As Hurricane Katrina bore down on the Gulf Coast, many residents were trapped because they had neglected to buy the most essential of emergency items: gasoline for the car. With the highways jammed, cars stuck in gridlock idled through what gas they had quickly… and the worst news was that many of the gas stations ran out of fuel. If you live in hurricane country, there are many essential items that should be in your physical and mental inventory of survival gear.
1. Time awareness. Escape during the storm or the hours before may not be possible. Listen carefully to weather predictions and if evacuation is recommended, do so before the highways are jammed.
2. A way to escape. This includes not only the full gas tank but a destination. Make arrangements in advance with friends or relatives inland should you need to leave your home. If you’re planning on staying in a motel, make your reservation early as nothing will be available the day of the storm. Also in your getaway vehicle whether it is a car or a public bus should be food, water, blankets, and first aid supplies. You should also have a cell phone and a charger that will work from the car battery.
If you are not likely to be in a mandatory evacuation area and have decided to stay in your home, there are essentials to keep you and your belongings safe.
1. Pre-hurricane readiness for your house. This includes boarding up windows to prevent broken glass, moving all vehicles into closed garages, anchoring or removal of any flimsy structures like awnings, garden storage huts, and children’s play equipment. Anything that could become a projectile such as a trash can or front yard sign should be brought inside.
2. A safe place within your home. Unless you live in a likely flood area, downstairs areas are generally safer. If you have a windowless room, that’s best. Make sure it is large enough for you and your family including pets to stay in for a day or two if necessary.
3. Water. If you have to, you can survive without food but not without water. Have plenty of bottled water to last not just for the storm duration but for weeks after. In a severe hurricane, water purifying plants may be compromised and water may be unsafe for quite some time. You can store water in a bathtub for flushing the toilet or bathing. You can also use water from a hot tub for this purpose. A bottle of bleach should be handy to add a few drops to non-potable water for bathing.
4. Food. Make sure to buy food and water well in advance as stores may run out as the storm approaches. Know that you will probably lose electricity and that food stored in your freezer or refrigerator will quickly become unusable. Choose canned or dried food. Things like crackers and peanut butter, granola bars, and dried fruit can sustain you for a long time. If you have a baby, make sure you have plenty of baby formula on hand even if you are nursing. If your milk supply should diminish due to stress, you need to guarantee that your infant will be fed. You should also have a way to heat your food. A butane camp stove will work well but you shouldn’t light it in a confined space. Wait until the storm has passed and then use it outside. Include disposable serving dishes and a manual can opener.
5. First aid supplies and medications. If you take medications on a daily basis, make sure you have a several week supply. Be especially careful to have enough diabetic supplies. If someone is on oxygen, you really need to evacuate as the electricity may go off and you’ll be left with just the portable oxygen unit. Your first aid kit should contain bandages, antiseptic wipes, and butterfly bandages for small cuts. Also include tweezers for removing glass fragments, insect repellent, and upset stomach medication.
6. Clothing. Pack some simple clothing in your safe place. Be sure to include plenty of diapers and baby wipes for infants. It may be some time before you can do laundry, so have plenty. The weather during a hurricane is usually hot and humid so you’ll need fresh clothing.
7. Pet Supplies. Make sure your pet has identification on him – both cats and dogs. Even an indoor cat should wear a collar during this time in case it escapes through a broken window. Have plenty of food and water and some toys for your pet. Know that they will be very frightened as the storm passes through so try to provide a secure place for them. If your dog is crate trained, the crate may be a safe refuge for it.
8. Communication. Cell phones with an extra battery pack or a car charger are a must. You should also have a transistor radio and or television so that you can hear the news.
9. Important papers. Gather insurance papers, passports, credit cards, medical records, and some cash together and put the items in a waterproof envelope to keep with you.
10. Flashlights and candles… but know that you should never light a match until you are certain that there are no dangerous gases in the area. That knowledge would probably come as an “all clear” message from the fire department or public utilities. Your flashlight supply should include small ones for each person and a larger lantern type to light a room.
There are many other items that should go in your hurricane preparedness kit: Games, books, pens and paper so older children may write about their thoughts are all good items. In addition to the list above, you should pack patience, caution, wisdom, and courage. If your preparation is thoughtful and complete, the hurricane will be just another one of life’s experiences.