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.
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.
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!