Beyond the hurricane kit
How you prepare not just for the storm but for its aftermath could make the difference between misery and relative comfort.
By TAMARA LUSH
Published April 16, 2006
[Times photo (2005): Melissa Lyttle]
|A Miami Beach Fire Rescue firefighter exits a restaurant destroyed by Hurricane Wilma last year. The restaurant, in Miami’s South Beach area, couldn’t be saved.
MIAMI - On the gray October day last year that Hurricane Wilma struck South Florida with 120 mph winds, everything was fine at my house: no flooding, no roof damage and no casualties.
Sure, I lost power - that was a given during such a powerful storm - as did 6-million others throughout the region.
But the biggest problems came in the days - and weeks - after the hurricane: long gas lines. No ice. And of course, no electricity.
The gas and ice soon reappeared, but the electricity didn't.
This posed its own set of challenges. For 12 long days, I was without air conditioning, television and refrigerated food the soggy FEMA handout in the cooler didn't really count as food, refrigerated or otherwise. Not a comfortable situation, of course, yet one that I didn't want to complain about too much, given the situation on the Gulf Coast because of Hurricane Katrina.
But there were a few things that made those 12 long, dark days tolerable. Since I had been without power for seven days during Katrina (it hit Miami first on its way to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast), I had developed a system of sorts for managing the chaos that comes after a hurricane.
Many South Floridians have similar coping tips. And that's why we have a message for all you folks in the Tampa Bay area: Don't prepare just for the hurricane. Prepare for after the hurricane.
By no means is this a comprehensive list. Nor is it a substitute for the essential hurricane kit. But these are useful tidbits that could make you feel more comfortable and less like a cast member on Survivor.
Prepare early: Stock up on anything you think will make your life easier, whether it is a favorite shelf-stable food product, a battery-powered TV or a miner's headlamp. I bought a battery-powered Coleman lantern (it's so cute, about 4 inches high, and converts into a flashlight) and two coolers, one for beverages, the other for food.
Premoistened towelettes don't take the place of a shower, but they do eliminate the sweaty smell.
Don't forget some diversions: for the kids, make sure they have batteries for their GameBoys. For adults who drink alcohol, make sure you have a good bottle of liquor handy. (I'm not recommending overindulging. This is a time to drink responsibly. You need your wits about you.)
Put everything in a plastic, waterproof box so all of the hurricane supplies can be accessed without groping around several areas of the house.
In the hours before a storm, Janice Lee of Miami Beach leaves nothing to chance. She freezes filled water bottles ahead of time (easier to use in a cooler than ice) and fills the tub and several clean garbage cans with water (so she can flush the toilet).
Lee also invested in a gas stove and water heater, which means that she could cook and have hot showers even though there was no electricity.
Most important, Lee gassed up her car before the storm, so she wouldn't have to wait in the long, frustrating lines.
Eat well: The minute the hurricane passes, Lee cooks everything in her fridge and freezer and feeds her friends and family.
"We eat like crazy for a couple of days, then eat crackers the rest of the time,'' she said.
If you don't have a gas stove, stock up on charcoal briquettes and lighter fluid before the storm. These items were nonexistent in South Florida after Wilma, and I even saw people selling them on the street at a huge markup.
Donald Glucksman of Miami Beach swears by the shelf-stable boxes of Parmalat milk. They don't need refrigeration and will allow the kids to have cereal in the morning.
Make an attempt to eat healthy foods. Canned fruit and a peanut butter sandwich on wheat bread is better than a bag of Fritos and a Snickers.
Don't try to keep things cool in your freezer by throwing a few bags of ice inside. I did this during Katrina; it resulted in a watery mess in the freezer and on the kitchen floor and didn't save any of the items inside. Put everything you want to save in a cooler and then put frozen water bottles around those items.
It's generally best to treat those electricity-free days as though you are camping. Eat trail mix and tell ghost stories around the Coleman lantern.
Off the grid: Some people buy generators before, during or after a storm. Roger Ulbrich had an alternative during Wilma: He bought an Uninterruptible Power Supply, a.k.a. UPS. This handy little box (with a battery inside) goes between your computer and the AC wall outlet. Ulbrich had bought a top-of-the-line model for about $250, which meant that he had about eight hours of computer capability. Ulbrich also discovered that he could run his TV off the UPS.
Another idea: Enjoy the solitude. One of my most memorable nights during the Wilma aftermath came when I uncorked a bottle of wine, lit some candles and listened to a jazz station on my battery-powered radio. It was the first time in months that I just sat and did nothing.
It felt gooooood.
Insurance: Don't ignore it.
Make sure you know how much your home is insured for, and make sure that it isn't underinsured. Richard Price, president of the Tuscany Homeowners' Association in Delray Beach, said that some of the condo owners in his complex were very underinsured. Some of them hadn't upgraded their insurance since they bought their units almost 20 years ago. When the roofs flew off and entire buildings were condemned, their payouts weren't enough to cover repairs, a special assessment and a place to stay during the rebuilding process.
"Don't take things for granted,'' he advised.
Price, whose own condo was destroyed by rainwater during Wilma, took photos of everything in his unit before the storm.
"Then, after it hit and everything got damaged, we took photos again,'' he said.
It sounds silly, but make sure you know where your insurance paperwork is. You don't want to discover after the storm that the paperwork was destroyed or lost.
The same goes for your vehicle, which may be more at risk for sustaining damage. Check to see if you have comprehensive vehicle coverage. I did, and I'm glad. My car was so scratched by Wilma that it needed a new paint job. (I had parked it away from trees and poles, but I think a big piece of aluminum was the culprit.) I had comprehensive coverage and paid only a $25 deductible for a $5,000 job.
Deal with it: If your family, friends and pets are alive after a major storm, count your blessings. If your home made it through unscathed, if your car wasn't badly damaged, if your landscaping came through okay, then say a prayer of thanks. Be grateful and try to keep things in perspective. Go outside and play with your kids. Read a book. Take a walk. Don't stress about not having life's daily conveniences.
Or, as Janice Lee put it: "You don't have to have ice and cold water to survive.''
Tamara Lush can be reached at (727) 893-8612 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Last modified April 13, 2006, 16:22:00]
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