For those in the storm areas, and those watching and waiting from afar, here are some important safety tips.
Q: How do I contact someone in the affected area?
A: You can of course try calling. Many landlines will be down, but some are operating. If you use your mobile phone, you may get a busy signal because mobile bandwidth may be overloaded in the storm areas, or some cell towers may be damaged. If you can’t reach someone by phone, try texting. All of the wireless carriers are recommending people text because it has a greater chance of getting through and will use less battery power of the person you’re trying to reach.
If that doesn’t work and you’re trying to contact someone in the area who may be housebound or evacuated, contact FEMA (800-621-FEMA) or the American Red Cross (800-RED-CROSS). Both have Internet locators where people in the storm areas can register their names to let their loved one(s) know where they are, and if they are safe. FEMA’s site is called the National Emergency Family Registry and Locator System (https://egateway.fema.gov/inter/nefrls/home.htm). The Red Cross has a site called “Safe and Well” that offers the same service. (https://safeandwell.communityos.org/cms/index.php).
Q: Once the power is out, how long will refrigerated foods last?
Refrigerated foods, once the power is off, will stay cold for about four to six hours. To increase the time, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed.
If a freezer is full, the temperature will be maintained for about 48 hours. If it's half full of food, figure 24 hours.
Q: What foods should be eaten first, after power is off?
Start by eating leftovers, meat, poultry, and any foods with milk, cream, soft cheese, or sour cream.
If frozen foods still contain ice crystals, they may still be safely cooked and eaten (or re-frozen, if power is restored).
Fruits that were frozen can be eaten if they still taste and smell good.
Vegetables that are completely thawed shouldn't be eaten, since bacteria multiply quickly.
If meat or poultry has thawed and has been warmer than 40 degrees F for two hours, discard it.
Discard melted ice cream.
Some foods typically refrigerated keep at room temperature for a few days. Among them: butter, margarine, hard cheese, fresh fruit, and vegetables (except sprouts or fresh, sliced fruit), fruit juice, dried fruits, or coconut. Opened jars of vinegar-based salad dressing, jelly, relishes, taco sauce, and barbecue sauce are typically also OK to eat. Mustard, ketchup, and olives generally keep at room temperature for a few days, too.