There are a lot of people stranded in the areas that are likely to be the hardest hit by Hurricane Irma. While it’s easy to say, “Oh, they should have left earlier” and run through the gamut of blame, the fact remains that there are all sorts of reasons that leaving didn’t work out.
Gas stations have run dry, which means that people can’t drive their cars to leave. Roads are at a standstill as people all try to leave at once in the biggest mass exodus in American history. Amtrak tickets are sold out. Plane tickets are outrageously expensive, in some cases more than three thousand dollars apiece. (However, American Airlines and JetBlue have capped their tickets out of Florida at $99, a service to keep in mind in the future if you plan to fly somewhere.)
The point is, for many, it’s too late. There is no further option for escape from what will most likely be a category 4 or 5 hurricane. (Good news – Friday morning, Irma was downgraded to a Category 4 Hurricane, with “only” 145 mph winds. Please don’t be deluded into thinking this lessens the danger dramatically, however. Hurricane Harvey was a Category 3 and we all saw what happened to Texas.
Here’s an explanation of the categories.
I can’t urge you more strongly: evacuate if you can at all. (Here’s an evacuation checklist.) This is a life-threatening hurricane, potentially the strongest to ever hit the country in recorded history.
What to do if you can’t evacuate
The hurricane is definitely headed toward Florida. That turn we were all hoping would send Irma out to sea didn’t happen – she’s headed west, straight for Miami. Not to scare the daylights out of you, but this is what it looked like on a webcam in St. Maarten. You’re going to want to do what you can to be ready.
If you’re in Florida, it’s too late to order online. There is practically no chance that the items will reach you. You aren’t going to be able to buy standard hurricane supplies at the store at this point, either, so you’ll have to make due with what you have or can still acquire.
Let me be absolutely clear, lest someone accuse me of recommending that people remain in their homes: remaining at home is not a wise course of action. If you haven’t been able to evacuate, here is a list of numbers that you can call to get help and get to a safe shelter before the storm hits. Do not wait until the storm hits to ask for help. Be proactive and do so now.
If you have absolutely no other option, below, you can find the best advice I can offer.
Water is sold out across the state. But, your taps are running just fine, right?
Fill every container you can get your hands on with tap water so that you have something to drink. It’s likely that you can still buy containers that will hold water. Get Mason jars, pitchers, canisters…whatever you can find to hold water. Then fill ALL of them, immediately. Use empty soda bottles or water jugs, too.
Fill one-gallon Ziploc bags with water and freeze them, allowing room for expansion. Not only will this provide drinking water, but the ice will help keep your food safe for longer.
When the storm is about to hit, fill sinks and bathtubs with water. This can be used for sanitation.
Fill prescriptions for any essential medications immediately. Plan for at least 2 weeks of medication to be on hand in the event that pharmacies are closed after the storm
If there’s anything available, buy food that doesn’t require any cooking. At this point, you can’t afford to be picky. Get enough for at least a week, preferably two.
Keep some cash on hand, preferably in small bills. If there is a regional power outage, you won’t be able to use a debit card or credit card during the aftermath. I suggest keeping several hundred dollars if you can.
There are shelters set up all across Florida for those who could not evacuate. You can find a list here. Florida governor Rick Scott said that if you need help you should ask now, because, “we can’t save you once the storm hits.” Particularly if you are in a manufactured or mobile home, there is practically zero chance it will be able to withstand winds of 180 mph or greater.
If you must stay in your home…
- Secure anything outside that could become a projectile. (Barbecues, bicycles, outdoor furniture.) If you can’t secure the items, bring them inside.
- Clear your rain gutters and downspouts. This will help reduce the risk of flooding in some cases.
- Trim trees. If you have branches hanging over your home, remove them if you can. If you can’t, do not use the room beneath the branches for shelter during the storm.
- Turn off propane and outdoor utilities. If recommended by officials, turn off the utilities to the house. If the power goes out, turn off your breakers to avoid potential surges.
- Unplug appliances except for the refrigerator and freezer. Set those at the coldest setting to keep your food safe for as long as possible in the event of a power outage.
- Board up your windows to reduce the risk of injury from flying glass. Keep curtains closed for added protection. Do NOT tape them – see the video below.
- Secure exterior doors. While it may not be sufficient, you can use a bar or place a large piece of furniture in front of them.
- Close all interior doors.
- Find the innermost, sturdy part of your home in which to take shelter during the worst part of the storm. Stay away from windows and skylights. A downstairs closet, hallway, or bathroom may be the best option. If you have a basement, this could provide the most safety. Shelter under a sturdy piece of furniture.
- In a high-rise, floors 3-10 are considered to be the safest. Above and below those floors, people should evacuate or take shelter between those floors.
- Watch for storm surges. If you’re near the coast, 10-20 foot storm surges are expected. Not only can these cause tremendous structural damage, but if you are caught in one, you could drown or suffer serious injuries by being slammed around by the water.
- Don’t be fooled by the eye of the storm. There is a lull during the eye of the storm that can deceive people into believing that the worst is over. Unfortunately, high winds are likely to pick back up again shortly, so don’t be caught off guard. This lull can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 45 minutes.
The following video has some useful tips.
And here are more expert tips from Hurricane Joaquin, a Category 4 hurricane that hit the East Coast in 2015:
The aftermath is dangerous, too.
Once you’ve survived the hurricane, you must take care to survive the aftermath. As we saw during Hurricane Harvey, a disaster of this level is the gift that keeps on giving. You must watch for:
- Health risks related to flooding
- Downed power lines
- Industrial dangers, like explosions, nuclear emergencies, and chemical spills
Just to name a few.
Florida isn’t the only place at risk.
Further up the coast, it is expected that Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina may be hit by Hurricane Irma as well. There are already mandatory evacuations in coastal regions of Georgia and South Carolina. Many stores are sold out of essential goods and some gas stations are empty of fuel.
Irma is not expected to hit Georgia and South Carolina until Monday and Tuesday, respectively. This means there is still a possibility of ordering some items online. (See this hurricane guide if you have more time to prepare.)
Any tips from those who have weathered a hurricane at home?
Please share your advice in the comments section below. Your suggestions could save someone’s life. Due to the extreme nature of this situation, I urge you to be civil. In other words, if you’re a jerk, I’m deleting your comments.
Very best wishes to those in the path of danger. Please keep us posted when you can.
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