Last year, when we were new, not just to Florida, and not just to South Florida, but to Key West, we were told that we needed to get our Hurricane Kit together. What were we supposed to include? The usual suspects like water, flashlights, batteries, a radio, medicines we need, Bandaids, pet food and such. This list pretty much says it all. But having lived through Hurricane Irma, our Hurricane Kit (aka Doomsday Survival Box) has changed a bit. Once you’ve evacuated your home and then returned to a fair amount of destruction? You have a different perspective. So this year, along with the stuff that’s recommended, this is what you’ll find in our “go tote box” that you might not have thought to include. Whether you decide to shelter in place or evacuate, these are the things that you might not think to have on hand but will glad that you do.
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What on earth is a WaterBOB? It’s the answer to not having 62 cases of water in your trunk because you pick up an extra crate “just in case” every time you go to the store. These are especially useful if you live in an area where your water supply can be contaminated by a water main break or spillage due to storm surge. They’re cheap and a lifesaver if you do end up with a “boil water” alert that lasts forever. These are useful for folks who have harsh winters as well. They fit right into a bathtub, you fill it with water, and you’ve got gallons of potable water right at hand. They do sell out, and they get more expensive as the end of August approaches. I bought one in November for $19.99. Totally worth it for the peace of mind and the convenience!
I have never been a strong proponent of keeping gas in the garage (or anywhere but in the gas tank of my car, really), but after Irma? I strongly advise that you keep at least one extra 5-gallon tank with you (or more than one, or a larger one) even if you fill it right before the storm and then use it right after. On the islands, gas was a huge commodity to evacuate, and once we were off the islands? There was little gas to be found from about 4 days before the storm to until about 4 days after. You do a surprising amount of driving after a hurricane or a natural disaster, and gas is a priority. And remember, even if gas stations have gas, they require electric for the pumps to work and the card readers to take your credit or debit card. So spring for a couple of gas tanks. Worst case? You’ll use them and it won’t be an issue. Also, when news of a storm heading your way gets out, these will skyrocket to about $90 each. Buy when you don’t need one.
This seems odd, right? Telling anyone to put tire stuff in their hurricane kit? But I will tell you from personal experience that the guys who come out to fix your tires after a hurricane are cleaning up, literally and figuratively. Hurricanes are primarily wind storms (the water is storm surge is where the water becomes problematic; it’s not usually the rain). And when you’ve got stuff blowing around in hurricane force winds? You’re driving over broken glass and stray nails and all manner of debris. Unless you want to wait hours for AAA or go broke paying the folks who come out to repair your tires? The $10 or $20 you spend on this will save you time, aggravation and money.
I don’t just mean a little Off or Skin So Soft. I mean, a hurricane will stir up insects the likes of which you’ve never seen, and they’ll be pretty angry about it and looking for revenge against you. Yes, you need to keep yourself and your kids sprayed. But I would recommend washing your post-hurricane clothes (before the storm, of course) in permethrin and then putting them in Ziploc bags so that when you venture out after the storm, you’ll already be keeping the bugs away. Don’t know about that? Check this. I’ve used it for Murph’s camp shoes and socks for years, but we use it a lot more living in paradise. And while you’re at it, get some good house spray to repel insects, too. I’m as environmentally-friendly as the next person, and I like essential oils, too. Peppermint will repel ants. But post-storm bugs call for DDT and Napalm, not some lavender in a diffuser lit by candles. You will only be sorry if you don’t plan ahead because after the storm? This stuff will be gone.
One of the fun facts about hurricanes and tornadoes and other natural disasters is that the vermin come out of everywhere after them. Last year, when we returned to Key West, Prince Nedward at first artfully arranged the roof rats he was killing on the kitchen floor or near the door and sat watching as we saw his contributions to our common survival and waiting for praise.
But that got old, and pretty soon he was leaving them wherever he killed them, and then he got really annoyed about having to work for a living and bitched at us more than usual because in his mind the mess was all our fault. Also, he got worms and an intestinal infection that cost a small fortune to treat, but that’s not what this is about. What I’m telling you is that when the ecosystem gets stirred up, you get critters in your house that you don’t mind nearly as much when they live outdoors. Be prepared. Personally, I don’t mind seeing them dead because they carry bacteria and germs. But pick one and be prepared in advance because even if you don’t have much damage, they’re still going to be a pest.
Any Hurricane Kit should include duck tape. It’s on most county lists, and it’s on the FEMA list. But don’t go for cheap when you buy it. If you haven’t gotten Gorilla Tape yet, go get a couple of rolls. This is terrific for sealing windows and doors before the storm, for temporarily repairing broken windows if they break during a storm and for all manner of quick-but-urgent fixes after a storm. It will withstand rain, water and wind. If you end up needing to have a tarp over something, this will likely secure it. It’s not just useful for natural disasters; you should keep it in your house. Bonus! It comes in clear and black. I haven’t tried the clear, but I plan to. I have a roll of the black in my car and in my hurricane kit.
After the storm, you’ll want to go out and size up the damage, and at the very least, you’ll be clearing some storm debris. A pair of thick gloves made for construction work will be a lifesaver. You need to protect your hands and arms (read: wear a long-sleeved work shirt that you’ve previously washed in the aforementioned permethrin). It’s no joke that MRSA is a real problem in any area after a storm (and so are other nasty infections). Cuts and abrasions are common as clean-up occurs, and all manner of bacteria and viruses are milling about in standing water and in the debris. Don’t take unnecessary chances with your health. Adults should at least be wearing rubber boots if not construction ones, and be sure to pack sneakers for your kids (and socks washed in permethrin). We were morons and fled the islands with flip-flops and a single pair of Crocs. Don’t be us.
Ear protection is especially important if you are going to shelter in place or ride out the storm. What no one will tell you is that hurricanes are insanely loud. Like ear-splitting. Even in new construction, with impact glass and storm shutters. They are LOUD. The concussion of the shutters rattling against the windows can be deafening and headache-inducing. And with hurricanes come tornadoes, and with tornadoes come tornado sirens. And they last for pretty much the duration of the entire storm. For Irma that was about 36 straight hours. I have a kid who is sensory about loud sounds anyway, so I had headphones on hand. And I do not recommend getting any that are Bluetooth connected to your devices or fancy or “noise cancelling” because if the power goes out? You’re going to want to save those batteries. Have some of the plain old earcovers for everyone. You don’t need to have a blinding headache or a screaming child in the middle of being trapped indoors with no ability to control the noise.
Yes, I am fully aware that your smartphone can take fabulous photos. I’m also aware that it’s operated by a battery that can die for about 1000 reasons and might choose to do that right when you need it. I probably do not need to tell you to walk through your house before you evacuate, or before the storm, and take photos of literally every single thing you own. Everything. The stuff under your kitchen sink. The crap in your bathroom closet. Whatever you have in your junk drawer (yes, we all have a junk drawer). All of it. Close up and far away. That’s the before. What you need the cheap camera for is the after. As in the immediately after. If your phone is not functional, and even as a back up to your phone, take photos immediately after the storm as soon as you can. Document the damage photographically before you even begin to clean up. Why? Because FEMA and your insurance company are about to become your worst nightmare, and you want as much evidence as possible. And handing them some undeveloped photos in the form of disposable cameras is a great way to let them know that you did not screw with the photos to make things look worse. Document, document, document from the moment you start preparations through sheltering in place or evacuating through getting back home and starting to get back to normal. Keep receipts, keep photos, keep everything in a box.
These are not even optional; you need to have them. A solar one is great because it will continually recharge if it takes a while for the electric to return. I keep a couple of the Anker ones charged at all times. There’s one in the car; there’s one in my handbag. In the event that your electric goes out for a while — after Irma we went almost 5 days in West Palm Beach — you will need to charge your devices. And don’t think for a minute that businesses will get power back any faster than you do. You’re not going to the local Starbucks to charge up. Ever been shopping in a completely darkened Target with a flashlight and cash? I have. It’s not as fun as it sounds. That phone will become your lifeline, and for whatever reason, post-storm battery life is about 1/3 less than it normally is. Keep these handy, and keep them charged!
A Grill (propane or charcoal)
Maybe you have a grill in your yard or on your deck, and you’ve secured it. Hopefully, you’ve brought the propane tank inside because in a hurricane, they can become really fun exploding projectiles or in a flood, they can explode when they hit something, like your neighbor’s car. Oh, the things you learn. Who knew that they were weapons of mass destruction in storms? Even if you have a grill, assume that it might be damaged or in need of a thorough cleaning. If it’s not, that’s great, and you’ll have an extra for tailgating or to give as a gift at a wedding shower or take to the beach. In the event that you do need one, though, you want to have one, and you want to have dry charcoal that will light. Hand to God, last year when we were told that we were under a boil water alert, I did not understand how to do that because my appliances were all electric and we didn’t have power. If you’re like me, you would not think of that until it was too late, either. If you’ve gotten a WaterBOB (see above) boiling water won’t be your biggest problem, but feeding yourselves will be. And if you like hot coffee? Starbucks doesn’t have electric, so no latte for you. You can spend as much or as little as you’d like. But have one on hand.
I know, I know. You have Google or Wayz or your car has GPS built in that connects to a satellite. And that’s great. Until you don’t. And having been in a position where you don’t? It’s not fun. Get paper maps of your area or go for the whole US. It cannot hurt, and hey, if you get bored or your kids decide that without screens they’re going to kill one another, you can make a game out of finding things on them. In an emergency, though, you’ll be glad that you have a new, up-to-date map so you can find alternative routes if you run into road closures because of downed wires and trees. Seriously, it’s been a long time since we’ve actually needed these, so grab a current one if you haven’t already. Life without electric and cell service feels a lot like roughing it, and you’re going to need to know how to get to where you’re heading.
Yep, I’m serious. Either screenshot your contacts in your phone and then print them out on paper or jot down important numbers in a notebook you keep with you and safe. Family and friends who you need to check on or with whom you need to check in, your doctor and pediatrician, your mechanic, your landscaper, your neighbors, your car, homeowners and/or renter’s insurance company or agent, and the hotline number for FEMA. Figure out which numbers you might need in the event of a cell phone outage or your phone dying, and have them in your hands. You want to call for a FEMA number the minute the line opens which is typically about 6 hours after the storm blows its last gust. You don’t have to use it if you have no damage or needs, but you’ll be glad that you did if you do need help. Do not wait until you see if your house is standing if you evacuated. You can always forget about it. Get your birth certificates, passports, insurance cards, car title, boat title, and whatever other important papers together and keep them together. Bring them with you if you evacuate. Put them in a box in your washing machine or dryer if you are sheltering in place. They’ll stay dry.
A Good, Large Cooler
If you live in a hurricane zone, I’m betting that you have a cooler already because most of us who live in year-round summer need one. But if you don’t have a solild, good one, invest in it. Keep your hurricane kit in it if you aren’t using it regularly. A few days before the storm, start stocking ice. It will go fast from stores and places that sell it. Keep it in your freezer until you evacuate or the storm hits, then move it to the cooler and fill the cooler with food. I have a Yeti, and that thing kept that ice frozen and the food good for 5 days in Florida early September heat. And that was a saving grace because we had no electric, and we had no restaurants because they had no electric, and we had no grocery stores because they had no electric. It was like the olden days we’re glad are gone. In all seriousness, though? There was nowhere to go but the kitchen and you can only eat so many pre-packaged hurricane snacks before you get stabby or want a sammich.
Weird Random Stuff
- You are going to need CASH. Like all the cash you can withdraw from your account. I was lucky that I had smart people who told me when I arrived in the Conch Republic that if a storm looked imminent I was to fill my gas tank and empty my bank account. And I listened. Murph and I were lucky that we had friends who had room for us on the mainland, but we went through the storm. And after? Before power and circuits were restored? It was a total cash economy because everything runs on electric. So have as much cash as you can before the storm hits. I will never forget the lines of people waiting for gas and at ATMS when drove out of the keys before the storm.
- If you can, start a hurricane slush fund right now. Evacuating is expensive. As soon as it was clear that there was going to be an evacuation, every airline raised prices for flights by 500% for flights out of Florida. JetBlue was the only one who didn’t. Hotels and motels from Orlando north raised rates and sold out. Car rentals became non-existent; there were simply not enough vehicles.
- In a pinch, if you get sick, you can take fish antibiotics. I know, right? But they are human grade, and most aquatic fish and marine stores have generators so that they don’t lose all of their stock. So if you get cut or injured and can’t get to your doctor, or if you just want to be safe? You don’t need a prescription for them, and they are the same and a lot cheaper. Keep topical antibiotics ointment and Hibiclens on hand before the storm.
- Make sure that your Tetanus shot is no more than 6 years old. They tell you 10, but I’ll tell you about how I caught Whooping Cough (same shot). Get them updated. There will be all kinds of crap on the ground, and you don’t want to take chances.You can get them at the Minute Clinic or at your local health department.
- Wear closed toe shoes for a while. Boots to clear debris, sneakers to do other stuff. See #3 up there. I swore when I moved that my toes would never be enclosed again. For the most part, they have not suffered in such a way. But after a storm? You want thickly soled bottoms on your shoes and you want your feet covered. Spray them with permethrin.
- Plan for your pets. When I asked my mom for assistance when we needed to evacuate, she told me to lock our cats in the bathroom with some food and go to Orlando cause there were lots of motels. *Insert Eyeroll Here* First, it’s a felony in Florida to abandon your pets during a mandatory evacuation. And we were gone for almost a month, so I don’t think they would have fared too well in the bathroom. The local ASPCA might be able to help you out in a pinch, but you cannot leave them if you’re going somewhere that won’t allow them. Plan for that accordingly. Have food for them, litter, travel cages, puppy papers, vaccination records, etc. Most shelters were told to allow them in, and there were separate shelters set up for them. Don’t leave them, and don’t “hope” you’ll find a hotel that will allow them in a pinch. If your plan is to fly away, find a friend who will take care of your critters.
- That whole thing about “Hurricane Parties” is bullshit. I was not invited to any, and I don’t think it’s because of my lack of sociability. People were literally battening down hatches and running for their lives. And let me tell you, as much as I’d have loved to drink my way through the 48 hours we were locked down during Irma? I needed my wits about me in case something happened. So stock up on the adult beverages, but keep thy wits about thee. You don’t want to be sloshed when a tree crashes through your roof. Or maybe you do?
I have laughingly told people that I’ll take 3 Category 5 hurricanes every year if it means I don’t have to shovel snow or scrape ice from a car window. And I mean it. When you’ve done this once, you do kind of get an attitude about it. But being prepared for it is vital, and it’s a lot more than having 193 cases of water and batteries for your flashlight. When they reopened the keys after the storm, we were told to prepare for a month of “pack in pack out” camping. A month. I was bewildered. What does that even include? I still don’t know. I prefer glamping to camping, and a month is a little long even for that. These are the things I wish I’d had, or wish I’d thought about having, before the storm. They are things that are sitting ready in a large tote from Target so we can just toss them in the car if we need to go again. They are things that had vanished from the shelves of stores by the time we realized we needed them. Next time, there won’t be frantic grabbing of stuff we think we want or need next time. And yeah, there will be a next time.
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