FedEx Incompetence

Last week, I ordered cat food from Chewy.com, an excellent site that offers fair pricing on good products, quick order processing, and the owners even sent a personally signed Christmas card. Way to go, guys!

I expected the order to arrive on Monday, December 5, and I was surprised when I clicked the tracking button over to the FedEx site and saw an estimated Friday delivery.

The package didn’t arrive. I checked the tracking number Friday night, and it said to expect delivery on Tuesday. I didn’t understand why they skipped Monday, but okay.

On Monday afternoon, the tracking information showed that they attempted delivery on Saturday. “Why?” I wondered. It’s my husband’s work address, business name included on the label, and their office is never open on Saturday. It also said delivery would not be attempted on Monday because of bad weather. Yes, it was raining buckets and parts of the area were under tornado advisories. I accepted that.

Tuesday, the weather was clear. It was a day previously promised for delivery. And yet, no package.

I tweeted FedEx on Tuesday, and their agents responded that it was another weather delay. What? The weather was fine, the roads had drained, and Fort Walton Beach (between Pensacola and the FedEx warehouse in DeFuniak Springs) even held their Christmas parade Tuesday evening because the weather was so fine.

Certainly the package would arrive on Wednesday, right? Weather is still clear. The driver has already had one make-up day for the storm day.

Wrong. Mid-afternoon, the package still hadn’t arrived. I called FedEx and asked when my package would be delivered? They couldn’t say. “It’s on the truck,” they said. Well, yes, I can see that by looking at my computer screen.

By 5:00 pm, when the office was closing, the truck still had not arrived, and my husband called. “It’s on the truck. It will be delivered by 8:00 p.m.” Imagine this in a thick foreign accent. Could he wait on the sidewalk and accept the package if the truck appeared? No. Which is a good policy to prevent fraud, but not at all helpful in this case.

I mean, the driver (or “a” driver) tried to deliver this package on Saturday. He (or she) knows it’s a business. The business name is part of the mailing address on the label. Why would you attempt delivery after business hours?

We got home, and lo, and behold, delivery was attempted at 6:06 p.m. I called again. The (again foreign) agent tells me that ground deliveries are not time sensitive. Then what is the point? They can carry this package around on their truck for six weeks and if they arrive after 5:00 p.m. or on a weekend, the office is going to be closed. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and resources. Work smart, people!

I demanded to speak to someone who could actually take some action, and I was transfered to “Escalations” — an American-sounding person who assured me that the driver should have noted the business name on the package and prioritized delivery during business hours, and she promises we’ll get our package on Thursday.

In the meantime, I tweeted again and tagged Chewy.com — they are also taking action from their end and providing some compensation, which shouldn’t even be their responsibility. Did I mention how awesome they are? If you need pet products, definitely check their website.

And if you have an issue with FedEx, don’t wait around like I did, ask immediately for “Escalations” and maybe you’ll get somewhere.

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Unusual Documents for #Genealogy Research

Photo of John Jurdan Cooper and Arminta Stephens Cooper.

Photo posted to FindAGrave by Little Robert (Cowper). It also appears in “The Heritage of Baldwin County.”

Sometimes genealogical discoveries come in the most unexpected places. I was researching my G3 grandmother Arminta Stephens – or sometimes McKenzie – and I came across an unusual account offering new clues about her family. It started with a Google search for her stepfather, Daniel McKenzie. That’s how I stumbled across a medical report detailing her childhood brush with yellow fever.

The “Report on the Epidemic Yellow Fever of 1853” was compiled by the New Orleans Sanitary Commission. Dr. N.B. Benedict attended Arminta and her neighbors in September of that year, at their homes “in the pine woods, in the vicinity of a place of summer resort named ‘Hollywood’ and ‘Freeman’s,’ situated on the Eastern shore of Mobile Bay” in Baldwin County.

Dr. Benedict’s ten-page report goes on to describe the general landscape and the clearing where the McKenzie home stood. The same clearing also held two other houses, and the disease struck all three.

The fifth case occurred in the second house described – that of Daniel G. McKenzie – in the person of his daughter, Araminta Alice, aged twelve years; born in Coffee county, Alabama; resident, the last four years, at this place; a remarkably fine, healthy, and interesting child.

Aha! Now I know where Arminta was born, as well as where she lived in the early 1850s. Scanning through the rest of the article, I also found reference to her little sister, who also survived.

The seventh and last case was that of a second daughter of Mr. McKenzie, named Francis Jane; born in Stockton, Ala.; brought here when five weeks old; present age four and a half years; never but once at the bay shore, a year or two since, and never in any house in its vicinity.

Just before I would have moved on, a sentence caught my eye that suggested I should pay a little more attention to the other cases in the neighborhood. It was in a description of the first house struck by yellow fever that summer: “On the 19th, the family and the neighbors (who were all near relatives of the patient) were found perfectly beside themselves with panic.”

The three families were related! Unfortunately, the doctor didn’t find it necessary to explain the relationships, but he did list several members of each household.

The first house the doctor visited belonged to the Stevens family. A child named Michael Elliott was the first to fall ill. Dr. Benedict describes him as “an orphan boy of six years; born in Florida; of a half-breed Indian and a white woman, and brought to this vicinity while an infant. He was a bright little fellow, with an eye and complexion resembling the Indian.”

The next case was that of H.M. Stevens; a native of South Carolina; age 26 years; had resided constantly here for four years.

The third case was that of Mrs. Frances Stevens; the mother of H.M. Stevens. She was born in South Carolina, in 1791, and had resided here constantly for four years. She described herself as “A Methodist, living in slavery and sin, and working herself to death.”

The two remaining cases, of the seven in that neighborhood, were in the home of William H. Croft. His four-year-old daughter Melissa Ann recovered. So did his nephew, Thomas H. Stephens, who fell ill after digging a grave for little Michael. Thomas, the doctor wrote, “until now, had resided with H.M. Stevens, in the house where all the deaths had happened. Born in Barbour county, Alabama; aged, seventeen years; resident here four years.”

I found a couple of marriage documents for Daniel McKenzie and his wife Catharine or Katherine Webster Stephens. They wed in 1849, when Arminta was about five years old. Census documents show she was born in South Carolina. The next step is finding Arminta’s father and his relationship with the Stevens/Stephens family who lived next door in 1853. The only clue I’ve found so far is that a “T.H. Stephens” stood up with John Jurdan Cooper when he married Arminta in 1857.

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On the Trail of a Florida Pioneer – #Genealogy

I never thought of my ancesters as being pioneers. That’s a term I associate with the American West, and my people lived mostly in the East and South. When I identified my great-great grandfather’s parents, I learned that, indeed, they did blaze a new trail, right here in Northwest Florida.

Map of Western Florida in 1827 from The Florida Center For Instructional Technology at the University of South Florida.*

Map of Western Florida in 1827 from The Florida Center For Instructional Technology at the University of South Florida.*

Let’s start with my great-great grandfather, Isaac Pittman. Boy, was he a tough nut to crack. My mother remembered his name, and her grandmother, Mollie Pittman Stevens, had a framed portrait of him. We did not know who his parents were or where he was born.

In researching his wife, Mosella Elizabeth Thompson Pittman, I had found some U.S. Census records with a little bit of information. Trouble is, it was contradictory.

The 1880 Census, when Isaac and Mosella were living with her family in Alabama, says Isaac was born in Mississippi. So were his parents.

In the 1930 Census, his daughter Mollie (my great-grandmother) said her father was born in Alabama. Her brother Cleve (short for Grover Cleveland) reported the same thing.

I started asking myself if I’d somehow made a mistake.

Then, I finally found the 1900 Census, the last one while Isaac was living. It was mis-indexed under Patman instead of Pittman. That one says Isaac was born in Florida.

Wha-a-a-t?

Three U.S. Census records. Three different birthplaces for Isaac Pittman (and his parents).

Three U.S. Census records. Three different birthplaces for Isaac Pittman (and his parents).

I had to make an educated guess. In 1880, he was living with his in-laws. I don’t know who was giving the census taker the information but Isaac might not have been home. His children may have assumed he was born in Alabama because that’s where they were born. But in 1900, he was the head of the household, and probably he or his wife were giving the information. Therefore, it had to be the most accurate.

Turns out, that was the right choice.

When I started looking in Florida, I found a 9-year-old Isaac Pitman in the 1850 Census. He was living in the newly-formed (as of 1848) Holmes County with his parents, Thomas E. and Elizabeth. Thomas E. Pittman was, indeed, listed as born in South Carolina (although Elizabeth was born in Georgia). I still felt I was on the right track, because Isaac named one of his sons Thomas E. Another of his children is Nancy Charity, just like his sister. It appears to show Thomas the elder’s parents living with them; their names are Isaac and Rutha.

U.S. Census for 1850 shows Isaac Pittman living in his parents' home and confirms he was born in Florida.

U.S. Census for 1850 shows Isaac Pittman living in his parents’ home and confirms he was born in Florida.

By 1860, most of the family had moved to South Alabama. Thomas’s son George Washington Pittman stayed in the Hurricane Creek area, according to a Holmes County Heritage Book, and was quite prosperous.  Isaac the younger married Elizabeth Thompson (see my previous post for more on that), and after his death, the family returned to Florida, this time to Escambia County, where some of his descendants still live.

I found a couple more interesting documents for the pioneering family. One is a land grant to Isaac Pittman for property in what is now Holmes County.

U.S. Land Grant designating property in the Territory of Florida to my great-great-great-great grandfather Isaac Pittman.

U.S. Land Grant designating property in the Territory of Florida to my great-great-great-great grandfather Isaac Pittman.

The other document is the voter rolls from Florida’s first election in 1845 listing Thomas Pittman on line number 28.

Document from Florida's first election in 1845 showing voter Thomas Pittman.

Document from Florida’s first election in 1845 showing voter Thomas Pittman.

The final piece in the puzzle came via email from my cousin, who has Mollie Stevens’ Bible in her possession. A note at the top of the page says it’s copied from her husband’s family Bible. It confirms that Isaac’s mother was born Elizabeth Thompson. It lists two children who died very young, one named W.O. after her father, the other named Ruthia after Isaac’s grandmother. Their names never appeared on a census, but in 1900, Elizabeth Thompson Pittman reported that she’d had nine children and seven were living.

Pages from Mollie Pittman Stevens' Bible.

Pages from Mollie Pittman Stevens’ Bible.

I’m now searching for additional documents to confirm the chain from Isaac Pittman, born 1967, down to me, in order to apply for Florida Pioneer Status. My ancestors deserve to be recognized for their part in Florida’s road to statehood.

*Map courtesy FCIT.

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How I found my great-great-great-great grandpa – #Genealogy

On April 6 2015, I saw #NationalTartanDay trending on Twitter. I’d been told some of our people came from Scotland, and I had a couple of hours, so I thought I’d figure out what my family’s tartan is.

Seven months later, I still haven’t figured out for sure what clan my people belong to, but I have made some progress in the family tree. The line I’m most proud of is on my maternal grandmother’s side. I knew her name and her parents’ names, but that’s all I could remember. Here’s how I identified my great-great-great-great grandfather, born in 1774.

I started building my family tree on FamilySearch.org. It’s a free website and it has a lot of research tools built right in.  It’s a collaborative site, meaning that when I typed my Pap-pa’s name in, it recognized him and started filling in branches based on research done by other family members. Mam-ma’s side, I got nothin’.

Mollie and Billie Stevens' gravesite. Photo by Doug Lindsey posted on FindAGrave.com.

Mollie and Billie Stevens’ gravesite. Photo by Doug Lindsey posted on FindAGrave.com.

I filled in her parents’ names, and started looking for documents relating to them. I found a photo of their headstones in Clopton Cemetery here in Pensacola. That gave me their birth and death dates.  I also found U.S. Census records from 1910, 1930, and 1940. The 1910 Census included my Mam-ma who was just a toddler. I remembered that Grandma Stevens’ maiden name was Pittman, but I couldn’t remember her parents’ given names. I did recall that Mam-ma grew up in Muscogee, a community in North Escambia County. My next step was to find census records for that part of the county and start looking for Pittmans.

I found one for 1920: E. Pittman, a widow with three adult sons and a boarder. Of course, her daughter Mollie was already married and in a home of her own, but when I saw the sons’ names, I knew I was on the right track. I remembered hearing about Uncle Medrick and Uncle Tom when I was growing up.

Excerpt from U.S. Census of 1920.

Excerpt from U.S. Census of 1920.

I wanted her parents’ names, though, and it wasn’t much to go on. The first initial E, her age, and that she was born in Alabama. It did give me an idea: I could look for Mollie and her brothers’ names. All that information, sketchy though it was, lead to my next discovery, the 1910 Census.

U.S. Census of 1910 listing the Pittman family.

U.S. Census of 1910 listing the Pittman family.

But wait — she’s 48 in 1910, and yet the 1920 form says she’s 50. Or maybe they’ve tried to change that 5 to a 6. So, how old is she really?

Portrait of Isaac Pittman in the possession of my mother.

Portrait of Isaac Pittman in the possession of my mother.

I had asked my mom if she remembered her grandparents’ names, and she drew a blank. Later, though, it came back to her that her grandfather’s name was Isaac Pittman, and she even has a picture of him.  The 1910 Census lists a son named Isaac (badly misspelled — and did you noticed Medrick’s name was spelled differently both times?), but it all seems to be coming together.

I still had no clues to help me find Elizabeth’s parents.

Then I found a death certificate. The actual image is not online, but the transcript gives her full name, her age, her husband’s name, her father’s name and birthplace, and a birth month and year. It took me a while to find this because the last name is misspelled, and so is Isaac’s first name. Turns out, her dad’s first name is, too.

A transcript of Mosella Elizabeth Pittman's death certificate.

A transcript of Mosella Elizabeth Pittman’s death certificate.

At that point, though, it was the best clue I had, so I started hunting for an Ira Thompson in Alabama. In the 1870 Census, I found a Thompson in Baldwin County, where Elizabeth had been living in 1910, and he had a daughter named Betty, who’s about the right age. But his first name is Ory, not Ira. Now, I don’t know how literate Elizabeth’s sons were, who were filling out the death certificate, and I don’t know how well they knew or remembered their grandfather. Ira’s fairly close to Ora. So, this could be the right family.

1870 Census listing the family of Ory Thompson with a daughter called Betty.

1870 Census listing the family of Ory Thompson with a daughter called Betty.

The next record is pretty much a clincher. In 1880, Ory’s daughter is married. She’s now going by Elizabeth Pittman, and her husband, Ory’s son-in-law, is named Isaac Pitman.

1880 Census for Ory Thompson family listing Isaac and Elizabeth Pittman.

1880 Census for Ory Thompson family listing Isaac and Elizabeth Pittman.

One mystery remains. Her death certificate says her full name is Mosella Elizabeth. I haven’t found anything else that says Mosella. Elizabeth is a pretty common name. And add to that, the 1910 and 1920 Census forms ask for the birthplace of each person’s parents. Medrick and the other children list their father’s birthplace as Alabama. Yet the 1880 Census says Isaac was born in Mississippi. Am I looking at the right family or not?

Then I found it. The piece that puts it all together. A marriage bond issued by the State of Alabama to Isaac Pittman and Mosella E. Thompson. They were married at the home of O. Thompson — that would be Ory. They were married on April 15, 1880, just a couple of months before the Census that showed them living in Ory’s household.

Marriage record for Mosella E. and Isaac Pittman.

Marriage record for Mosella E. and Isaac Pittman.

That’s settled then. Now, on to the next generation: Ory’s parents. I looked through old court records for Baldwin County and found an estate record giving Ory’s name as Origen Thompson. All the kids’ names matched up, so I was confident that I found the right person. When I searched Census records for Origen Thompson in Baldwin County, Alabama, I found him living in his father’s household.

The 1850 Census shows Origen Thompson living in his father's household.

The 1850 Census shows Origen Thompson living in his father’s household.

So, my great-great-great-great grandfather is William Thompson, born in South Carolina around 1774. Sadly, that’s all I know for sure. Google helped me find a discussion of his family that gives a wife’s name of Annie Odom or Odem, but I haven’t found any documents proving that. Prior to 1850, only the head of household is listed on the Census form, so that’s no help for finding who his parents are. A later Census lists Ory’s parents as being from Georgia. so perhaps they lived there for a time. I will continue to search for information, and new documents come online all the time, so I have every hope that someday I’ll find my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, too.

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‘Tis the Season for Genealogy

If you’ve been thinking of looking into your family history and starting to fill out your own family tree, now is the time. I mean, not just “Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” but “The holidays are the best time to start.”

Why?

Think of the family gatherings. Thanksgiving dinner. Christmas vacation. All those parties, christmascreativecommonsflickrmaybe even a wedding or a baby shower. It’s the perfect time to ask questions. What’s grandma’s middle name? What’s Uncle Charlie’s birthdate? Where was Aunt Eva born?

Caution: Some families bicker and argue over everything from the spelling of a name to whether grandma’s family in Germany was Jewish or not, to who was great-great-great grandpa because he was married to someone but it wasn’t to your great-great-great grandmother. If you’re taking notes (and you should), just jot down the different opinions and ask someone for their casserole recipe to change the subject.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiRtKG9r_fPAhXL34MKHVh7B0cQjhwIBQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.webdesignhot.com%2Ffree-vector-graphics%2Fabstract-green-tree-vector-illustration%2F&psig=AFQjCNGH3IanM4q6PA2SOPJBGk0HLdIKpA&ust=1477533531210419Before you pack the car, take a little time to write down what you know (or think you know). Ancestry has a printable 4-generation chart. Misbach.org has one that fits 6-generations on one page. Start with yourself and work your way back. You may want to use a pencil in case you find out the name your grandfather always used isn’t his legal name.

Sidebar: About 23 years ago, my mom called and said my grandfather was in the hospital. I went to the hospital to see him. I went to the desk and asked for Hoyt Cook, and they said they didn’t have anyone by that name. Remember, this was before cell phones, and my mother was at the hospital. Somewhere. Unreachable. Eventually, I got it sorted out, and come to find out, Hoyt was my grandfather’s middle name, and they booked him under his legal first name. I kind of knew that, but not well enough to recall it in the lobby of a hospital where he’d been taken rather suddenly. Use a pencil.

If you fill out a couple of generations before you get to the family gathering, it shouldn’t take long to verify what you have and make corrections or additions. Then you can start asking what you don’t know, like your great-great grandparents’ names and where they’re from.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwid6aS9sPfPAhWl7YMKHWAxDi8QjhwIBQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wikihow.com%2FDesign-a-Family-Tree&psig=AFQjCNEVt1Lz1u6Nsw7rXFff9nXTMpN43g&ust=1477533787859769The more you can find out from your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, or even family friends, the better armed you will be to start finding the answers that can fill in the blanks that no one knows.

I got a late start at genealogy. I was always moderately interested in the family history, but while I enjoyed hearing the stories of hog thieves and hellraisers, I didn’t really commit any of it to memory or write it down. Now my grandparents are all gone, and my mom’s memory isn’t what it used to be. The families are spread out and we aren’t able to get together in person as much as we once did. So, if you’re still young, please, fill out the chart now, even if you just stick it in a drawer for now. Someday, you (or your kids) will be glad to have it.

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Star Wars Fan Fiction

If you follow my blog or my Twitter account, you know I’m a longtime fan of the Star Wars saga. In 1987, at the 10th anniversary convention in Los Angeles, I learned about an unofficial club called Forces of the Empire. I eventually joined and became an active member for several years.

Cover of booklet containing the guidelines for members of Forces of the Empire.The club’s focus was on continuing the adventures through fiction and (occasionally) live action role-playing. Members lived all over the world, so even when we did have our annual get-together at MediaWest*Con in Lansing, Michigan, not all the members could be there.

I created several characters. Jazz Calbison is a pilot in the Rebel Alliance who finds out she has the Force, turns to the Dark Side, then gets turned back to the Light. RoAsha Br’yl-Castan is a diplomat from the planet Shandalay. Arani Adja is an Imperial officer. Qasimir Rave is a mercenary.  Corian Aca is a Sith.

Recently, I was going through a huge file of club-related paperwork, and I came across a series of interconnected stories. They involve several of my characters. These would have been written around 1993, as they also include characters (Shockeye and Aslan) developed for my then-brand-new husband to play at MediaWest*Con.

A certificate stating that my Imperial persona, Arani Adja, had been promoted to Lieutenant Senior Grade.

When my Imperial officer earned a promotion, I received this certificate.

These stories are mostly set-up for what was supposed to be a very involved storyline. Life got in the way and I ended up dropping out of FOE, but I think you’ll be able to see where they’re going. It took a few minutes to decide what would be the best reading order. “Maris Veramor” is first, because it takes place during the Jedi purge (remember, these stories were written pre-prequels and well before “Order 66”). The others all take place about ten years after Return of the Jedi. They’re PDFs, so this will take you to another page, where you have to click again to view.

Maris Veramor

Star Crux

Destiny’s Crossroads

Deliverance

Night Work

Clean-Up

Remember, these were written nearly several years before the prequels and 22 years before The Force Awakens (dang, I’m old). I do have a mention of Coruscant; that planet was established in the then-new Timothy Zahn novel “Heir to the Empire.”

I hope you enjoy reading the stories, and I look forward to hearing what you think of them.

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Storm Warning: Should you evacuate?

Satellite photo of Hurricane Ivan.

Hurricane Ivan, 2004

I’ll not soon forget the night I was working as a TV news producer, cranking out the 10pm newscast with a hurricane bearing down on the Gulf Coast. I answered the news hotline and a frantic woman was on the other end. She wanted someone to tell her what to do, where to go.

As a news producer, I gave people the facts, information that they could use to make a decision for themselves. It wasn’t my place to tell this woman whether to stay or go or whether she should head north, east or west, just as I cannot write here what you should do in the event a hurricane is coming your way. I can tell you what to consider when you’re making up your mind what to do.

WHERE ARE YOU?

If you’re a few miles inland, not in a flood zone, in a well-built house, you can probably ride out the storm at home. You’ll want to have at least three days worth of food and water for the humans and animals that share your life. Flashlights, a radio, and extra batteries. Fill up your car and get an extra can of gas in case it’s a few days before you can fill up again. Extra gas if you have a generator. Refill your prescriptions if you need to, stock your first aid kit, and it’s not a bad idea to have a couple of tarps and a rope on hand in case you have some damage. Board up your windows and pick up anything in your yard that could become a missile in 150mph winds. Be prepared, and you’ll probably be just as safe as you would in the closest school.

WHEN SHOULD YOU LEAVE?

If you live within a mile or two of the coast, you may be at risk of storm surge aka inland flooding. The best way I can describe storm surge is to tell you that it’s the highest high tide you will ever experience. It is a wall of water, with waves on top, and it can literally sweep a house off its foundation.

The residents of Grande Lagoon subdivision in Pensacola, Florida, learned that from Hurricane Ivan. About 30 residents stayed in their waterfront homes during the storm, and several died.

Standing water fills a residential road in Escambia County, Florida. after 6 inches of rain.

Flooding can be a concern anywhere.

Even if you don’t live right on the coast, if you live in a flood zone, chances are you’ll be dealing with high water. Rivers crest and drainage systems are quickly overtaxed, especially when branches and other debris start blowing around.

Rising flood waters not only put you at risk of drowning, it’s an unsanitary situation that could lead to infection or disease.

MEDICAL CONCERNS

Is anyone in your household dependent on electricity? If someone relies on an oxygen machine or other medical equipment, keep in mind that it’s very rare not to lose power in a tropical storm. It’s not impossible that your power will stay on, but I wouldn’t count on it.

If it’s really difficult for you to evacuate, call your power company NOW and talk to someone about their priorities in a massive outage. They may be able to put you on a “medically necessary” list, ensuring that your neighborhood is one of the first to be restored. Bear this in mind: power crews can’t just rush in anywhere. Downed trees have to be cleared. New poles may have to be erected to replace ones that break or fall during the storm. If you live down a dirt road, a road prone to flooding, or if there are any other hazards, they may have the best intentions to get to you and still not make it.

THE TIME IS NOW

Don’t wait until a disaster is imminent to consider your options. Think about all the different factors, such as heavy winds, torrential rain, potential for tornadoes, and your personal need for electricity. While the sun is still shining, decide what you’ll do, so that when the storm is coming, you waste no time; you can just act.

And please, if you do go, don’t leave your pets behind!

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