When The “Sleeping Giant” Awakes
By Patrice Doucet
Ahh early June – the start of summer vacations, outdoor barbeques, swimming, tropical heat - and hurricane season, which for some has become about as meaningful as the announcement of Punxsutawney Phil seeing his shadow on Ground Hog Day. Meteorologists say that over the last century most of Acadiana has been fortunate enough to miss a direct hit by a hurricane of a Category 3 or higher. Although victims of recent flooding are more cautious, many of us suffer from “hurricane amnesia” in the forms of complacency, denial and inexperience. Our no-hurricane streak has to end eventually, and we have to be ready.
Ideally, the time to prepare for a hurricane is before the season begins, when you are not under pressure, but certainly you should take these precautions before a storm enters the Gulf.
Victims of the August 2016 flood will tell you, if you live in a flood zone, make sure you have flood insurance, which is a separate policy from homeowner’s insurance. Keep in mind that flood insurance requires a 30-day waiting period, unless there’s a mortgage closing. And, once the storm enters the Gulf, a policy cannot be purchased.
When purchasing supplies, like water and non-perishable foods, think beyond the storm’s duration, in the event electricity goes out for an extended period of time. That includes pet food. Make sure all medications, including oxygen tanks, are filled to last at least two weeks. Also on your list, put: a battery-powered radio, extra batteries, flashlight, and a portable solar-powered USB charger for your cell phone. Don’t forget to backup your computer files.
Gas up your vehicles. Go the bank for extra cash, as ATMs and credit cards won’t work without power. Help elderly or disabled neighbors before [and after] a storm. Have photo or video documentation of your valuables. If you have to evacuate, take your insurance documents, important papers and contact information with you. Keep in mind that pet shelters will not take your pets.
When Jamie Blazec and her husband evacuated New Orleans’ Northshore the day before Hurricane Katrina, she quickly packed only two days worth of clothing and grabbed a satchel of memorabilia and family photos that she’d already collected. “We had one vehicle and relatives traveling with us, so there wasn’t room for much else.”
Joni and Troy Lantier have had their home in Broussard damaged twice by flooding: When rains from Tropical Storm Allison brought 14”, and then again last August when remarkably another 14” flowed through. “My biggest worry is definitely whether we’ll flood again,” Joni says. “It’s all I think about when a hurricane enters the Gulf. But, even when we get heavy rains, like we did the first week in May, I’ll call my daughter, who lives next door, from work to see if the water is rising.”
The Lantiers, who moved back into their home last Thanksgiving, have also learned that history is a good teacher. Joni says she now keeps all important papers off the floor, using only the top two drawers of the filing cabinets. Photos are kept in a box upstairs. With experience behind them, they know to act quickly in taking what they need.
Waiting too late to evacuate or not evacuating at all is an all too common mistake made during a hurricane, according to Rob Perillo, KATC Chief Meteorologist. “Everyone should have a hurricane evacuation plan in place now,” he says. “Especially across the coastal parishes. Many people make the mistake in a storm surge zone of waiting until the winds turn out of the south before leaving. However, truth is, a bulge of water arrives well before the hurricane does, so evacuation routes can be inundated as early as 24 hours before the actual storm and surge arrive.”
Blazec admits, “Had we not had young children and an elderly person with us, we probably wouldn’t have evacuated. Even though where we live now is relatively safe from flooding, next time there’s a hurricane, we’re in the car and gone.”
Perillo says residents who live in mobile homes should evacuate not only for a hurricane, but in the event of a tropical storm. “Even homes on a slab are only protected from up to about 90 mph winds. A Category 3 hurricane can produce catastrophic, life-threatening destruction.”
Weather the Storm
Hurricanes Lili and Gustave proved that whether you’re in a flood zone or not, trees can prove to be a liability. That’s why taking these pre-storm steps around your home is important:
• Trim branches that are at risk of falling, especially if trees encroach a neighbor’s property.
• Put wooden covers over your windows.
• Find a safe place for all vehicles, including boats.
• Collect any outdoors items that could become airborne, including patio furniture.
• Lock and secure doors with sand bags. Don’t wait until the day before to get sand bags.
James Lass, General Manager of Distribution Operations and Emergency Management at CLECO, offers residents important generator safety tips along with a detailed outage map, when you go to Cleco.com.
Hurricane season is stressful for most, and especially so for children. Stephen Aguillard, Clinical Services Director of Capital Area Human Services says being prepared relaxes parents and when parents are relaxed, children are too. Aguilllard says what you tell your child before (or after) a major hurricane or storm depends on their age.
Children 5 years and younger mostly want to know if they’re going to be safe and who’s going to take care of them. Make sure they have one or two of their favorite items.
Children 6-12 years will hear talk at school and will understand the situation better. They will want to know the safety plan for the household. Give them their own flashlight to make them feel safe. If you’re going to a shelter, give them an idea of what to expect and how long you might be there. Bring a board game or two to play with them.
If you have teens, Aguillard says the thing to remember is that they lose a sense of identity when they are no longer around their friends. Remind them that they can maintain communication through social media and can use the opportunity to make new friends who are in the same situation.
Aguillard suggests restricting your child’s exposure to media coverage constantly reporting weather updates. “Also, kids take their cue from parents, so try to stay in control of your emotions,” he advises. For more helpful tips, go to Cahsd.org.
Everyone should be able to enjoy the summer without having to worry about what to do when severe weather threatens. The best way to do that is to prepare now and know what you’re going to do in the event of a hurricane. Planning ahead gives you more options and better control over situations that could become chaotic at the last moment if you’re not ready.