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Handling a Hurricane; Part 2 – Preparing for and Surviving an Approaching Hurricane

Part 1 of this article described some of the characteristics of hurricanes and the damage they can cause. In the days before high tech weather forecasting, well organized emergency services, and mandatory evacuation, major hurricanes resulted in hundreds, if not thousands of deaths.

Most deaths, much property damage, and significant financial loss are all preventable with sensible forward planning and early action. Let’s have a look at how you can protect yourself, your family, and your property if a hurricane crosses the coast in your area

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Advance Preparation for the Hurricane Season

The North American hurricane season starts on June 1st, reaches a peak in August and September, and fades out over the next two months. This doesn’t mean that major hurricanes won’t occur before or after the peak – July 2005 set new records for early hurricanes.

Unlike a tornado, a hurricane can be monitored and tracked for some time before its final landfall or decay. If you are a resident or visitor in a target area, you will normally have considerable advance warning of a hurricane’s approach, and time to safeguard your home or prepare for evacuation.

But the best time to start preparing is before the threat is visible. You can do this by

  • Insuring your house and property to the maximum extent possible. An up to date inventory of your possessions is a smart move.
  • Storing important documents and valuable possessions in a secure place away from your home.
  • Checking with your local emergency co-ordinators on the risk of storm surges and flooding, and assessing your risks of damage from strong winds.
  • Preparing for evacuation if you live in a high risk coastal area. Familiarize yourself with evacuation routes, and put together an emergency kit which you can grab at short notice if you need to leave.
  • Owning a battery operated Weather Radio. This will provide you with warnings about the storm’s location and time and location of landfall, and will also advise when the crisis has passed.
  • Considering strengthening your roof against lifting by severe winds – options include roof strapping or extra clips.
  • You may also consider reinforcing an internal room as a safe room, a practice recommended for tornado prone areas. A bathroom on the lower level of your house may be ideal, and would provide last resort protection for you and your family against destructive winds.
  • Preparing an emergency kit in case you lose power and water during the hurricane. This should contain basic food supplies, water, torches and battery operated radios, a portable bottled gas stove, and anything else that will make life a little more bearable.

    Obviously most of the components of your kit will be somewhere around the house, but imagine how much easier it will be if everything you need is in the one place when the lights go out.

When A Hurricane Is Approaching

  • Listen out for hurricane watches, warnings and special bulletins on Weather Radio, normal radio and TV. A Hurricane Watch (which also covers slightly less severe tropical storms which can develop into hurricanes) means hurricane conditions are possible in the next 36 hours. Check for updates on radio, TV, internet.

    A Hurricane Warning means a hurricane is expected within 24 hours.

  • Put up storm shutters and secure firmly. Don’t bother with taping windows – it won’t help and it’s no fun to remove when the threat has passed
  • Secure all outdoor and garden furniture – store in an enclosed area.
  • Evacuate if advised, or if you are threatened by flooding or storm surges, if you live in a mobile home or high rise, or if you feel unsafe. Leave as soon as you can. Turn off power, gas and water if advised.
  • If you are staying, assume power and water may be cut. Fill your bathtub and other containers with water, turn your refrigerator to its coldest setting and keep the door closed, and turn off propane gas.

During a Hurricane

  • Stay inside. The main dangers are flying debris and downed power lines. Listen to Weather Radio, and don’t go outside until the hurricane has passed. If the eye passes over you, a deceptive period of calm will be followed by the return of strong winds and heavy rain.
  • Secure all doors and windows, close off windows with curtains or blinds, and close all internal doors.
  • At the peak of the hurricane, go to a safe room on lower floor – lie or crouch under a sturdy table or other piece of strong furniture.

With a little good fortune, these fairly simple precautions should get you through the hurricane safely. You will have done well, and will emerge healthy and fit enough to tackle the inevitable clean up. Good luck.

But always remember that hurricanes are short lived and are only likely to be a threat for a small part of the year. Think of them as an occasional tax to be paid for the benefits of an otherwise pleasant climate.