As Hurricane Michael came ashore last fall with 155 mph winds, my mom, dad, daughter and I hunkered down on the family farmhouse in the Florida Panhandle. Like many of our neighbors, we decided to ride out the storm at home, lulled by early forecasts that winds would not pose a grave danger to life and property. But my family (and our pets), were soon in the middle of one of the worst storms to ever hit the Sunshine State.
My family has lived in this rural area north of the Gulf coast since 1963. We’d seen many hurricanes come and go over the years, but we were not prepared for what was labeled a “Monster of a Storm”. I learned a big lesson: You can never be too prepared and if you have time, get out of the storm’s path. And never forget: forecasts can change by the hour. I know from experience.
We spent 3 terrifying hours on Oct. 10 as catastrophic winds bent over trees and rolled over the top of the family home like a vengeful monster out to destroy everything in its path. I watched my daughter clutch her Rosary Beads in her hands and begin to pray as the wind grabbed a 40-year-old, 50 feet high sycamore tree and drop it like a toothpick. All the surrounding trees that stood more than 40 feet tall snapped like twigs, one after another.
My parents’ house is over 45 years old built with bricks and a metal roof. This house has withstood numerous hurricanes with little or no damage. On this particular day as Michael blew through our house/property, the winds started increasing in speed and the house began shaking like someone just picked the house up and shook it. The windows rattled as if they were going to blow out and fly through the house. The rainwater started pouring in through the air-conditioning vents and windows. My mom and I were grabbing any and everything we could to stop the water from flooding the house.
While we all had moved to a safer place in the house, we heard a terrifying noise of metal twisting. The noise turned out to be the roof lifting off of the house and being set back down. I have been an emergency room nurse for many years. I have seen and dealt with many things in my career, but that was nothing compared to this hurricane. I have never been so afraid in my life of what this storm could possibly do to my family, my town, and me. Every time we thought the storm was over the wind and rain would start again. My family and I attempted to comfort each other and stay positive.
Finally, the storm was over. With tears in my eyes, I turned to my 85-year-old father and said, “I am so sorry. We should have left as you suggested.”
We felt lucky that we came through without injury although the family farm was extensively damaged. Hurricane Michael was blamed for many deaths with the toll rising in the Panhandle and more than $5.6 billion in property damage.
In short, we thought we were prepared, but we were not. Can you really prepare for a Category 4 hurricane? Listed below are recommendations from the Red Cross and my personal experiences to assist one to prepare for a hurricane or similar disaster.
Listen to NOAA weather station/local radio stations, weather band radio
Check your disaster supplies
Water-one gallon per person (needed a lot more due to use to bathe in and flush toilets, fill the bathtubs for water for the toilets)
Flashlights/extra batteries (a lot of extra batteries)
First aid kit
Medications 7 day supply at least
Personal and sanitation needs (baby wipes)
Copies of personal documents (insurance forms especially)
Cell phone with chargers (only had one cellular company up and running so may not help except to take pictures)
Fans that run on batteries and has USB port
Family and emergency contacts
Extra cash ( credit/debit card system down due to no power)
Baby and pet supplies
Tools for securing home (had to cut our way out of our road)
Extra set of car and house keys, clothing, hat and sturdy shoes
Rain gear, insect repellant
Camera for recording damages (recommend pictures before and after)
Lots and lots of batteries (used so many batteries)
Generator (wish we would have had one prior)
I personally recommend you retrieve these items before the disaster, due to supplies are limited after. Think of the “Black Friday Sale “after Thanksgiving and all the people vying for the same things.
Bring in anything that can be picked up by the wind
Close windows, doors, and Hurricane shudders If you don’t have Hurricane shudders, board up all windows and doors with plywood. (Please remember to take them down after. Stay away from windows and doors during the storm. Find a safe place in the house)
Turn refrigerator and freezer down to the coldest setting and keep them closed as much as possible (Ice is a hot commodity after the storm.)
Unplug small appliances and turn off propane tanks
Fill your car’s gas tanks (My daughter did not want to fill hers with regular gas before the storm, due to that is not what her car usually takes, but that was all that was left to purchase. Gas was almost impossible to find after the storm without driving a long distance.)
Your communities’ hurricane response plan: Shelters etc.
EVACUATE IF ADVISED BY AUTHORITIES (We were not in the evacuation area, but we should have.)
Homeowner’s insurance plan (Please review this before a disaster! Many people in my hometown are paying the price for not knowing their policy.)
After the Hurricane:
Continue listening to the NOAA radio and the local stations (This is all that we had to keep us updated on information to survive the aftermath of in of the worst storms in history. These radios stations were on 24/7 and supplied us with so much information that helped us through the weeks after the hurricane (yes I said weeks!)
Stay alert for extended rainfall and flooding
If you evacuated, return home only when officials say it is safe. (Curfews are usually in effect too.)
Drive only if necessary (Many people were on the roads when need not to be. Very Dangerous!)
Keep away from loose or dangling power lines and report them immediately to the power company (Don’t forget cell phones, and the Internet does not work without power. How we forget so easily that we need power to use pretty much everything today! Once again, I recommend listening to the local radio stations even if it’s in your car which is what we had to do.)
Stay out of any building that has water in it
Inspect your home for damages and take as many pictures as possible for the insurance company. (As soon as possible, call your insurance company. It can take weeks just to get them out to your home.)
Use flashlights in the dark. Do not use candles.
Avoid using or preparing food with tap water until you’re sure it is not contaminated.
Check refrigerator and freezer for spoiled food.
Wear protective clothing and be careful when cleaning up debris etc. (sunscreen, protective clothes, and hats)
Watch animals closely and keep them under your direct control (Many of my friends lost their pets in the storm and/or pets are seen wandering around town lost.)
Use the telephone only for emergencies if able. (Fortunately for us, 911 and emergency messages still came through on our phones,)
There are so many other things that one can do before, during, and after the storm to prepare and survive. I would recommend doing research on all the above to be prepared for by researching the internet and emergency management agencies’ resources. Hopefully, one will never have to experience a hurricane or any other kind of disaster, but if one does, I sincerely hope that this article will help with the preparation and survival from disasters. Last but not least, a big thank you to all those who worked together following Hurricane Michael to begin to assist with piecing together the life’s of my town and family back together. “ #850STRONG”
Hurricane Michael (1)-5 (1).docx