Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Surviving after a hurricane

Several years ago, Raleigh North Carolina was hit by a freak hurricane called Fran that came much further inland than anyone expected. I happened to live in Raleigh at the time. Fran shut the city down for about two weeks. Now, watching from the sidelines as 90,000 square miles of the gulf coast recovers from Katrina, what is coming to mind is a check list for things your family needs "after a hurricane" or other big disaster like that.

Let's make the assumption that your house is not blown totally to bits by the hurricane. If that happens then any preparations you make will, obviously, be pointless anyway. And let's also assume that your house is above sea level (and not in a flood plain), so there is not five feet of standing water in your living room once the hurricane passes.

So you, your family and your home makes it through the hurricane (or whatever). If Fran and Katrina are any example, then you need to plan on power/water/phones being out for one to two weeks. The roads will be covered with debris and impassable for two or three days at least. Grocery stores, gas stations, Wal-Marts, etc. will not be open for at least three or four days, and more than a week in some cases. Therefore, the question you should be asking is this: What would you need to have on hand to survive for a week or two? If you think ahead, you can have everything you need to ride out the aftermath.

The very first thing you are going to care about after the hurricane hits is whether or not your house/apartment has been damaged. If you are lucky, your home survives unscathed. If not, either the wind will blow all or part of the roof off, or the wind will drop a tree through the roof into a bedroom. You are going to need five things to deal with this damage immediately:
  1. A chainsaw
  2. Gas/oil for the chainsaw
  3. Tarps to cover the damage and keep the rain out
  4. Rope to tie the tarp with
  5. A couple rolls of duct tape can also be helpful
You can buy huge blue tarps these days fairly inexpensively. It is not a bad idea to have one or two in the garage to cover the roof if you need to. A couple hundred feet of cheap nylon rope is also handy.

Your next concern is going to be drinking water, since the hurricane is likely to either cut off running water or contaminate it. You need to have about a gallon of water per person per day. So a family of four would need about 30 gallons for a week. 60 gallons if you want to last two weeks. You can buy water in plastic 5 gallon jugs at most warehouse clubs, or buy several hundred half-liter bottles of water by the case and keep them in the garage.

The other thing you will want water for, surprisingly, is flushing the toilet. You would be amazed at how important this can be after just half a day. For this you need a bucket and a supply of water. One easy way to have a supply -- fill your bathtubs before the hurricane hits. Depending on your toilet, it takes about two gallons per flush. Another option -- fill a kid's wading pool in the backyard.

Depending on the time of year, one concern will be mosquitoes. Stock a supply of repellent containing deet.

Food is a necessity. You need about 2,000 calories per person per day (little kids and infants need less, but may have special needs (like formula)). Stock up on canned foods, dry foods (rice, dry potatoes, pasta, etc.). Have a week or two supply of non-perishable food in your panty or garage at all times. If you want to get "official" about it, you can buy MREs and have them on hand specifically for emergencies, but that probably is going overboard. Canned food and dried food is fine. Have powdered milk and drink mixes too - water gets boring after awhile, and the kids will want milk.

You will need a way to cook. Most people use their grills in an emergency. You need to have a propane grill, and a full tank or two of propane. If your grill has a side burner to make it easy to boil a pot of water, all the better.

Do you need electricity? There are three schools of thought:
  1. No. All you need is flashlights or lanterns or glow sticks to provide light at night.
  2. Yes, but only in small amounts. In that case, you can get by with a little inverter that plugs into the car and provides 400 watts. You will have to run the car occasionally to recharge the battery. If it is sweltering hot outside, you will occasionally run the car anyway to bask in air conditioning. You may want to keep 5 gallons of gas in the garage.
  3. Yes, and you need a lot -- enough to keep the freezer and refrig running, to power fans, TVs, etc. If you go this route you need a generator of some sort (2,500 to 5,000 watts), and enough gasoline to keep it running. Five to ten gallons a day would suffice to keep a household going.
If you are storing gasoline, you need to use a gasoline preservative and you need to rotate your stock every few months. Yes, it is a pain.

Whether you have a generator or not, you do need flashlights and batteries.

If you don't have a generator to keep the freezer cold, what will happen 24 hours after the hurricane hits is that the freezer will thaw out. All the food in the freezer will be available for eating over the course of two or three days. If you cover the freezer in blankets and have two or three frozen gallon jugs of water in it, it can stay cold about 3 days. I know that many people who went through hurricane Fran in Raleigh have memories of incredible feasts that neighborhoods had as people consumed all the food from their thawing freezers.

A radio and batteries to run it is nice.

Do you need a weapon and ammunition to ward off looters? I'll let you make that call. I know it wasn't a problem in Raleigh during Fran. And I imagine that the vast majority of the area affected by Katrina is the same.

If you are on medication, you want to refill your prescription before the hurricane hits. Pharmacies will be out for at least a week. A good plan -- always have at least a week's supply of prescription medicine on hand. Never allow your supply to drop to zero before refilling.

Power was out in Raleigh for up to two weeks, depending on where you lived. After 10 days things were returning to something of normalcy. It took months to clean up all the debris, and there were huge "shredding yards" where the thousands of uprooted trees were taken to be shredded. In areas to the east of Raleigh where the flooding was severe, recovery took a lot longer. It takes months to completely recover from a big hurricane.

What am I forgetting?

Comments:
I want to represent another school of thought-EVACUATE!

As a military officer who has had formal survival training, weathered more than a few hurricanes both ashore and at sea, I have to tell you how unpredictable these storms are. I can see the merit in staying with the house, but you really need to think about this: THERE IS NOTHING IN YOUR HOUSE THAT CANNOT BE REPLACED! Will it rot to be unable to come back home to your house? Will it be annoying to deal with insurance claims, especially if your house is looted? Yes, but not as annoying as being dead. Think about it
 
Marshall,

The one thing that you forgot is cash. It is important for people to have a supply of cash with them when a storm hits. Stores will open sooner than ATMS or credit card approval networks come back online. The only way to buy stuff will be good old fashioned cash!
 
Cash is an excellent point.

I agree you should evacuate if told to do so. But no one predicted that Fran would hit Raleigh like that, so no one evacuated. You had to make due in the aftermath, because there was no easy way out of Raleigh once the hurricane passed.
 
I made a Tada list with the recommendations you listed in this entry. I've added some things, but it's most likely still incomplete.

http://ryanirelan.tadalist.com/lists/public/110882

Thanks for the great information!
 
In responce to flapper: The problem with Fran was that the people along the coast evacuated to Raleigh. Ironicly Fran did more damage to Raleigh (100 miles inland) than to the coastal towns where it made landfall.

As you said these storms are unpredictable, so I'd say these are steps you should take if the storm is predicted to be anywhere with in 200 miles of your location. And if you do evacuate, clean out the freezer and fridge first!! They don't smell so good after a week of no power.
 
This is fine for a summer event like a hurricane. But the same applies to winter ice storms (Marshall, remember November 2002, when most of Raleigh was without power for more than a week?). In the winter, you need a heating source for your home. Natural gas logs are good, central gas heat is OK if you can run a small amount of electricity to the blowers, propane is good, oil is good, heat pump is bad.
 
How about a windmill to harness those 155 mph winds and keep the AC on with?
 
Great idea for a post. The comment about the blue tarps is REALLY important if you own a home. Last year in Florida these were sold out very quickly at all the stores after the storm, so buy these in advance!

I would add that you should also fill up your car gas tank before the storm and also have a lot of books and games on hand (unless you want to splurge for a portable DVD player and a ton of batteries).

You also left off candles and matches on the list, a very low tech but effective light source. I also suggest one of those new hand crank radio flashlight gizoms.

As for food, I recommend those fruit juice bags like Capri-Sun since they don't need refrigeration and are a welcome alternative to water.
 
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Cool Blog, I never really thought about it that way.

I have a Hurricane Katrina blog. It pretty much covers hurricane related stuff.

Thank you - and keep up the thoughts!
 
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I agree with flapper, the only safe way to survive a hurricane is to evacuate. We can all learn something from those poor bastards in N.O. Those people were warned, and chose to stay. My heart goes out to the children.
 
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