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How to Stay Safe Before and After a Hurricane

storm warning sign

Editor's note: This story was updated October 10, 2018.

Sept. 11, 2018 -- When a hurricane bears down on where you live, how best can you prepare?

Melissa Dye, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service says a key task is to make sure you can get information about the storm. 

"You want to make sure you have multiple ways to get warnings and watches," says Dye.

Rely not just on the TV and computer, but have a battery-operated radio in case the power goes out, Dye says. Or carry a battery pack for your cell phone.

Make arrangements if possible for your pets, since not all hurricane shelters are pet-friendly. Gather their medical and veterinary records, plus current photos and information about their microchips, in case you get separated.

Plan your evacuation route, along with an alternate one. Communicate it to someone outside your area.

Food, Water, Gas, Cash

Fill up your car with gas so you'll be ready for evacuation orders. Make sure you have all your important documents, including passports, birth certificates, adoption papers, Social Security cards, citizenship papers, and insurance policies in one place so you can grab them and go.

If evacuation is necessary, be wary of flooded streets and other passageways. "It only takes 6 inches of moving water to knock down an adult," Dye says. "A foot of water can sweep away a [small] car." And 2 feet of moving water can carry away bigger vehicles.

Have some cash on hand. Dye says she and her husband try to keep $500 cash in an envelope to have money if banks and ATMs are closed.

As you wait for a possible evacuation order, you can also prepare for the other possibility: sheltering in place. "If you are not in the evacuation zone, you want to have maybe a week's worth of food and water," Dye says. For Hawaii, where everything is flown in, the advice is 14 days' worth.

For water, that means a gallon per person per day for drinking, and extra for washing dishes and other needs.

Fill bathtubs, washing machines, or lined large trash cans with water to use for cooking (boil it as you use it), cleaning, or flushing toilets.

Other Safety Tips

If you are sheltering in your house to ride out the storm, ''tie down items on your deck and outside, anything that may become flying debris and break a window," Dye says. If there's time, trim the trees so old branches won't come down in the storm.

Remember that during a hurricane, tornadoes can occur, ''so have a safe place in the middle of the house to go to,'' she says.

Use portable generators outside only to avoid the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.

After the Storm

Cleanup after a hurricane can carry health and injury risks. Government and other experts suggest these precautions after the storm:

  • If you have lung conditions, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), be especially careful if air pollution is bad after a storm.
  • Consider wearing protective masks such as N95 masks, which filter out 95% of fine airborne particles. They are available at home supply, medical supply, and hardware stores.
  • Watch the local air quality reports and stay inside when it's bad. The EPA website www.airnow.gov is a good information source.
  • Be on the lookout for mold, another health danger. It needs to be cleaned up quickly. To clean, mix one cup of household bleach with a gallon of clean water. Or mist the mold spores with rubbing alcohol. You may need a professional service to remove the mold.
  • Floodwaters are potential sources of toxic chemical and sewage, so avoid if possible. Skin infections can happen after exposure to floodwaters, especially if you have open wounds.
  • If you get a wound during flood cleanup, check to be sure you are up to date with your tetanus shot.
  • Standing water may be breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Wear insect repellent.
  • If you are in a shelter, being in close contact with so many others may raise your risk of catching colds or stomach illnesses. Get enough rest, and be aware of any signs that you need to see your doctor.
WebMD Article Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on September 11, 2018

Sources

Melissa Dye, meteorologist, National Weather Service, Honolulu.

Department of Homeland Security: "Hurricanes."

National Weather Service: "What to Do Before the Tropical Storm or Hurricane."

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