Summer hurricane season is here, and as long as a storm isn’t right on your doorstep, there’s still time to prepare. These five installments about hurricane preparedness will remind you of ways to stay safe and secure before, during, and after one of these destructive storms.
Part Five: After the Storm
Once a hurricane has fully passed, you may be surprised at how quickly the sun comes out, causing steam to rise from the soaked and flooded land.
If you have evacuated, do not attempt to go home until the authorities have said that it’s safe to do so. You may be met with washed-out bridges and roads, flooded areas, and a home that is unsafe. If you know or suspect that your neighborhood was severely affected, check with local authorities or the Red Cross to find out when you should go home. Once you’re there, observe the same precautions as those who stayed home (outlined below).
If you successfully rode out the storm at home, be cautious when venturing outside. Continue to listen to your radio and don’t go out if local authorities advise against it.
Check your home for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear it hissing as it escapes, turn it off at the main valve if you didn’t do so before the storm. Report it to the gas company immediately—or to any authorities you can reach—and keep your family outside and away from the house until it is declared safe. Do not light any flames or start a car anywhere near the house. Gas mains require a professional to turn gas service back on; DO NOT attempt to do this yourself!
If you suspect sewer mains have been damaged, try to call a plumber or your city utilities number. If you see sparks or broken wires in your home, turn off your electricity at the main panel, even if your power is still out. Don’t drink, wash, or cook with tap water until you hear from authorities that it is safe to do so.
Other potential dangers include downed power lines that can cause electrocution if you step into water where live wires are submerged. Do not step or drive over downed wires or otherwise go near them. Report them to local authorities, especially if you live in an out-of-the-way area where they might not have been discovered yet. Don’t attempt to drive anywhere until the roads are cleared of trees and debris, and you know they are not washed out, flooded, or so muddy that you would get stuck. Many roads and bridges may be damaged and unsafe. Give the authorities a chance to get around and evaluate the situation. Be patient with all local authorities and emergency services, as they will be overwhelmed.
Watch for displaced wildlife. The storm will have disturbed the habitat of snakes, alligators, and other reptiles as well as woodland mammals such as deer, bears, wild hogs, skunks, rabbits, raccoons, and possums, sending them fleeing into neighborhoods they would normally avoid. Most will be nervous and agitated. For that matter, so will domesticated animals and pets that have been out in the weather. Even dogs and cats that are normally friendly may be terrified and hostile after such an experience. Be wary of contact with them, even if you long to comfort and feed them. Don’t allow your kids to splash around in ponds and puddles or flooded areas, as you don’t know what reptiles may have taken refuge in them—or what sharp pieces of debris may be submerged. If you have a swimming pool or pond on your property, check that for unwelcome visitors, too! Be watchful of your own pets if they are with you, so that they don’t tangle with the wildlife.
When it’s safe to do so, check on any neighbors who also stayed home, and give or call for aid if necessary.
Evaluate and report any damage to your home or property to your insurance company. Take “after” pictures. (Don’t forget your roof, where shingles may be missing.)
As soon as you have phone service and immediate emergency concerns have been met, let your relatives and out-of-town contact know that you are alive and (hopefully) well and safe. They’ll be concerned.
Take down your shutters or boards, open your windows and doors, and let your house air out to prevent mold and mildew from growing. If water invaded your house, do your best to remove it as soon as possible. If upholstered furniture or mattresses got soaked, pull them out into the yard or driveway to dry. They may or may not be salvageable.
It may take a while before everything returns to normal in your area, so be prepared for the long haul. If you have food storage of freeze-dried, dehydrated, ready-to-eat, or canned foods, you may need to depend on them for the duration. It’s handy to have a charcoal or gas grill, a couple of flat-fold stoves with cans of fuel, or a similar alternative cooking method to heat up or rehydrate foods. If you can boil water and have a thermos, you can cook pasta, oatmeal, or wheat cereal by letting it soak in the hot water till done. Be sparing in the use of the water you stored in your tubs and containers before the storm, just in case it’s a while before your service is restored.
Just because a storm has passed doesn’t mean all danger is over—remember these tips, and be careful as you return home or venture outside to assess damage, make repairs, check on neighbors, and help rebuild your community.
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