How to prepare for hurricane season and evacuations

Be prepared for another season of above normal hurricane activity in the Atlantic.

That’s the warning from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which forecasts between 13 and 20 named storms in 2021, including three to five major hurricanes.

It is not yet known how many storms will hit land, but experts warn that a storm does not have to be a major hurricane to cause damage, and extreme flooding and winds can occur in the hundreds of thousands. kilometers inland, not just on the coast.

“People tend to focus on the storm category, but the storm categories are based entirely on wind speed,” said Keith Acree of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. “What causes the most damage isn’t the wind, it’s the water.”

When a hurricane is about to make landfall and authorities issue an evacuation order, you may not have much time before you leave to protect your home and family from the storm and flooding.

So here’s what you can do to prepare yourself ahead of time.

Prepare an emergency kit, including cash, prescription drugs, and three days of food and water (for people and pets). If your house is flooded and you cannot return immediately, this is essential. Be sure to consider arrangements for people with special needs, such as the elderly. If you need help putting together a list, Wirecutter, a New York Times company, has suggestions for every household.

If you live in a coastal area, it is important to familiarize yourself with community evacuation plans, evacuation areas, and evacuation routes.

And plan a meeting place for your family. Deanna Frazier, spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said forgetting to do so was one of the most common mistakes when Hurricane Harvey landed as a Category 4 hurricane in Texas in 2017. “Cell phones may not work or you may not have your cell phone with you,” she said. “There were a lot of people who were looking for loved ones and disconnecting from them. These are the kinds of things you need to think about.

Listen to local media for the latest information on how to prepare and when to evacuate the area. “The biggest problem I see people run into is that they wait too long,” said Alberto Moscoso, former director of communications for the Florida Emergency Management Division. “When it comes to preparing for hurricanes and storms, it’s always a good time. “

Photograph or scan important documents like driver’s licenses, social security cards, passports, ordinances, tax returns and other legal documents. Download the images online to keep them in a safe place. Store documents in a fireproof and waterproof container or take them with you. FEMA’s Financial Emergency First Aid Kit contains a checklist of the documents you will likely need to claim insurance and other benefits.

When the time comes to evacuate, take irreplaceable memories with you if possible. Otherwise, move items of sentimental or monetary value upstairs or on high shelves to protect them from flood water. It is common for people to underestimate the height of the water.

“Anywhere it rains there can be flooding,” Acree said.

[What do storm categories mean? Here’s what you need to know.]

If possible, make sure your home has flood insurance. Most home insurance policies do not cover flood damage, and flood insurance takes 30 days to take effect.

The Food and Drug Administration recommends setting your refrigerator and freezer to the coldest possible settings and moving items from the refrigerator to the freezer so that they stay cold longer in the event of a power failure. Even in the event of a power failure, a well-wrapped freezer can stay cold for 48 hours. If you can’t put everything in the freezer, add containers of ice to the refrigerator.

Store thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer so that you can check the temperature when you return. Anything that has been left at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler is safe to eat. Move pantry items and a supply of bottled water to tall, secure shelves so they are safe from flood water.

Check for potentially hazardous substances, like bleach, ammonia, and drain cleaners. Check in the garage. Make sure all lids are securely closed and move these items to high shelves, as far away from potential flooding as possible. Chemicals that mix with flood water can be hazardous to health or cause fires and explosions.

Move electronics, small appliances, portable heaters, and other items with wires to upper levels and high shelves – as far away from water as possible. If you have a generator, keep it away from moisture. (Never use it indoors or plug it into a wall outlet.)

Safely cut and dispose of tree branches, which can fall during hurricane winds or become projectiles if left on the ground. Secure gutters and downspouts, and clean clogged areas that could prevent water from draining from your property. Move bikes, garbage cans, outdoor furniture, grills, tanks, and building materials to a safe location, indoors or tied up, as they can fly in strong winds. Close your windows to prevent leaks and broken glass and, if necessary, secure the doors with storm shutters.

Avoid driving or walking in flood water, which can be electrically charged by downed and underground power lines; contain debris such as glass, dead animals or even poisonous snakes; or be contaminated with sewage and hazardous chemicals. Only six inches of moving water can knock a person over, and a fast moving foot of water can throw a vehicle off balance.

Do not enter your home until the authorities tell you it is safe to do so. To avoid electrical hazards from flooding, turn off the power at the main fuse box or circuit breaker, or seek professional help. Go inside with caution – do not touch electrical equipment and use a flashlight rather than a flammable object to see.

Only bottled water, canned and well-packaged foods can be safely consumed after a flood. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises discarding any food that may have come in contact with water. If the cans get wet, remove their labels and wash them in a bleach solution for added safety.

Water-borne illnesses are also a risk – drink only fresh bottled water. If this is not accessible, boil water according to CDC guidelines.

Hazardous chemicals, mold, asbestos, and lead paint are all potential hazards in the aftermath of a flood. So follow official recommendations and wear gloves, eye protection and face masks on any property damaged by flooding. Before you begin cleaning and debris removal, take pictures of your home and contact your insurance company, then air out and remove any water damaged items. This is the most important step in minimizing mold, which can cause asthma attacks, eye and skin irritation, and allergic reactions.

Adele Hassan contributed reports.

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