, unplug all appliances to reduce the chance of a power surge when the power is restored. Don’t handle any electrical appliances and only use the telephone in an emergency.
Do not use a generator indoors—not even in garages or basements as the exhaust fumes contain high levels of carbon monoxide, which can be lethal if inhaled. Do not use charcoal grills or propane gas stoves indoors, either.
If a generator is being used outdoors, it is recommended that it is at least 20 feet away from your home and not near water. Wait until it has cooled off before you refill it with gas.
Do not attempt to power the house wiring by plugging a generator into a wall outlet.
Place valuables and important documents in sealed, waterproof bags and either take them with you or put in a room high up in the house.
In case of lightning, do not take a bath, shower, or—unless in extreme emergency—use a mobile phone during the storm. Phones should only be used for life-threatening situations, to call 911.
Do not touch any electrical appliances if you are wet or standing in water, as you could be electrocuted.
Do not go to a window or go outside, to watch the storm, or take pictures or videos. It is not worth the risk, even if it seems as though the storm has temporarily calmed.
Do not go into a car to seek safety, and do not leave children or pets in a car, as cars can easily be flipped over or swept away during a storm.
Take towels, blankets, pillows, and airbeds if you have them.
If you are outdoors, it is recommended to avoid walking or driving through floodwater if possible—as it is impossible to tell how deep it is. Also be extremely cautious of driving under bridges that have fast-moving water flowing over them.
Try not to panic. Keeping a level head and being in a position to make calm, rational decisions can be lifesaving during a storm.
Check for updates regularly and, in the meantime, distract yourself and friends and family members by taking part in peaceful activities, which may include meditation, yoga, reading, playing board games, quizzes, jigsaw puzzles, coloring books, playing musical instruments (not electrical), and enjoyable conversation.
Children, pets, and those who are vulnerable can become extremely anxious during a storm, so creating a relaxing environment will by highly beneficial for all concerned.
After a hurricane:
More people are injured or killed after a storm than during one. This is because people become impatient and want to check the damage surrounding their homes. Storms can be deceiving and, while it may all appear calm, there are still numerous dangers around, such as fallen electrical lines and flying objects due to strong winds. Wait until the official “all clear” is given before going outdoors.
Do not touch trees as they may be in contact with broken electrical cables, and do not step in puddles if there are loose cables nearby.
Be wary of anything that may have been weakened—for example, trees, fences, porches, and bridges.
Turn appliances back on gradually, not all at once.
Inspect the food in the refrigerator and freezer and do not take any risks, as spoiled food is the main cause of sickness after a storm. If food or drinks have come into contact with flood water, dispose of them.
Report any damaged or loose power lines to the local police and fire department, and to the local transmission and distribution services provider.
If any electrical or gas appliances are wet, do not use them.
Only return to your property when you receive the official “all clear” notice.
Be on alert for the smell of gas from gas leaks. Report suspected gas leaks to the police and gas providers. Do not go back into your home if you can smell gas.
Photograph any damage to your property—home, cars, or boats.
Do not use any electrical appliances that may be water damaged. Seek professional assistance.
Although much of the above may sound like common sense when reading each tip individually, it can be a lot to remember when a storm is approaching and the need to prepare and batten down is a matter of urgency.
Here is a full and in-depth list of how to be fully prepared for weather extremes.
The above information is just a guideline. Each situation will be unique, so research well, prepare in advance, and get professional advice when necessary.
Author: Alex Myles
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Editor: Leah Sugerman
Copy Editor: Emily Bartran
Social Editor: Travis May