You can never be too prepared for a strong storm, especially storms mirroring the likes of Hurricanes Matthew, Andrew, Katrina, and Sandy. These hurricanes caused massive damage to coastal states, and continued to wreak havoc inland. Strong winds coupled with heavy rains felled trees, flooded entire neighborhoods, and caused massive landslides.
Yet, so many of us tend to ignore storm warnings and may prepare halfheartedly or not at all. This puts not just ourselves in danger, but also our loved ones. As natives of Jamaica – the lucky island that Matthew only skirted past this year – we’ve had our fair share of dealings with hurricanes, and have weathered them all safely.
So here are five tips to help you prepare yourself, your family, and your home for the next big storm.
1. Weather it Out in a Group
Even a Category 1 hurricane can feel like a Hurricane Sandy, if you choose to weather it alone. Couples and groups are also more likely to think and act calmly and rationally, since two heads (or more) are better than one.
The old saying that there is safety in numbers applies here, too. While it doesn’t give anyone an edge over a determined storm, it does help people to feel more secure, thus reducing panic.
2. Prepare for an Outage
Everyone knows that heavy wind can bring down power lines. If there are no heavy winds associated with a storm in your area, this can no longer seem like a concern. But do you know what else can fell trees? Landslides – often caused by heavy rainfall – and lightning. This makes a power outage possible in any storm.
Prepare for an outage by stocking up on flashlights, batteries, and candles. If you have a back-up generator for your home, ensure it has enough gas to keep it going until the lights are back on. Remember to educate children on how to stay safe while using candles and lanterns, to reduce the risk of fire.
If lines are down outside, stay indoors, or at the very least, avoid puddles and streams of water. Water carries electricity, and one well-placed line could mean electrocution.
3. Stock up on the Right Food
The amazing thing about a gas stove is that even in the case of a power outage, you can still enjoy a hot meal. The same goes for a grill, so if you have one, be sure to keep it inside during the storm.
Even if these are options, remember to stock up on water. You should also buy dry and canned foods with long shelf lives, and no need for refrigeration. Be sure to eat the perishable items first, and to save the actual hurricane food items for last. Some people may also choose to cook all their perishable items and refreeze them before the hurricane.
4. Fill the Bathtubs
Unfortunately, some homes only have showers, but if you have bathtubs, be sure to fill them up. Water mains often break or burst during storms, and can lead to dry taps for days or weeks. Full bathtubs can provide water for bathing, and flushing toilets. Keep plastic tubs and buckets on hand to make this easier.
Be sure to give the bathtubs a good clean before filling them up. Try to use natural solutions, like vinegar, and to rinse thoroughly. If you intend to use the water for drinking or cooking, then remember to boil it first.
5. Bar Windows & Doors
Very few Georgia homes have hurricane shutters. However, if you have them and you live in or near the path of a storm, be sure to put them up. They will make your home dark. But better a dark home, than a flooded and wind-tossed one, when the windows break.
Home owners can also create make-shift shutters by nailing pieces of wood or even sheet-rock over the windows. If this isn’t an option, then at least tape the windows well, so should the glass break, the shattering is minimal. If there is glass on doors leading to the outside, these should be covered up as well.
5. Trim Trees
Trees are great for the environment, and even your home. They provide shelter for animals, and shade during the summer months to keep the house nice and cool. However, during a storm, trees become dangerous. Try to trim trees that are near or hanging over the house.
One felled tree, or branch, could mean thousands of dollars worth of roof damage, and may tear walls down with it. If possible, cut the tree down altogether and replant a smaller one away from the house.
6. Park Indoors
One of the worst non-living casualties in any storm is cars. They become destroyed by flying debris, and floodwaters. Some may even get swept away in a sea of other cars. So if you have a garage, park inside.
A lot of people tend to use the garage for storage and park in the driveway, but when a storm’s on the way, it might be time to clear out all that junk and park what’s likely one of your most expensive assets inside. Be sure to use a garage door brace to help secure it against the storm.
7. Protect Valuable Documents
Cars aren’t the only valuables in the house. There are also valuable documents like passports, birth certificates, SSN cards, drivers licenses, and contracts. Place these in waterproof bags and store them in heavy containers or furniture that might not be easily blown away, like a chest of drawers, a wooden chest, or between a box spring and a mattress.
If you don’t have access to waterproof bags, then use zip lock bags and keep them as high off the floor as possible.
8. Secure the Roof
In Jamaica, a common practice for home owners with flat roofs was to place large concrete blocks on the roofs to help weigh it down. Many Jamaicans will tell you this has worked for them countless times. In America, roof clips serve the same purpose in a more systematic way.
This goes without saying, but roof leaks should also be fixed. What produces only a trickle in the attic on any other day, could flood a room or two during a hurricane, and weaken the roof’s overall structural integrity.
9. Get Insurance
Waiting until a bad hurricane is creeping up the coast is a bad time to get insurance. Some companies may hike up the cost knowing that people are desperate and willing to pay higher amounts. But for homes in the direct path of a hurricane, better expensive insurance than none at all.
Family members should also prepare with life and health insurance, in case of injury or death.
No one likes to leave their home and possessions behind during a storm, but better to lose the house, than you and your family with it. If there is a need to evacuate, government officials usually issue a warning and designate safe storm shelters residents can occupy to weather the storm. Do not wait until the last minute to heed the warnings, as roads may become dangerous and impassable.
Some people may also choose to skip town, until the storm passes. While it’s definitely not easy to enjoy yourself knowing family, friends, and personal property may be in danger, this might be a great time for a road-trip and some well-needed travel and vacation time.
With nearly two months left of the hurricane season that brought us Hurricane Matthew, it’s important to pay close attention to storm warnings. Better to be too prepared, than under-prepared. Stay safe!