Hurricane Irma and Maria – Storm Impact and Being Prepared for Future Storms
What Will This Hurricane Season Bring?
The 2017 hurricane season was a year for the record books with 17 named storms that include 10 classified hurricanes. The effects of Hurricanes Jose, Irma and Maria on Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands continue to cause pain for residents. Numerous issues require attention including the restoration of electricity; rebuilding of damaged and destroyed homes, refurbishment of commercial business properties and rejuvenation of the tourism market. It will take years to fully recover. That’s assuming future tropical storms and hurricanes do not significantly impact already devastated areas.
Although Puerto Rico gets most of the attention other Caribbean islands including Dominica, St. Martin, Anguilla, St. Barts, the Turks and Caicos, and British and U.S. Virgin Islands were also ravaged by the hurricanes. Separately, Florida and east coast states were impacted by Irma and Maria. Hurricane Harvey came to life in the Gulf of Mexico.
The challenges for Puerto Rico citizens are particularly rough with an economy in shambles before the hurricanes. Filing bankruptcy in May 2017, Puerto Rico became the largest public bankruptcy in U.S. history. The cause came with transitioning a once strong agricultural based economy to industrial based and issuing municipal bond debt. The debt was not sustainable and ultimately ballooned to $74 billion. Declining tax revenues could not support debt payments.
Compounding Puerto Rico’s challenges is an outdated infrastructure. An estimated 1 million residential structures were constructed without compliance to building codes. Structures on the island depending on date of build are supposed to comply with building codes to withstand 125 mph or 140 mph winds. All for naught, Hurricane Maria pounded the island with sustained winds of 155 mph, a Category 4 storm only 2 mph short of the most powerful Category 5 storm. The number of homes completely destroyed by the hurricanes is estimated at 70,000 with an additional 250,000 suffering major damage.
Aid to the island is massive and will continue for years. Months after the September storms significant areas of the island remain without power. For many, the situation is desperate and hundreds of thousands of residents have left Puerto Rico for the United States. Aid in the form of meals and water is ongoing. Significant efforts are underway to restore a power grid that is obsolete and heavily damaged. Other infrastructure including roads and bridges also require substantial repair.
The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season demonstrates the importance of emergency preparedness and the expectation that the recovery process is not measured in days but months or even years.
Another hurricane season is on the horizon. The Atlantic basin season begins June 1st and extends to November 30th. The Pacific basin goes from May 15th to November 30th. With climate changing it’s difficult to predict if the 2018 season will be a repeat of 2017.
Hurricane Preparation – Be Ready
Prepare an action list in preparation of future storms. Establish a safe evacuation location to go if authorities issue an evacuation order. Maintain you vehicle is good condition, have a full tank of gas and emergency supplies available including clothing.
Its possible power will be disrupted for days or weeks. Put together a “go bag” that includes emergency food and medical supplies, flashlight, batteries, cash, and copies of important information.
Chaos develops during and evacuation or severe weather event. People clearing store shelves, fuel shortages and clogged highways are typical. Expect challenges! Your local emergency management office can provide details regarding shelters, travel routes, etc.
Flashlights and lanterns are essential to avoid physical obstacles. Light also provides psychological support. HaveLight.com has a catalog of emergency flashlights and lanterns that do not depend upon batteries. Several HaveLight.com flashlight models including NightStar Shake Flashlight and Vortex Crank Flashlight are waterproof and provide effective illumination without fail. HaveLight flashlights also operate as an emergency beacon to notify others of your location.
If you elect to shelter in place, non-perishable foods and bottled water is essential. Its possible flooding may block roadways and cause structural damage. In fact, if your structure is subject to high water flooding, where electrical outlets and equipment are compromised, it may be best to turn house power off.
This is another reason to ensure adequate flashlights and lanterns are available. If using battery powered flashlights make sure a supply of batteries are handy. Don’t wait until a storm is pending to purchase necessary supplies. The longer you wait the lower the chances of finding what you need.
Your preparedness plan needs to include a communication plan. This plan addresses receiving notifications and updates about storm conditions but also to ensure family members and friends of your whereabouts. Texting is often times more reliable than calling. Consider using social media also too. Check with local authorities about communication support including preparedness websites.
First supplies including medicines for people and pets must be available. Consult your doctor about prescription refills well ahead of time.
Prepare your property for Hurricane Force Winds
Strong hurricane force winds create missile out of debris and trees frequently topple during high wind events. Minimize tree damage by trimming branches and removing trees that are unhealthy. Make sure loose objects around your property are secured. Attention to structural features such as roofs, windows and doors (house and garage) are adequately secure and protected. If possible, install hurricane shutters to guard windows from flying objects.
Purchase a portable generator or install a fixed generator for use during power outages. Remember to keep generators and other alternate power sources outside and protected from moisture. Never power a house electrical system by plugging a generator cord into a wall outlet.
Consider building a FEMA safe room or ICC 500 Storm Shelter in locations above flood level for protection from high-winds.
Ready.gov publishes information detailing hurricane preparedness. The website is very informative and worth taking time to review. Follow the hurricane timeline preparedness checklist based upon Watch or Warning conditions.
Hurricane watch: severe weather conditions possible within 48 hours.
Review evacuation procedures with family members, identify exit route(s) & listen to local officials.
Secure loose yard objects (e.g., patio furniture, garbage cans, etc.); anchor objects unsafe to bring inside (propane tanks).
Cover all of your home’s windows. Permanent storm shutters offer the best protection for windows. A second option is to board up windows with 5/8” exterior grade or marine plywood, cut to fit and ready to install.
Review items in your disaster supply kit. Address supplies needed to meet requirements for children, parents, and individuals with disabilities. Remember pets are family too and need supplies as well.
Hurricane Warning – severe weather conditions expected
If given, follow evacuation orders from local officials.
- Check-in with family and friends by texting or using social media. Tell friends and family where you are.
- If you’re not in an area under government evacuation orders, stay in place. Secure the house and avoid proximity to windows.
- Turn refrigerator or freezer to the coldest setting and only open when necessary. Keep a thermometer in the refrigerator to check food temperature when power is restored. Spoiled food is dangerous to consume. Consider a quality long duration cooler. A washing machine packed in ice also serves as cooler. Maintain an adequately supply of non-perishable foods.
- Monitor TV, radio or city/county websites to stay informed of weather conditions and emergency instructions.
- Charge your cell phone to full battery. HaveLight.com offers the Vortex crank flashlight and solar chargers to recharge devices when grid power is unavailable.
After a Hurricane
- Listen to local officials for updates and instructions.
- Check-in with family and friends by texting or using social media.
- Return home only when authorities indicate it’s safe.
- Watch for debris, downed power lines and fire hazards. Avoid flooded areas where washed out roads may exist. Avoid walking or driving through flooded areas; especially with current. Six inches of water can knock a person down and 12 inches can sweep a vehicle away.
- Photograph property damage to assist in filing an insurance claim.
- Prevent further damage to your property, (e.g., putting a tarp on a damaged roof), as insurance may not cover additional damage that occurs after a storm.
The best way to withstand and survive any type of natural disaster is preparedness. A few minutes of preparation can be a lifesaver. Planning also involves reviewing procedures and inspection and replenishing supplies. Wait until the last minute when everyone else is scrambling to get ready is the wrong time to be ready.