Our first topic is WATER, for drinking, washing and flushing.
I've been through a number of hurricanes, and only once was there any serious widespread issue with plumbing. Let's consider some of the reasons why your tap water may be unsafe or unavailable for use.
- During a hurricane, trees may be uprooted; the high winds may even spin the tree around in the ground. If tree roots run anywhere near the water line, the line could be breached.
- Flooding and overloaded drainage systems could cause problems.
- Electrical power outages may affect sewage lift stations and water pumping and purification operations.
SAFE DRINKING WATER
The federal government and many other emergency response agencies recommend keeping bottled water on hand for an emergency. The rule is one gallon per person per day, and you should be prepared to live for three days without any assistance.
3 Gallons Per Person/Pet Per Day
So, you need 3 gallons of water per person in your household. Add 3 gallons per pet as well. You may need more if anyone in your household has a medical condition that requires they drink more than average, if you have a really big dog or a horse, or if you have non-perishable food that calls for adding water.
Depending on where you shop, you can get drinking water (purified, distilled, drinking water, spring water) for 75 cents to a dollar per gallon. There are 128 ounces in a gallon, so here's how it breaks down (roughly) for a few common sizes of bottled water.
20-ounce bottles = 7 per person/pet per day
16-ounce bottles = 8 per person/pet per day
8-ounce bottles = 16 per person/pet per day
1 Liter bottles = 4 per person/pet per day
half-liter = 8 per person/pet per day
If money is a concern for you, remember:
You don't have to buy all that bottled water as long as you have clean, sealed, human-consumption containers to store the water.
Maybe you have something that you use for camping or sporting events. That big Gatorade-orange cooler/dispenser can be thoroughly cleaned and filled with water from your tap before the storm hits.
If you buy juice or tea by the gallon, wash the containers and fill them with water. You might need to let them sit with baking soda in them for a while to get out residual scents from the original drink.
Do you have plastic water bottles that you use when you're out walking or that you take with you to work/school? Use them, too.
Be creative. Just make sure that all those small containers add up to:
3 Gallons Per Person/Pet Per Day
WASHING AND FLUSHING
You'll want to wash up in the days after the storm. You'll be out picking up limbs and trash in your yard. You may be repairing damage. It's summer, so it's usually really hot. You'll sweat. You will want to be able to wash your hands and bathe a little.
This is why we fill our bathtubs with water before a hurricane.
I don't remember who it was, but I still laugh at the person who, in an article or a blog or something, was ridiculing the practice. She wanted to know what good it would do to fill a bathtub with water.
This is the water that you'll use to wash hands or take a sponge bath, rinse dishes (if you're not using disposable), and flush the toilet if pressure is low (more on that later). Keep the bathroom door closed to keep pets and small children out of the water.
You could use the water for drinking or cooking, in a pinch. Be sure to purify by boiling or adding bleach - add 1/8 teaspoon (8 drops) of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach per gallon of water, stir it well and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. I wouldn't recommend tub water for drinking, but it's better than nothing.
After Hurricane Ivan, when the waterfront sewage treatment facility was flooded and damaged, and with many damaged or flooded drain lines throughout the county, water pressure was practically non-existent. In addition, county officials requested that no one flush their toilets to back up the already overloaded system. Once they okayed flushing again, the pressure was still really low. You'll need extra water for flushing the toilet.
It takes about a gallon of water to flush. Don't open your tank and pour it in, though. One gallon won't do it that way. Slowly pour the water directly into the bowl. When it reaches a certain level in the bowl, the toilet automatically flushes. Cool, huh?
SOURCES OF WATER
Three or four days after the storm, the National Guard, various relief organizations, and some businesses will provide free ice and bottled water. You usually have to go pick it up. There will be a line. At some point, the supply will run out. It is, however, a source of ice and water. Stay tuned to local information sources (primarily radio) for times and locations.
Unless you have a tankless water heater, you have a source of water. The tanks usually have a faucet on the outside, so it can be drained for cleaning or replacement. Be sure to turn your water heater off before draining! You don't want it trying to heat an empty tank, and you don't want it to fill with contaminated water, especially if you're using it a gallon or two at a time. As long as the tank filled before the storm, it's clean and safe.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you have a family of four and two average-sized pets, you need 18 gallons of drinking water on hand if a storm strikes. This can be water you collect in containers you already have or bottles that you buy. You should be able to purchase this quantity for $18 or less.
You will also need water for washing your hands, bathing, rinsing dishes, and flushing the toilet. Fill your bathtub or collect tap water in containers.
Store purchased water in a dark place, such as under the sink, pantry, closet or linen cabinet. If you use bottled water regularly, rotate older bottles out and new bottles in throughout the season. Wait to fill your own containers until a storm is brewing.