I’m a native of eastern North Carolina (Greenville, to be precise), so I’ve had a little experience with hurricanes.
During grad school I rode out Bertha and Fran during the 1996 season, the latter slicing through hundred-year-old oaks like a scythe and dropping them all around us, including on our apartment building and the building behind us. If you’ve ever wanted an adrenaline rush, try standing on a third floor balcony during a hurricane for a couple of hours because that seems to be the safest place as trees topple around you.
I was living in Durham when Floyd paid my hometown a visit in 1999. A lot of the places where I spent time during my youth and college years simply no longer exist, and the scars on the land persist to this day. The stories I’ve heard from friends and relatives — floating caskets from washed-away cemeteries, boats driving down four-lane highways with ten feet of water under their keels — remind me of the power of these storms.
Now it looks as if Irene may well be the “next big thing” to visit, and it has the rest of the densely populated eastern seaboard firmly in its sights from North Carolina to the Canadian Maritimes, with the especially troubling possibility of a direct hit on New York.
As a bit of a public service to PJMedia readers who may literally end up in the eye of the storm, here’s a little bit of advice from someone who has been there, done that.
Here are some helpful modifications to the list that may not be obvious.
Don’t listen when they tell you to get a gallon of water a day per person. Instead, double that. If the power goes and the heat and humidity rise, you’ll be glad you did. Also, make sure you factor in food and water for your pets.
While they tell you to get three days of non-perishable food, they neglect to tell you to get three days of food you can eat without needing power to cook it, or else to ensure you have the ability to cook without external power. Canned soup is non-perishable in the short term, but if you don’t have a camping stove to cook it on eating will be a less-than-stellar experience.
Get extra extra batteries, especially for those that power handheld gaming systems your kids own. If you end up without power and the cell phones go down, this could save your sanity and keep you from hearing “I’m bored!” repeated over and over again.
Put new batteries in your flashlights the day before expected landfall and test them to make sure they work. After the power goes out it is a bad time to learn that the batteries you have in the light have gone dead, or that the bulb has burned out. You will never regret extra flashlights or LED lanterns.
Plastic sheeting and duct tape have their place in your emergency kit both before the storm and after it has passed, but it isn’t worth much during the storm should wind-blown debris punch through a window.
You can’t waterproof a shattered window during a hurricane, but you can cut down on the flying spray coming through the hole a bit by hammering an old blanket over the opening from the inside using roofing nails. We had to do this for a neighbor in our apartment building when Fran struck in ’96, and while we couldn’t do anything about the shattered glass, we at least kept leaves, twigs, and spray from soaking everything they owned throughout their apartment.
Get a decent sized cooler. Fill it with ice (beer is optional).
If you lose power for any length of time the ice in the cooler serves triple duty, keeping perishable foods and certain medicines at a decent temperature, cooling your drinking water, and serving as another potential source of backup water.
And now for some not-so-obvious advice on dressing for hurricanes: high water and high winds mean you’re going to face the possibility of fallen trees, wind-blown objects, shattered glass, and downed power lines. Wear a sturdy pair of shoes (sneakers or boots) or keep them within arm’s reach throughout the storm. Don’t wear flowing or delicate garments. Dress in sturdy clothing that is relatively form-fitting and comfortable, and if you have clothes that match this description that are fast-drying, so much the better. If you have to go into the winds for any reason — and there are few good ones — make sure you have eye protection in the form of safety glasses or goggles. Hurricane and even gale force winds combine with dirt and debris to form an experience like standing in a gusty sandblaster.
Also have a sturdy pair of cut-resistant gloves on hand. You’ll thank me later.
Large water resistant storage containers cost relatively little, and are an excellent place to keep water-sensitive valuables such as photo albums and your emergency kit itself.
Last but not least, make sure you take in all light objects in your neighborhood indoors, or find a way to secure them. You’d be amazed at the damage patio furniture, tools, potted plants, and toys can do when they’re thrown into something at 60mph-100mph.
And the best advice … leave if you can, well in advance of the storm. You can’t get out once it starts, and you don’t want to be trapped on the street, where so many people have died being swept off the roads and into raging flood waters.
Keep yourself safe, and we’ll see you on the other side.