blue_roofThe good thing about a hurricane is that Mother Nature has decided to give us a heads up.  Those hurricanes just kind of amble along taking their sweet time and leaving a path of destruction behind them.  Even the fast moving ones still give us enough time to prepare our homes, brace ourselves, or evacuate. 

I have lived in Pensacola, Florida which is on the Gulf Coast near the Alabama border for fifteen years so this Southern Traveling Mom is no stranger to tropical storms and hurricanes.  As I am reading all the tweets about Hurricane Irene, my heart begins to race for them as I remember our adventure with Mr. Hurricane Ivan.

We always think that it isn’t going to happen to us, right?  When I was in college, we had hurricane parties in our dorm.  When I was newly married, we used the time off of work to go on a last minute vacation.  That all changed in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan wobbled around in the Gulf before it finally set its sights on my surrounding area.  We decided to ride it out with a four week old…something I will probably never do again.  Not with a four year old and not with a 14 year old…no matter how old my children are, we will probably leave the city.  Now, just the thought of a hurricane in the Gulf sends me into a panic and makes me start preparing.

My house is not in an evacuation zone, we are not in a flood zone, and we are located in some of the highest elevations of the city (although how high can that be when you live 30 minutes for the beach?!) but we still had thousands of dollars worth of damage.  We did what we always do in preparation for a hurricane.  We boarded up our windows, brought all of our outside stuff inside and we doubled our already replenished hurricane supply kit…just in case. We cleared out the hall closet and put my four week old son in his bouncy seat.  This is where we spent the night while we rode out the storm. 

If you have never been through a hurricane (major or minor), you may not know what to expect after the storm.  We certainly didn’t.  We had to camp in our front yard because our house lacks a cross breeze and it was cooler outside than it was in the house.  We boiled baby bottles on the camp stove to clean them.  We ate like kings as we cleaned out our freezer and tried to use whatever we could before it spoiled.  After about a week of this, my husband got transferred to another city so that he could go back to work but here are a few things that we learned during that week after Hurricane Ivan:

First, always heed warnings and mandatory evacuations.  Police officers, rescue teams, fire departments and more will not be able to get to you if you don’t heed the warnings and you need help.  It might not be physically possible due to the storm and it is putting other people in danger.

The first 72 are on you.  You may have heard this before but it means that the first 72 hours after a natural disaster are on you.  Nobody else, not the government, not your kid’s elementary school, not your neighbor, is responsible for making sure that you have bottled water and canned goods immediately after a storm and states may differ in the way that they handle emergencies.  You should have a fully stocked hurricane kit with enough non-perishable food and water for each family member (and we always have extra just in case).  Have enough batteries to run your emergency items (radios, etc) but also a few extra for the baby swing, favorite toys and more.  Have a full tank of gas in your car. If you have an infant, make sure you are prepared with more diapers and formula then you could ever use in a few weeks.  When the stores do open, these are the first things to fly off the shelves besides water.  The one thing a lot of people forget is to get cash out of the ATM’s.  ATM’s don’t work when the power goes out and when it comes on, the cash get withdrawn quickly and replenished not so quickly.

You will most likely lose power and potable water if you are in the storm’s path.  We lose power during a bad thunderstorm so I knew this was a sure thing but I wasn’t prepared for the length of time that we had power loss.  When the power goes out, the hospital grids and grids of similar importance are usually the first ones to go back on.  Depending on the damage, it could be weeks before you get power.  We lost power for two weeks and potable water for even longer.  Be sure your grill’s propane tank is full and properly stored.  If you have them, get your camp stoves ready.  Buy a hand held can opener.  Make ice blocks in every Tupperware container you have available.  The ice will be good to throw in coolers once your fridge and freezer have started to cool off.  Fill all your big jugs, pitchers, and jars with water.  We had plenty of bottled water but our water was not potable for weeks.  We used the water in the pitchers to brush our teeth, rinse off dishes, and more.

Even if you aren’t directly on the coast, you will probably still have damage.  If you are located inland in the hurricane’s path, one of the major dangers is the many tornadoes that will spawn from the hurricane.  We don’t know exactly how many came through our neighborhood but the trees twisted in unnatural ways are evidence that we did have a few.

Buy a chainsaw and make sure it is ready to go (or make friends with someone who has one!).  Trees will fall down.  Even the ones that you think won’t ever fall.  We had an oak tree that has probably been standing there for over 100 years crash to the ground and block the road.  It took more than five men with chainsaws to cut it up into manageable pieces so it could be moved and people could leave the neighborhood.    

If you are going to leave town before or after the storm, be prepared for any situation.  One of the main bridges out of town collapsed during Ivan and the others weren’t open until they had been certified as safe.  We crawled a whopping ten miles in almost four hours as we were trying to leave the city a week after the storm. 

Do your laundry before the storm.  If the power is out, your washing machine isn’t going to work and you will want clean clothes!

Talk to your kids.  Even if you are able to hide that you are nervous or scared, your kids will probably sense that something is up.  Prepare them with what is going to happen and afterwards have them help with the cleanup in little ways.  One of our local schools created a book about their experience.  It is called When the Hurricane Blew and includes stories, drawings, and activities.  FEMA has an entire website full of information about disaster preparation and more written in ways that kids will understand.  Kids Get a Plan with FloridaDisaster.org is a great resource for families.  There are games, activities, contests and more to help your family prepare. 

Photo courtesy USACEpublicaffairs via Flickr.