Atmosphere And Weather

Preparing for a Hurricane



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I missed Hurricane Katrina by an inch. I had lived in the Biloxi, Mississippi area for a few years when the horrific Hurricane Katrina roared in, in late summer of 2005. It came with all its fury of 135 mph winds, bludgeoning rain, and a multitude of tornadoes. Fortunately, on the Thursday just before Katrina hit on Monday, the sale of my house was finalized and we exited. Fast. We lived in Ocean Springs, just across the bridge from Biloxi near the heart of where the eye of Hurricane Katrina would hit. (By the way, that bridge was totally destroyed and the scene of its devastation was shown often on national TV.) The nice young couple that bought my house moved in on Saturday and had to, immediately, begin boarding up for the quickly advancing Katrina. (Fortunately, also, for them, even though they suffered some major damage, their home was salvaged and they have completely repaired all damages.) On that Monday, Hurricane Katrina attacked and ravaged the Mississipi, Alabama and Louisiana coast, along with the people and buildings all the way from Pascagoula, to Biloxi, Gulfport, and over to New Orleans.

After living through several hurricane seasons on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi (and, before that, living on the Florida coast), I have learned several keys and words of wisdom to help people prepare for hurricanes who are close to the coast.

1. First, don't be dumb. Get prepared before any hurricane ever comes close. Measure each window and door so you can go to Lowe's or Home Depot and buy 1/2" or 3/4" plywood so you can "board-up". Cut the boards to the size to fit each opening so they can be easily slipped into position and secured when the need arises. You can buy hurricane clips to fit the board edges so each board can be pushed into a locking position. Otherwise, just cut some 2"x4" boards large enough to wedge them in position to make them fit snugly against the plywood boards. I suggest you also cut plywood boards for all windows and doors, even your garage door (which is more of a challenge). With wood windows you secure the plywood boards with deck screws and save the headaches of later having to rip out the nails (a real pain).

2. Also, if you're in a hurricane zone, do yourself a favor and spend a few extra dollars to buy flood insurance along with your regular homeowner's insurance. You may never need it but, if you do, you'll definitely need it. (Insurance companies try to weasel out of paying water damage if they can attribute the water to flood waters instead of hurricane waters.)

3. Here's a word of wisdom: The longer you wait to prepare for a coming hurricane the less likely you will be able to buy what you need. It will already have been brought and you will be shocked to see the store shelves of what you need to be absolutely bare. People panic in times like these and will over buy. The same thing is true with vehicle gas and food. If you don't already have it or get it very early, chances are, you've waited too long. To make this mistake gives an immediate sense of panic. I know. When I first lived in "hurricane land" I joked about hurricanes and thought they were just heavy rain "fun things" to party through. But after my first tropical storm I quickly realized, "Hey, these monsters can be deadly serious!"

4. Of course, it goes without saying that you should always have extra food and water on hand to get through any emergency - I suggest enough for a month. I have read various articles that recommend having enough emergency supplies to last a week. All I can say is, "Get real." If you ever go through a bad hurricane you will know that everything is disrupted for months. In just days after hurricane emergencies you will see vermin scalpers appearing on the scene selling water and supplies for whatever they can get. They have no qualms about peddling a gallon of water for $10, or $100 if they can get it.

5. In a Level 1 hurricane, about half the people stay. It a hurricane is above Level 1, I encourage you to leave, and leave before the crowd. I have found you have to leave extra early to avoid the bumper-to-bumper traffic in which you will probably discover that, by that time, you cannot find any station with gas. It's too late. You're caught and you have no way to solve your problem. It is a scarey, frustrating situation to be in. Leave town early; you can always come back if the scheduled hurricane decides to make landfall elsewhere. When you run for safety, go inland as far away as practical from the estimated path of the storm.

6. When you leave your home, carry with you your valuables and valuable papers, and all the phone numbers and addresses you may need. Lock all the doors and windows. Some advise to leave a window ajar to break the "vacuum" that results from a storm. That has not been proven and besides, the water damage you could receive from water blowing into your house at 120 mph, or whatever, could definitely do major damage to your walls, floors, and furnishings.

7. Be ready to help your neighbors in preparing for a hurricane, especially older or infirm neighbors. Also, be sure to make provision for your animals. If they are just allowed to be outdoors they could well drown or be killed by debris.

8. When the storm is over, try to get back into your home as soon as possible. As despicable as it is, this is a time when looters like to roam and take advantage of the emergency. When you arrive home, remove all the boards from your house and store them in a safe, dry place. As you removed them it is a wise idea to use a magic marker to mark which window or door they go to. Be sure to mark each board with something like: "upper right corner of master bath window" (and, of course, you can abbreviate). Otherwise, when the next storm comes you will have to hunt around for which board fits which window, and sometimes you don't have that much time . . . especially if you wait too long.

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