A Hurricane Veteran’s advice to a Newby: 10 things you should do to prepare

Caveat: I am not FEMA.
Truth: I am much better. I am the survivor of one of nature’s terrors. The Category 5 hurricane. Heed my words and I will save you from discomforts FEMA would blush to discuss.

How to prepare for a hurricane is a skill perfected by veterans and an art refined by the veterans in the Caribbean – particularly Cayman which is statistically the land mass most frequently visited by the Atlantic hurricane.

1. When to prepare:
June 1 comes along. Every year it comes, not like February 29th. It is the start of crazy-time. It should be in your calendar on your phone with a repeat every year. It is the green-light-GO for hurricane preparedness for hurricane survivors or those of you who want to become hurricane survivors (much better than the alternative, right?).

2. Clear the debt:
We hear money people back and forth on debt and its pros and cons. On June 1 you want a free and clear credit card. And you want to KEEP it free and clear for the season. Why? When you want to get the hell outta Dodge and the ATMs are all either flooded or buried under rubble you will feel love for clear plastic. Also, right before the storm, get yourself some cash. Lots of it. Keep it safe with birth certificates and passports in ziplock waterproof bags. Easy to grab at last minute if you need to run/swim to safety.

3. Stock up:
Big one. Last minute shopping limits your choices. And in the aftermath of a storm while you are waiting for running water (we waited 1 month) or electricity (we waited 3 months) and supermarkets or banks to open, you need to have prepared your choices. There is only so much tuna fish you can eat without growing gills and it takes far less corned beef to make you “moo” in one direction or another.

During the season veterans will pick up four of five items on each supermarket trip and pick up batteries and flashlights when they are on sale.

4. Food choices:
Already touched on this in point #3. When stocking up think in food groups. Think things that won’t spoil.
A. Meat – canned, dried, long life stuff.
B. Beans and legume – very convenient in cans and don’t require cooking. Warm and serve.
C. Starches – easiest one. Snacks, crackers, breads, cereals, but pastas and rice will cut into your water supply and need to cook so look out for that.
D. Sweets – very stressful time. Calories not important *wink*
E. Easily stored drinks – powdered, canned, boxed. Anything to keep you from the doldrums of a diminishing water supply.
F. Fruit and veg – this part is the most important and is often forgotten or disregarded. I cannot over-stress this point – fruit and veg are crucial in the aftermath of a storm. From my personal experience I will demonstrate and beg your forgiveness for being gross. But you’d never get this from FEMA.

So Ivan came and, as usual, hurricanes make people hungry. We ate oreos, snacked on pretzels, drank juices while they were cold before power went out and took the fridge. All hell broke loose, two thirds of the country was under water, lives were destroyed and homes lost and we woke up two days later in a disaster zone. Constipated. NOT FUN. Imagine having no running water to bathe or flush toilets and having to struggle with THAT demon too!

So canned fruit, onions and carrots that won’t go off quickly, dried stuff, metamucil. All necessary.

Be creative. Mix the food up. Remember this could be what life looks like for months.

5. Practical goods:
There are hurricane lists all over the internet. I will not attempt to replace any of them and when I get to a computer and off my smart phone I’ll stick a few links up. In the meanwhile, think DESERT ISLAND and what you would need. Northerners, think SNOWED IN with no electricity and no running water and you’ll get the idea.

6. Water storage:
One thing I have to correct the pros on is water storage. If you can help it, please do NOT fill up your tub. Buy two of those massive outdoor barrel-sized garbage cans and put one in your bathroom and one in your kitchen. That way you have the use of your tub to rinse off in or wash things in AND you won’t be using bathroom water in your kitchen. This is especially useful when the bathroom drainage stops working. So keep your bins and clean them and fill them in the hours before the storm.

7. Candle? Or flashlight?

Both! Candles give off light. But they also give off heat. The aftermath of a storm can be the hottest, stickiest time of the year. Battery operated lamps and lights are best for indoors and are bright enough to give you all the light you are accustomed to. They are less hazardous as well.

Outdoors is a different story. I am convinced that hurricanes carry with them some steroid for mosquitoes. After a storm they are huge and relentless. Light attracts mozzies but citronella candles can repel them. So stock up liberally and buy some repellant as well.

8. Two MUST HAVES:
A camp stove with lots of fuel. And a battery operated fan. Not on most lists because it seems like a luxury to the powers-that-be. But you will thank me later!

9. Personal hygiene:
Shop with the inability to shower for ten days of sweltering hot weather in mind. Think baby wipes and hand sanitizer. Women think Summer’s Eve and feminine products too.

10. Entertainment:
When you hunker down you will be there a few hours. Don’t twiddle your thumbs or drive yourself into a psychotic break. Make sure you have card games, board games, books, toys for kids and animals, bones for dogs. And your sense of humour. This may be needed not only during the storm but for days after as you are stuck on the 79th floor with no TV or electricity. Do some bonding. Laugh a lot. Force it if you have too.

Pray. Rest well. Be safe. Good luck!

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