As Hurricane Sandy barrels up the East Coast, we Floridians are breathing a sigh of relief. At least this time we didn’t get hit. We hope the impact on our neighbors to the north is minor. But as a veteran of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Hurricane Wilma in 2005, I do have some advice on what hurricane supplies you really do and don’t need. You could waste a lot of money on preparations but you shouldn’t.
- Buy non-perishable food that you will eat whether or not your home is hit by the storm. Don’t stock up on canned food you won’t eat if you don’t have to. Buy peanut butter, apples, canned vegetables, granola bars, canned tuna and foods your family likes. It’s likely you’ll be able to get to a grocery store within three or four days, so don’t go overboard. If you have a grill, make sure you have charcoal or gas, because you’ll need to eat the food from your refrigerator. Do buy bottled water. While it’s unlikely the storm will cut the flow of water to your house, it could damage your city’s water treatment plant and make tap water undrinkable for a few days. Don’t forget pet food.
- Make sure you have powerful flashlights or lanterns and plenty of the right size batteries. You won’t believe how dark it can be with no city lights. Plus, all those electronic toys you usually use to amuse yourself won’t be available. You’ll need enough light to cook, read, play the piano, enjoy board games or puzzles, etc.
- If you have a conventional land line, make sure you have a telephone that works without electricity. Land lines almost always work when the power is out, sometimes better than cell phones – and always better than cell phones that can’t be charged. But you can’t use the phone if the only instrument you have (including portable phones with a handset you can carry around the house) requires electricity. That means keep an old Princess-style Trimline or other convention model handy to plug in.
- Get some cash. If your area experiences widespread power failures, you won’t be able to go to the bank or ATM. Stores that can open without electricity may not be able to take credit cards with no power. You may also need cash to pay people to cut up fallen tree limbs or clear debris from your property.
- Fill your car with gas. If the power is out, you won’t be able to pump gas and you may end up having to drive long distances to find open stores and restaurants.
- Refill any prescriptions you’ll need for the next few weeks. Power failures and flooding could close pharmacies and doctor’s offices. Check your stash of over-the-counter drugs, too. You may not be able to run to the corner store for antihistamine, aspirin, or antiseptic cream. If you have an infant, check your stock of diapers and formula.
- Keep a stash of old-school tools you’ll need to survive without power: manual can opener, matches, coffee filters and ground coffee for making coffee if you have a gas stove, paper plates and cups, hammer, screwdriver, pliers and duct tape. If you camp, dig those cans of Sterno and your camp stove out of the basement. You may also want to dig out sweaters, blankets and long underwater in case your house goes unheated for a week.
I am here to tell you that you can live 15 days without electricity (Wilma, 2005) but I hope you won’t have to. At least you won’t miss ice and air conditioning.
The Miami Herald has an extensive hurricane preparation and recovery guide on its website. While some of the information is geared to South Florida, a lot of it applies anywhere. Hurricane veterans, what am I leaving out? What supplies and preparation do you find essential.
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