So as you may have seen on the Facebook page I was part of the Hurricane Florence response team provided by the NC National Guard. I was specifically part of a swift water rescue team that was stationed in New Bern. We helped a lot of people and saw some of the worst flooding in the state, only beaten by Lumberton, Jacksonville, and Wilmington. The damage done by the storm was intense. It is a lot different seeing something like that in person vs on the news. Quite a few homes were damaged beyond repair but most just needed to be gutted down to the frame. As if that isn’t some large, crazy expensive ordeal to go through. Some of the worst-hit areas were also some of the poorest. Rebuilding for them will be a lot harder, some didn’t even have flood insurance. Driving from New Bern to Kinston, normally a 35-45 minute drive, took us over an hour and a half due to road closures and having to be rerouted along different routes. New Bern was lucky in that there wasn’t any looting that took place as far as I can tell. I guess I should get to the main point of this post, lessons I learned and want to share so that if this does happen where you live, you will be even more prepared.
If you get a mandatory evacuation notice, please do everything you can to try to comply with it. I understand certain circumstances may prevent that, but try your best. Most local fire departments were driving people out to shelters if they couldn’t make it out themselves. If you can afford one, try to get a credit card with about a $3,000 limit. Use this for nothing else until a hurricane hits. Then use this to cover gas and hotels if you can’t find anywhere to stay. If you have a camper use it as an excuse to go camping at a park far enough away from the storm. Avoid shelters at all costs. The ones close to us filled up fast and only certain ones took people with pets (sanitation concerns) some didn’t have running water and most had only one nurse for medical care. And even then they could really only apply band-aids and call 911. We even heard multiple reports of people doing drugs in the bathrooms at some shelters. If it is the only place you can go, then it’s all you have. It’s better than nothing I suppose. If you can try to go to someone’s house farther inland. It would be a lot cheaper and you would not be at the mercy of local authorities for food, water, and medical care.
Power went out for most of New Bern before the storm even made landfall. Be prepared for the power to be out longer than you expected. Have more than 3 days of food and water. Have 2-3 weeks worth if you plan to stay in your home during a hurricane. An easy way to increase your water storage during a hurricane is to get a Waterbob. It’s a water bladder that fits in your tub. Just fill it from your faucet, it even comes with a pump! Most water heaters hold at least 50 gallons of water, keep in mind if you get a boil notice you will have to boil that water unless you turn off your water main before the storm hits. Keep a way to purify water, but boiling works as a last resort. Keep some Gatorade powder if you plan on using iodine, it can leave a funny taste and the Gatorade will make it easier to get your kids to drink it. Have food that doesn’t require much if any power to cook. Keep things like canned foods, crackers, top ramen, and canned meats. Make sure this food gets rotated otherwise it will be expired when you most need it. Have a way to cook this food that doesn’t require the power grid. Have a charcoal grill? Just keep some briquettes in a sealed 5-gallon bucket or two. Maybe invest in a kerosene camping stove (most can run on unleaded gas as well). We have a stove that runs on both and I keep a few gallons of kerosene. It’s nice knowing that I can siphon gas from my car (not our primary mode of transportation). See what you already have at your house, camping stoves would work better than nothing and you don’t even need to spend money on anything other than more fuel. Have some way to power your cell phone. A few power banks would come in handy, plus maybe even a small solar panel. After the storm left there was no shortage of sunshine, making solar panels a very viable option. Don’t expect to be able to surf Facebook and Instagram, but set up a time frame for check in’s with people that are just outside of the storm’s path. That way if you miss more than one check-in they will know to either alert nearby authorities or go try to get to you themselves. Have a plan that includes a non-cell tower reliant mode of communication. Having a ham radio (and required licenses) would come in handy here. Keep in mind if cell towers go down, 2m repeaters might go down as well. A base station plus a deep cycle marine battery would work a lot farther than a small handheld. The same thing applies here, use check-in windows to conserve battery. If you can, find a cheap lightweight canoe to keep in your attic. If flooding does get that high, you will have a way to get somewhere without worrying about drowning or swimming in that nasty water. Keep an ax as well so you have a way to get out of the attic. I wouldn’t keep many supplies up there but just have a plan to grab your disaster bags (I HATE the term “bug out bags” and will explain why in a later post) when you go up to the attic. Canoes can hold a lot of stuff and it won’t be on your back for most of the journey. Again, have a plan to meet someone once you find dry land so you aren’t wandering around with no place to go.
KEEP YOUR CARS AT NO LESS THAN A HALF TANK AT ALL TIMES. This isn’t just a good idea for hurricanes. Treat the half tank mark as your new empty line. This way you never run out of gas during normal times, and when disaster is imminent, fill up before it’s a day away and fill up a few 5 gallon gas cans (you should already keep a few at the house filled up) that way you can still get places when the gas stations run out. If you have 30 days of food and water you shouldn’t be driving much, but it’s still a good idea to keep your car filled and have extra on hand in case it gets worse after the storm.
Make sure you have any prescription medications refilled before the storm hits. Most insurance companies will be understanding and will bend on their refill schedule policies if you inform them that you are in the path of the impending storm. Keep a copy of your prescription with your disaster bags in case you do need to leave and your local pharmacy is one of the buildings that gets destroyed by the storm. Make sure your first aid kit is stocked and you have plenty of materials to clean wounds (rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, etc) if you think it might flood. That flood water will have a lot of nasty stuff in it.
If you have any trees on your property make sure you keep them trimmed so there is less chance of branches breaking off and damaging your house. Put away anything that could become a hazard during high winds. Patio furniture, potted plants, toys, etc. If you normally board up your windows during a storm, don’t just throw them away, label them and store them in your attic or anywhere you have free space. Try to keep them dry so when another storm comes through, you don’t have to add sheets of plywood to your pre-storm checklist. That’s right, have a checklist that you go over before a storm hits. Make sure you have all of this stuff. Print it out and laminate it. Check everything as soon as it looks like a storm MIGHT make landfall near where you live. Florence made landfall in Wilmington and New Bern still saw record amounts of rainfall and flooding.
All in all, it comes down to having a plan and making sure you stick to that plan. Don’t let a storm catch you by surprise, these are no joke.
Remember, stay safe, stay smart, stay prepared!