Originally published in Modern Survival Magazine, 2005
|Hurricane Charlie left Punta Gorda FL devastated|
My friend Steve Blary and I had just gotten back from providing relief for ham radio operators in shelters at Punta Gorda, Florida during Hurricane Charley. What I saw there was enough to convince me to stay at a shelter if my community ever faced a storm. After getting home, I heard the news that another Hurricane named Frances was setting its cross hairs on Florida, but this time it was headed for my community.
|Hurricane Frances pounds the Florida coast|
|Stuart FL felt the brunt of the storm|
At about 1 p.m., firefighters and EMTs stationed at our shelter went to bring in the victims as the winds died down. The unsettling silence of the night was an eerie experience after all the noise. There were already 350 people in the shelter. Now there would be over 700.
|The shelter was crowded, but dry.|
|Many came home to this.|
My house stood up well in the storm. It's a typical three bedroom block home which makes it storm proof, except for the roof. That does not mean it is flood proof, but it is 16 feet above sea level. With the predicted seas surge, I expected the house to get flood water. My neighbor who had a metal roof came over and told me Frances did not scratch his roof.
|Some had it a LOT worse than us|
|Hurricane Jeanne: the15th most destructive of all time|
The effects of Hurricane Charley, the first of the three hurricanes to hit Florida in only about a month in 2004, were just as devastating. Utility services were gone. Power lines were down everywhere. Road signs were gone. Homes were completely destroyed, blown off their foundations or so badly damaged they were uninhabitable. Insurance and FEMA help were days or maybe weeks away. Hospitals were vacated or destroyed. People were wandering the streets either dazed or looking for some place to loot. The smell of sewage was apparent from the overflow in the rivers. Shopping centers were destroyed, banks were closed and not working, fast food restaurants were destroyed with windows blown out or roofs torn away. Gas stations were wiped out with pumps completely knocked down or inoperable. Trees were blown across roads. All this happened within just a few hours during the time Hurricane Charley passed over west, central, and northeast Florida. The storm jumped from a category two to a category four in a remarkably short period of time and then in an unprecedented move, it turned unexpectedly 15 degrees and plowed into Port Charlotte instead of Tampa as first predicted. This just goes to prove how unpredictable and dangerous a storm like this can be
Most of the deaths that occurred in Charley were among those people who stayed at home instead of going to a shelter, or who took unnecessary risks after the storm passed. There are two certainties about being in the path of a hurricane: your home will be hit and destroyed or damaged, or it won't. What you can do regardless is go to a shelter and if your home is still standing afterwards, start to repair. If it is destroyed, then gather what is left and wait to see FEMA and live in a shelter till someone gives you a place to live. You will have to wait till insurance replaces your old home, which could take months. There were those who refused to go to a shelter because they feared looting. When I had to make the decision when Frances was approaching, I chose the shelter rather than worrying about my material things. Death is not a good trade for the difference. If you fear losing some things, then you should already have a plan to preserve them before a storm strikes.
After spending several days in shelters as an amateur radio operator for hurricane Charley, Frances and Jeanne, I learned several things from these events.
|Not this ice.|
|Don't forget Batteries|
7. Make and secure copies of important papers. You should have already taken your most important papers and had them put in a safe deposit box and made copies to have on hand for FEMA. If you think you need anything to prove to the insurance or FEMA, then make a copy of it. Think deeds, insurance, credit cards, bank statements, birth certificates, driver licenses, medical identification, family and friend phone numbers and addresses.
9. Take pictures of everything you own that you might need to make an insurance claim for. The digital camera and video camera are great for recording the things you own. After you have made pictures you can put them on a CD or you can put them on video and deposit them in your safety deposit box. Whatever you use, be sure that you document everything. After a storm, things often get scattered or stolen and may not be missed till much later.
11. Get your prescriptions filled for at least 60 days or more. If the storm is approaching you should have already taken care of getting your prescriptions filled for lasting up to two months or more. The local hospital and drug stores may be closed or destroyed, so stay healthy and know your first aid. Have a well stocked first aid kit. Take a Red Cross first aid course.
Phones will be out for weeks or longer and communications will be left to the authorities. The only way to contact family or friends will be through the Red Cross and they may take days before that person is found. If they stay at home then no one will be able to contact them. If they go to a shelter, then someone will know where they are. The only reliable form of communication is by ham radio or citizen band. Cell phones work only if the local towers are still standing. Satellite phones work if you can afford them and the party you call has service.
Here is a valid truth. If you want to survive, be a part of the community. No one is an island to themselves. We need to get prepared by getting our homes ready and emergency supplies on hand. We need to be involved citizens in the community. Learn who your neighbors are. Look out for each other when things are normal as well in times of trouble. Get involved in citizen patrols or the local Red Cross, or other organizations that serve the community, so when disaster strikes you will already be a part of the community effort to survive.
Contents copyright (c) 2004/2005 Modern Survival Magazine