It has been 14 years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall and just a few days before Hurricane Dorian comes ashore in Florida. Over the past few years, I’ve collected some tips on storm preparation that some might find helpful. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments, as we learn best from each other.
Let’s start with that old joke about not being able to boil water – if true, New Orleans may not be the best place to live. We spend lots of time making our water holy by boiling the hell out of it and that is outside of storm events!
Under a boil water advisory, you want to make sure you boil tap water for 1 full minute – start your time after the water is boiling. If using unsafe water, boil for at least 10 minutes or chemically disinfect it by using 5 drops of liquid household bleach to each gallon of water and let sit for at least 30 minutes for disinfection to be completed.
Take a good volume of clean water and freeze it. I use two five gallon containers and freeze one a few days before the storm for transferring to the fridge before landfall (or before going to bed when the storm is about to hit) and then putting another in its place to freeze. It will keep the fridge cool plus give chilled drinking water as it melts. I also use frozen water bottles to fill every nook and cranny in my freezer so that things will stay colder longer.
Plan on enough water for you and each of your family members, including pets, for a minimum of 72 hours. That is about 1 gallon per person per day for three days. I stock up on bottles of water that go on sale immediately after the last emergency. Restock your bottled water once per year.
As there ain’t no party like a hurricane party, stock up on the adult beverages, too. Beer is good to have on hand but it isn’t particularly good warm, so it will need to be consumed first. Then, be sure to have the makings for mixed drinks. Consider making a vat of hurricanes or other themed drinks. Just scale up from this recipe on making a single hurricane serving – mix together one part lemon juice, one part dark or spiced rum, one part light rum, one part passion fruit or pineapple juice, and one part orange juice. You’ll want to serve that with ice, so be sure you have a cooler of ice for drinks. Sipping whiskeys and red wines are also good, as they don’t require ice. Of course, please drink responsibly and make sure there is plenty of extra water as alcohol dehydrates the body.
I have a small cooler that I fill with ice and call it my washcloth cooler – there is nothing like a cool cloth to wipe your face when you’ve gone hours with no air conditioning. Rinse off the washcloth before dropping it back in the cooler.
Fill the bathtub with water. I am a big proponent of the Water Bob as it keeps 100 gallons of water fresh and clean up to 16 weeks! Use open bathtub water for cleaning and flushing the toilet but don’t drink it as it could have soap scum, dust and debris in it.
Bathe and do all your laundry ahead of the storm. During a boil water advisory, you don’t want to be putting that water on your body, hair or clothes.
In lieu of using too much clean water for bathing, fill a spray bottle with 70% isopropyl rubbing alcohol and your favorite essential oil so you can spritz that on your clothing and on your body to refresh yourself and take the stink off. My favorites are rosemary and lemon.
Have a big bottle of mouthwash to use instead of water for brushing your teeth – dip your toothbrush in a small glass of mouthwash, brush, then rinse your mouth out with mouthwash. I keep a bottle of water next to sink to rinse the brush (and to wash hands after using the toilet).
Do not walk, wade or, God-forbid, swim in flood waters. E. coli, Salmonella, Giardia, Hepatitis A & C and all the other horrible bacteria in the waters can cause serious illness and even death. If you do end up in the floodwater, change your clothing and wash yourself immediately. Before the flooding happens, get your tetanus shot renewed. Be very careful cleaning up after flooding as the danger isn’t over just because the water went down. See this OSHA fact sheet.
Do not drive in flood waters – you don’t know how deep the water could be or if the road has been washed out underneath. If you have to go through standing water, do not drive more than 5 miles per hour. Not only is driving any faster unsafe and illegal but it pushes water into nearby homes and businesses.
For Orleans Parish, view reports of street flooding at http://streetwise.nola.gov.
Stock up on fresh, dried and canned fruit, dehydrated meals, shelf stable non-dairy milk products like almond milk, breads, trail mix, jerky, MRE’s and other food products that don’t require refrigeration. Have plenty of snacks and comfort foods as most folks tend to stress eat during this time. If you’re a coffee addict and don’t like instant, grind coffee for “stovetop coffee” or invest in a percolator or French Press.
Know how to locate the valve behind your stove or other gas-run appliances (like water heaters) and turn it OFF in the event of flooding.
Check to make sure you have charcoal and other supplies for your grill if you’ve got an electric stove or want to keep the heat of cooking outside of your house. After 48 hours without power, start cooking from your freezer (try not to open it before then). This is a good time to work with your neighbors and have a block party to share perishable goods before they go bad.
Charge all devices and charge your backup phone batteries. If you have a generator, run a test of it and make sure you have plenty of fuel for it. If you have a car, make sure it has a full tank of gas and the battery is charged.
Flashlights are great (with extra batteries) and candles give a lovely glow once the power goes out. Of course, pillar candles dedicated to the patron saints of flooding (St Florian) and storms (St Medard or St Walpurga) and New Orleans (Joan of Arc or Our Lady of Prompt Succor) help ensure you’re well covered and well lit for all contingencies.
Unplug everything if the waters rise. I usually unplug small appliances ahead of the storm so I don’t have to run around at the last minute. Roll up area rugs and put them up out of the water’s way or use them as barriers around doors.
Gather all your pertinent documents – passport, birth certificate, banking info, proof of residence, car registration, all insurance documents, etc into a waterproof folder and know exactly where it is. Take this with you when you leave.
Prep a go bag or bug out bag with clothes, medicines, food, reading materials, etc in case you have to leave in a hurry. Pack one for each family member (including your pets) so you don’t have to rush around at the last minute or, worse, have to make a run to the store after driving for hours because someone forgot their underwear.
If you do evacuate, prep your house by securing your trash cans and any outside furniture or plants. Also, freeze a cup of water in your refrigerator freezer. Before you head out, set a quarter on top of it. Check for melting once you return: if the quarter is still on top when you come home, all is well. In fact, your food is probably safe to eat if the quarter is only 1/3 down the cup. If it is halfway down or on the bottom, your food was unrefrigerated for too long and is not safe to eat.
Resources for hurricane preparedness/updates:
Department of Homeland Security Disaster Guide
State of Louisiana Emergency Preparedness Guide
American Red Cross Mobile Phone App
National Weather Service Radar Loop
Parish government webpages:
St. Bernard Parish
St. Tammany Parish
Let me know your tips. Oh, and if you’re having a hurricane party, be sure to invite me.