At midnight around September 14, 2004, my family evacuated for Hurricane Ivan. We’d spent all day on our family farm, putting plywood over windows and handling other preparations for the storm that was in the Gulf of Mexico. We had no idea where the storm would make landfall, but figured our family–three separate families all related and all living on the same farm–would remain. When my father, by then our extended family’s patriarch, saw one of the afternoon reports, he declared we were leaving. The men hurriedly made the last-minute preparations while the women packed items indoors and packed clothes, toys, and pictures, hoping to save what we could.
At that time, my parents were blessed to own a large recreational vehicle, so we took it and a number of vehicles for the eight of us. My own car stayed behind. We left right at midnight, knowing we would avoid the evacuation traffic if we left overnight. I sat on the couch in the RV’s living room as we traveled down the long driveway. As we passed our house, I could see only the reflection of the RV lights in the shiny sides of the plywood over our house windows. And I remember thinking we were possibly going to return to a destroyed home.
Such are the dangers of living on the coast, I guess. “This is the cost of living in paradise,” my boss stated emphatically after her own home on Pensacola Beach was destroyed in the storm. We were blessed. We had a destroyed roof, some wet drywall, a broken foundation, and a completely destroyed barn. But our house remained intact. As we expected, my aunt’s home next door, a 100+-year-old farmhouse, was a complete loss. My cousin’s home, also next door, had to be partially rebuilt. But our preparations saved our homes.
I’ve been blessed not to have to prepare for a hurricane to that extent again. But I’m blessed also in that I know what to do.
What I Would Do
The first thing I would do in the event of an approaching storm–and I mean maybe a week in advance of possible landfall–is to start putting away “flying items” such as plants in planters, bird baths, bird feeders, tetherballs, chairs, tables, swings, etc. These are items you do not want flying through your windows–or your neighbors’ windows.
I’d make sure any maintenance that needed to be done had been handled. For example, if your downspouts need to be reattached or your fence has a gate latch that needed to be fixed, handle it. If your screen door is hanging on by a thread, fix that. Don’t cause more problems for other people than they already have. In fact, do that maintenance now, before you need to get it done in a hurry.
While you’re doing that maintenance, either clean your gutters yourself or hire someone to do that task.
I would ensure early that I had enough plywood and nails to cover all of my windows if I owned my home. We lived in an apartment building for Hurricane Irene, and given that we were not permitted to cover our windows, we taped them instead. I would make sure I had plenty of tape if I were in that situation again. If I had the funds and could afford hurricane shutters, I’d get those.
If I had any tree limbs that were going to come down during the storm, I’d pull them down early and get them to the landfill or collected with the garbage before the storm arrived. As Irma churned in the ocean, my husband and I even contemplated taking down a tree that I think is too close to the house for comfort.
I’d also get rid of any items that were in my household’s “out box.” As an example, when Irma threatened our coast, I had a broken shredder and an old recliner in the garage. Fearing flooding, I requested a special pick-up of both items so that I wouldn’t have to deal with those. I also donated to the local thrift stores several boxes of items I had been keeping in my guest room.
And of course I’d make sure I had sandbags if my house were located in a flood zone or were even remotely likely to flood. (Flooding scares me. I purchased the house we currently live in partially because it is three feet off-grade. I pay a small fortune for flood insurance, and I don’t regret it at all. If you want it, call your insurer today because it has a 30-day waiting period.)
When the storm was actually expected to approach, I would use the plywood to board my windows. If I didn’t know how to handle that task, I would pay someone who did. During Ivan, my grandfather used 2×4’s to board all but one or two of his doors closed, too. I’d place sandbags if that became necessary.
I hope and pray not. I sincerely hope that the remainder of the hurricane season is calm.
What Do You Think?
Do you have any suggestions to add? Let me hear from you in the comments.