Planning, patience go a long way

You might be on your own for days or weeks, so think before - and after - a storm hits.

By Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council
Published May 29, 2005


The 2004 hurricane season demonstrated some key lessons. Inland Polk County experienced sustained winds of 95 to 100 mph, with gusts to 115 mph, from Hurricane Charley. Exiting storms Frances and Jeanne caused extensive flooding and wind damage in in Polk, northeast Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties. Except for Polk, though, the Tampa Bay area experienced only sustained tropical storm conditions - not hurricane - with the strongest gusts measuring 79 mph.

After a tropical storm or hurricane strikes, you may be without power and many of the services you rely on (water, sewer, phone, cell phone and businesses). Understand that gas stations, supermarkets, restaurants, and city and county governments just went through the same storm you did and there will be an interruption in services while repairs are made. Immediate response may not be possible, so residents must be prepared to be self-reliant for three days or even weeks.


Be patient. Access to affected areas will be controlled. You won't be able to return to your home until search and rescue operations are complete and safety hazards, such as downed trees and power lines, are cleared. It may take up to three days for emergency crews to reach your neighborhood. It may take two to four weeks before utilities are restored.

Stay tuned to your local radio station for advice and instructions about medical aid, food and other forms of assistance.

Have valid ID. Security operations will include checkpoints. Avoid driving. Roads will have debris that will puncture tires. Don't add to the congestion of relief workers, supply trucks, law enforcement, etc.

Don't sightsee, especially at night.


Avoid downed or dangling utility wires. Metal fences may have been "energized" by fallen wires. Be especially careful when cutting or clearing fallen trees. They may have power lines tangled in them.

Beware of snakes, insects or animals driven to higher ground by floods.

Enter your home with caution. Open windows and doors to ventilate and dry your home.

If there has been flooding, have an electrician inspect your home or office before turning on the breaker.

Be careful with fire. Do not strike a match until you are sure there are no breaks in gas lines. Avoid candles. Use battery-operated flashlights and lanterns instead.

Keep grills and generators outdoors in a well-ventilated area.

Use your telephone only for emergencies to keep lines open for emergency communications.

Call professionals to remove large uprooted trees, etc.

Always use proper safety equipment such as heavy gloves, safety goggles, heavy boots, light-colored long-sleeve shirts and long pants.

Tie back long hair, wear a hat and sunscreen.

Drink plenty of fluids, rest and ask for help when you need it.

Lift with the legs, not with the back.

Don't burn trash.

If you can't identify it, don't touch it.

Be extremely careful with a chain saw and always heed safety warnings.


Make temporary repairs to correct hazards and minimize further damage: Cover holes in the roof, walls or windows, remove debris and so forth.

Only hire licensed contractors to do repairs. Check with the local building department to ensure the contractor is licensed. If you hire a contractor, don't pull the permits for him. Take photographs of all damage before repairs and keep receipts for insurance purposes.

After assessing damage to your home, contact your local building department for information on required building permits. Permits are always required for any kind of demolition or permanent repairs, reconstruction, roofing and site development. Report illegal flood plain development to your local building department.

Local ordinances do not permit dumping in drainage canals or ditches. Report illegal dumping.


Widespread flooding can cause bacterial contamination. Bacteria, such as shigella and salmonella, can lead to life-threatening dehydration for people and their pets if untreated by antibiotics. Disinfect any tapwater you drink or use for cooking or cleaning. You must purify the tapwater until officials notify you of its safety. Bring water to a rolling boil for a full minute or use chemicals (eight drops of chlorine bleach or iodine per gallon) or water purification tablets, as directed. Let the water sit at least 10 minutes before using. Water you saved in clean containers before the storm will be fine for two to three weeks. To be sure, add two drops of chlorine or iodine per gallon before drinking.


With flooding and high winds, you can assume you will experience some power loss. Power companies want to get the power back online as soon as possible, but Floridians need to have realistic expectations.

Crews cannot be deployed into the neighborhoods before the winds die down.

There is a priority restoration plan: critical facilities (like hospitals, nursing homes, fire stations, 911 centers and shelters) are first, then those repairs that will bring the most residents and businesses back online the quickest. Be patient.

Unplug as many appliances and other electrical equipment as possible to avoid shock and surges when power is restored.

First use perishable food and foods from the refrigerator, then use foods from the freezer. (To minimize the number of times you open the freezer door, post a list of freezer contents on it. In a well-filled, well-insulated freezer, foods will usually still have ice crystals in their centers - meaning the foods are safe to eat - for at least three days. However, do not refreeze defrosted foods once power is restored.) Use nonperishable foods and staples last.

For emergency cooking, you can use a charcoal grill or camp stove (outdoors only). You also can heat food with candle warmers, chafing dishes and fondue pots.

Canned foods can be eaten right out of the can. If you heat it in the can, be sure to open the can and remove the label first.