Hurricane Andrew with cold beerBy Matthew Stein, P.E. NOTE: the following is excerpted from Chapter 13 of my book, When Disaster Strikes: A Comprehensive Guide Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival, published by Chelsea Green Publishing

Hurricanes and Floods


When a hurricane is approaching, and/or floodwaters are rising, it is the wrong time to wish you had planned ahead. I strongly suggest that you use this chapter, along with the first 8 chapters (the “core” of this book) to help you plan ahead to cope with hurricanes and floods. When deciding whether to pack and go (evacuate), or to stay and make a stand, if your life is at stake, or the lives of your loved ones, it is wiser to err on the side of caution. The vast majority of nearly 2,000 deaths attributed to Hurricane Katrina could have been avoided had those people evacuated ahead of time. Remember, whenever there is a hurricane warning, there will be a run on items like matches, flashlights, candles, plywood, milk, bread, first-aid kits, and generators. The procrastinators get the dregs of what is left on the shelves after they have been picked over, which in some cases is nothing of any use in an emergency!

This chapter covers hurricane and flood survival tips, how to improve the resistance of your home to hurricanes, checklists of items to have on hand and action items to take care of beforehand, and tips for dealing with the aftermath, including toxic mold (in the case of flooding).

Hurricane and Flood Survival Tips

Here is a list of essential items and tips for surviving a flood or a hurricane:
1. Axe and life preservers. Stash an axe and life preservers in the upper story, or attic, of your home. Remember, most of the drowning victims of Hurricane Katrina were people who stayed in their homes and found themselves trapped by rising waters with no place to go. Many drowned in their attics, unable to break through the roof to the outside. A few bucks spent on these items ahead of time could save your life! Having a small boat on hand, such as an inflatable raft or canoe, is a good idea, but it shouldn’t take the place of a life preserver, which will keep you afloat, and your head above water, even if knocked unconscious.

2. Water is critical. Water is absolutely essential for human survival; it plays a part in all of the body’s biochemical reactions. You may not believe it, but most of us could survive for several weeks without food, yet a single day without water in extreme heat can kill a person. Water requirements vary depending on activity level and temperature. The absolute minimum for survival, with little or no activity and cool conditions, is about 1 quart of drinking water per day, and 2 quarts of water per day will usually sustain moderate activity at an acceptable level of comfort under moderate conditions (you will feel somewhat dehydrated). More than 1 quart of water every hour can be required to perform heavy physical labor under extremely hot conditions. Typically allow for at least 1 gallon per person per day, and in desert climates, or hot humid climates, a realistic figure is to allow for 3 gallons per day per person.

3. Fill your bathtub and tape off your toilets. After a major hurricane or flood hits, the public water system may be polluted, or entirely shut down, for weeks. Immediately fill your bathtubs, sinks, and other available containers with water. This will provide your household with a short-term supply of clean, potable water. There is a supply of clean, potable water in the toilet tanks, hot-water heater, and piping in your house. When you notice that the tap water has stopped flowing, conserve the water in your toilet tanks (the tanks, not the bowl, contain potable water) and immediately notify all other occupants to not flush the toilets. Caution: Do not drink the toilet tank water if you use an automatic toilet cleaner with blue toilet water.

4. Drain your water heater and pipes. Water heaters are supplied with a vent located near the top of the tank and a drain near the bottom of the tank. Open the top vent (pull on the little lever on the spigot) and drain the tank into containers as needed. If there is dirt and sediment in the water coming out of the tank, do not discard this water. Simply allow the sediment to settle and drink the water off the top. Make sure you turn off the electricity or gas to your water heater before draining or it will be ruined! Crack an upper faucet and open a lower hose bib or faucet to drain a gallon or two of water out of your home’s piping.

5. Water filters and treatment chemicals. I know from experience that after having gone without water for more than a day in extreme heat, most anyone would willingly drink from the scummiest, most disgusting source of water, if that was the only available option! If you must evacuate your home, carrying a personal water supply on your back would be extremely difficult (at a gallon per person per day, a family of four would go through 100 pounds of water in three days). Floodwaters are usually extremely contaminated with farm waste, human sewage, and industrial chemicals, so I highly recommend you purchase a bacteriological backcountry-type water filter that has a carbon core to also remove toxic chemicals, bad tastes, and odors. You can chemically treat surface water with household tincture of iodine (5 drops per quart) and pure chlorine bleach (4 drops per quart) and by allowing water to stand for thirty minutes. See chapter 8 for full water-treatment details and my personal water-filter recommendations (I design these things for a living, so I know what I am talking about). Boiling for just one minute will kill all waterborne organisms, but will do nothing to remove toxic chemicals, bad tastes, and odors. [also see free article on this web site]

6. 72-hour grab-and-go survival kit. Every family should have at least one grab-and-go kit that can be thrown in the car on a moment’s notice, or carried on your back, if the need should arise. Grab-and-go kits should provide the basic emergency food, water, shelter, and first-aid supplies that you, and your family, will need to survive the critical first three days after a disaster. See chapter 2 for a full list of all the supplies I recommend to include in a well stocked grab-and-go kit [also see free article on this web site].

7. Store your grab-and-go kits in “dry packs.” If you live in hurricane country, or an area prone to flooding, I strongly recommend you purchase a “dry pack” for each of your grab-and-go kits. Dry packs are a special combination backpack and waterproof bag used by river guides. They have removable padded shoulder straps, are made of extremely tough waterproof material, and are 100 percent sealed against water intrusion, so in addition to keeping your stuff dry in a deluge, they can also double as floatation devices to help keep you afloat in floodwaters. A dry pack stocked and ready to go for every member of your family is cheap insurance if you live in an area prone to hurricanes and/or floods!10. Aqua Knot Yellow copy
Figure 13-1. A “dry pack” provides waterproof storage. Photo courtesy of Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS)

8. Colloidal silver generator. After a hurricane or flood, homemade colloidal silver will purify drinking water and will help fight infection and viruses when high-tech pharmaceuticals may be unavailable or ineffective. All hospitals use silver-based ointments to fight infection in severe burn victims, where traditional antibiotics are simply not enough to fight the infection over large areas of burned skin. See chapter 6 for more details.

9. Disaster plan. Formulate a disaster plan, including out-of-town contacts (relatives, family, friends, etc.) and a central meeting place where your family should gather if separated and local communications are cut. When a widespread disaster strikes, you will usually be able to reach friends or family outside of the disaster area long before local communications can be reestablished. See chapter 2 for full details on preparing your family disaster plan. If you live near a coastal area, make an evacuation plan with a known destination at least 50 miles inland. [also see free article on this web site]

10. Waterproof LED headlamp. I highly recommend that you purchase a waterproof backcountry type headlamp with LED bulbs. Headlamps leave your hands free to carry things, or work on things. LED bulbs use a fraction of the power, are far more shock resistant, and last far longer than traditional lightbulbs, so your batteries (don’t forget to stock spares) last many times longer. If you had to, you could even swim across a raging river in total darkness with your dry bag, a life preserver, and a headlamp.

Several years ago, my friends David and Nancy flew to the island of Kauai for their vacation. On the first day of their vacation, they went for a walk on the beach. As they gazed out to sea, they watched a dark and sinister looking cloud build and boil on the horizon. When the waterline receded about 20 feet out to sea, they knew that something serious was about to hit. They rushed back to their rented cottage, a mile down the beach and a few houses back from the shore. By the time they reached their cottage, the winds had increased to over 80 miles per hour as Hurricane Iniki approached the Island. Since David was an employee of the public utility district in a mountain community, he knew the importance of preserving a supply of potable water. Immediately, he filled all the sinks and bathtubs in the house with water and instructed the other occupants not to flush toilets or wash with the stored water.
As the day progressed, winds increased to an almost unbelievable 175 miles per hour. The terrified occupants crouched in corners, away from windows, and watched fearfully as large chunks of the neighboring houses blew by. Their house was constantly pelted with flying debris and the roar of the wind was deafening. Hours later, when the storm cleared, there was an eerie silence. Downed trees cluttered the roads, making automotive travel impossible. The stores quickly ran out of food and water. The water that David had stored in the bathtubs and sinks provided drinking water for several households. It took more than three weeks to restore electricity and water to most of the island.

How to Improve the Hurricane Resistance of Your Home

Here is a list of things you can do to improve the chances that your home will survive a hurricane in decent shape. These items are best attended to well ahead of time, since the materials to accomplish many of these tasks are usually in short supply shortly after a hurricane warning is issued, and these tasks require careful attention and focus to be properly executed.

• Protect your windows, if possible. The best protection is offered by roll-down hurricane shutters that are quite popular in the Caribbean, but any storm shutters are better than nothing.
• Plywood works too, use ½ inch or thicker exterior grade plywood, such as “CDX.” Mark each plywood storm window covering with an understandable code so you can use them again the next time a hurricane approaches. A coating of paint will ensure that your plywood shutters survive their time in storage to protect you another day. For a speedy installation, use a cordless drill to drive deck screws. To ensure that high winds don’t suck the plywood right off the screw heads, place wide washers (fender type) under the heads of each deck screw.
• Ensure that your roof is in good shape, with no loose or missing tiles or shingles. Install special hurricane clips on the edges of metal roofing to reduce the likelihood of your roof peeling off in high winds. I suggest you
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enlist a qualified roofing contractor for hurricane-readiness roofing inspections and upgrades.
• Caulk all seams on your home’s exterior sheeting, and around windows. Winds over 100 mph can drive a lot of water through a tiny crack!
• If your home is more than a few years old, check for proper structural hurricane clips and ties between the roof rafters and the wall framing. You will probably need a licensed contractor or home inspector for this job, and a contractor to do the upgrades. For buildings subject to moist salty air, especially ocean-front homes, inspect your existing hurricane clips and Simpson Strong Ties for corrosion, and replace or upgrade as necessary. Old hurricane clips that are mostly rusted through will do little to hold down the roof of your home in ferocious hurricane winds!
• Inspect the home’s foundation for resistance to erosion from floodwaters, and take erosion control measures if you suspect that the foundation might be endangered by floodwaters. Remember, if your foundation fails, your whole house goes down!
• Keep trees and palm fronds well trimmed, and your property free of clutter and loose debris. Remember, a branch, board, or other loose debris can become a lethal weapon when driven by 100-plus mph winds!
• Review your insurance papers and read the fine print. Floods are not covered by most homeowner’s policies unless you have a specific clause or policy for flood insurance. Many Hurricane Katrina victims found out the hard way that their insurance policies were inadequate!

When a Hurricane Is Closing In . . .

When it looks like a hurricane is headed for your area, here is a checklist of items that should be attended to:

o Make sure your car is filled with gasoline and your grab-and-go kits are packed.
o Make sure that rain gutters are clean and windows covered.
o Fill all available tubs, basins, and containers with potable drinking water.
o Turn refrigerators and freezers to lowest settings in anticipation of power failure. If power fails, eat refrigerated and frozen foods first before moving on to canned and dry foods.
o Stay tuned to radio and TV. Also a NOAA weather radio if you have one.
o Unless planning to weather the storm in your home, evacuate early before roads are jammed. Stay flexible, not rigid! Storms do not always behave according to what the weatherman predicts, so you may need to change plans on a moment’s notice.
o Store lawn furniture and loose yard items in a secure location, before they become lethal projectiles! Some people throw lawn furniture into their swimming pools to be retrieved after the storm passes.
o Let friends and family know your evacuation plans and out-of-town contacts.
o If you have a swimming pool, chlorine-shock your pool to protect against contamination from debris and flood waters.
o For insurance purposes, take “before” pictures of your home and key possessions.

The Aftermath

After a severe hurricane or flood has struck your area, chances are good that the utilities will be down for quite a while, perhaps for several weeks. Here are some other things you might expect and look out for, as well as action items to perform in the aftermath of a hurricane:

• Until the authorities tell you the tap water is safe, expect that it will have been contaminated from floodwaters, so all tap water should be filtered, chemically treated, or boiled before drinking.
• Snakes and other wild animals will seek shelter from the storm on higher ground and may be prevalent or agitated, so be aware! Normally docile animals may behave in unexpected ways.
• Watch for downed power lines. A chain saw is a useful tool to bring along when attempting to drive a car after a major storm with high winds.
• Check on your neighbors.
• Check for gas leaks and damaged electrical lines. If you smell gas, or suspect a leak, turn the gas off at your meter or fuel tank and call your gas company. Caution: Do not light a match, turn on a light switch, or even a flashlight in the presence of gas, or an explosion may occur!
• Take “after” pictures of damage for insurance purposes.
• Open windows and doors for drying out your home to reduce the likelihood of mold damage.
• You can “wash” furniture and textiles in the sun to kill mold spores using the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Caution: This technique will not save severely mold-damaged items.

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Since toxic mold and flooding go hand in hand, I highly recommend you also read this article: Toxic Mold: Flooding’s Evil Twin