If you’ve never been in a hurricane….

I’ve seen a lot of comments and tweets from people in the New York area about Hurricane Irene and their plans – or lack thereof. I’d like to offer some advice. First, I’ll mention my experiences with hurricanes. If you just want the advice, scroll down.

My Experiences
From 2002-2009 I lived in New Orleans, training and then working at a hospital in town. Yes, that means I was there for Katrina.
I’ll get to that in a second.
In the three hurricane seasons I was there for before the Big K, there wasn’t a season that went by that we weren’t targeted by a hurricane. Some of them veered off into Mississippi or Alabama. Some of them powered down into tropical storms. The first year I stayed at the hospital for the night (a tropical storm). The next one that came through, I drove to the hospital for my shift in the midst of a Cat1 hurricane landing.
The summer of ’05 kinda sucked for us (the Mrs. and I). We’d evacuated for storms twice, once with me staying behind to man the hospital while my wife flew off. Both times the government officials and weathermen prophesied disaster. Both times, nada happened. A few branches down, the occasional power line, but mostly nothing.
I think that’s why Katrina was so bad. Yes, it was more powerful, but it was the exact same doom and gloom forecasts as the previous two times. So, a lot of people blew it off. I’d worked the night shift that Friday night. By noon Saturday, my wife woke me up to say the track hadn’t changed. I was off on Monday, so we packed up three days worth of clothing, our photos, computer, guns, etc. We debated on taking the cat, since the last time he was a royal pain in the butt driving to Houston. Ultimately, we shoved him in the Jeep too and took off.
Imagine our shock when Katrina devastated New Orleans. Ultimately, our apartment had rainwater in it, and abundant mold. The house we were buying was outside the city and unharmed. Still, it was a month before things got back to normal.
We also went through Gustav several years later. My wife was evacuated for two weeks with that one. I slept in my office at the hospital for a week before I could meet up with her. Our house was without power for two weeks but unharmed.

The Tips

  • If you can leave the area, just do it.  You’re not going to be better off in the path of a hurricane.   You are more important than your stuff.  And don’t stay to protect your things – you aren’t going to keep the couch from getting sucked out a window if things get that bad.  Looters?  Do you really want to be there when some guy tries to cart off your TV, the phone circuits to  911 are jammed, and your cell phone is dead?
  • Duct tape on a window is pretty useless.  It doesn’t add strength, and is a pain in the butt to get off when things are done.
  • Everything depends on power.  The greater the length of time a community is without power, the longer the recovery process.
  • Fill your fridge and freezer.  More stuff in there that’s cold means it stay the right temperature longer with the power out.  Longer than 36 hours, though, and it’s time to start grillin’ all the meat you’ve got in the freezer.  You can fill the fridge with water.
  • Don’t forget to dump out your ice tray if things are starting to melt
  • Minimize how often you open the fridge.
  • Fill your bathtub with water.  Not for drinking, but for using to flush the toilet.  And the occasional sponge bath.
  • If you’ve evacuated and you’re coming back, buy groceries wherever you are.  Most likely, the grocery store owners / workers evacuated as well.  Plus, the supply chains have been disrupted.  The shelves will be bare at the store until everything gets back in swing.  Bring enough for a week.
  • Better to clean out the perishables in the fridge and freezer early.  Wait more than 3 days and you’ll regret it.
  • If the place you go to is in a different area code, buy a disposable cell phone.  Circuits in New Orleans were busy for a few days around most hurricanes, and impossible in New Orleans for two weeks after Katrina.  Calling out is easy.  No one will be able to get through to you, though.
  • If you stay in town for the hurricane, keep in mind that 911 will be flooded with calls.  If you need help, it might take a significant amount of time to call for it, much less for it to arrive.
  • You should have an alternative way to charge your cell phone.  Your best friend for information will be a battery powered radio, until power’s back on.
  • Beware of rushing water.  Contrary to what the movies show, it only takes a few inches of swiftly moving water to knock you off your feet.  Those images of people stuck in trees following a storm?  Yeah, they started off in shallow water.  Same thing for cars.  Yes, your car’s engine will run as long as the air intake and exhaust are above the water.  But here’s the thing – cars are relatively buoyant.  It doesn’t take much water before you’re manly SUV is floating.  And if it’s floating, it might float into water that’s too deep and dangerous to swim through when it decides to sink.
  • Generators can be a wonderful thing.  But you’ve got to maintain them, keep an eye on them, and watch out for that gasoline.  Buddy of mine in high school had his neighborhood flood.  His house was above the water.  It burned to the ground from a generator fire.

Anyway, I hope those help.  Above all, be safe and smart.  Keep your wits about you, and a healthy dose of caution.

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