Sunday, May 4, 2014

Disasters Can Strike at Any Time

Last week, my hometown was expecting some rain. What we got was a record-setting drenching that flooded more than 1,500 homes in three counties and left several roads impassable.

A lot of people were not prepared.

We have canned goods and bottled water on standby because we're getting close to hurricane season. It's nice to have stuff like that around in case of any power outage, which could be from a storm, a work crew cutting a line, or a traffic accident.

We have sandbags, because we've had a "hundred year rain" at least three times since we moved into our home ten years ago, and that's not counting hurricanes.

Thankfully, I had been hounding the county engineer, public works department, and my commissioner's office since April 1, demanding some maintenance work on our drains. They came out and did a little work, not to my satisfaction, but I have no doubt now that it kept our home from flooding. 
April 29-30, 2014. Map Courtesy WEAR-TV

I mean, look at these numbers! This map shows the massive amount of rain recorded in different areas. I don't know exactly how much fell at my house, but I live kind of between the 18" and the 26" points.

Bear in mind, our street fills up when we have two or three inches of rain. It was literally at our front porch by the time it stopped, and it did get into my husband's workshop in the back yard.

I really don't know what I would do if the water started coming in. Try to move stuff from the floor to the top of the furniture, maybe. Get the cats into their carriers and onto something tall. I heard of two dogs that drowned in their kennels before their owners realized how bad it was getting. That broke my heart. Once the water fills the street, there's no escape. The car wouldn't run through it. And I know of at least once person who drowned in her car. That broke my heart, too.

What will I do differently next time?

I'm definitely looking into flood insurance. We don't live in a flood zone, so we shouldn't "need" it, but I don't anticipate the county will correct the drainage problems we've had for ten years before we get another crazy day of rain. At this point, I would rather be safe than have to replace everything we own - and keep paying a mortgage - on a house that's unliveable.

The view out our front gate, July 2013
I will keep after the county to maintain the drains. They agree that the system is inadequate, but I think this event proves it can handle more than they think - if they keep it dug out and clear of weeds and trash.

I would physically move my neighbor's trash myself. She had several bags on the curb, and my husband pointed out that the water was going to get at least that high (it got higher) and she needed to move them. When he went out with his pitchfork at six in the morning and waded into the ditch to start clearing the culvert, he found her bags blocking it up. The street was mostly clear a few minutes after that.

A lot of people are asking, "When is FEMA coming?" They want their free money to buy what they need, including food and clothes. Most of the people affected don't have flood insurance; they have drainage issues like we do. But there's a procedure in place before FEMA can start passing out the checks. The local governments have to assess the damages. Then FEMA has to look for themselves and verify that it's really as bad as they're told. The area has to have a minimum amount of damage to homes, infrastructure, and businesses before your community can be declared a federal disaster area, so they have to do the math. Only then can the declaration be made.

So, be prepared to care for your family and pets for at least a week. Maybe that means canned food that will still be good if it gets wet. Maybe that means having some plastic bags to put medications in or a storage tub that you can put some clothes in before they get wet, and stick it up in the attic or on a top shelf. Sometimes really bad things happen and you will need help to recover. But be pro-active to give yourselves a few days that you can survive on your own before the U.S. Cavalry arrives.

It can happen any time and without warning.

Be safe. Be ready.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Disaster Tech For Your Next Emergency

The tropics are quiet for the moment, but we've already had five named storms so far in 2013. The height of the season begins now. Time to look at the tech you have to help you through a natural disaster.

Eton Cell Phone Charger
Techlicious has a great article on gadgets you can use during a power outage. My favorite is the Eton BoostTurbine 2000mAh Portable Backup Battery Pack-Charger (pictured, left). This one's about $60 at Amazon, but the company makes some other portable, self-powered charging units that are cheaper. I don't have a smartphone, but I can make calls, send text messages, and tweet from my old-fashioned flip phone. That gives me several ways to keep in touch with family and friends, even if the power's out, the phone lines are down, and the internet is dead.

The Tampa Bay Times profiles several kinds of storm gear, including some home water purifiers. Right after Hurricane Ivan, we were getting just a trickle of water, at best, until the company repaired damaged pipes and equipment. You should have enough bottled water for your family and pets for at least three days, but if repairs take longer than that, or if you want to be sure you have clean water for washing up, a purification device provides a simple worry-free option. You can also use water purification additives or add plain bleach.

Remember, some of the most important items in your disaster kit are gadgets, and they need to be powered by batteries, solar, or crank - not electricity.
  • Portable Radio
  • Flashlight
  • Can Opener
  • Hand Tools
Review your emergency kit today. Make sure you have fresh batteries for everything that needs them. If disaster strikes, you'll be glad you did.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Free Hurricane Safety Handbook

The Gulf of Mexico Alliance has put together state-specific handbooks to help you get ready for a hurricane and of other natural disasters, including floods and tornadoes. These are free pdf downloads, so, you have no excuse not to take a look at the handbook for your state and see if your disaster plan is missing anything.

The book is more than just a checklist. They include radio stations you can turn to for information in your area, websites that can provide additional information on things like flood risk, and agencies and organization that may be able to provide you with guidance or assistance before, during, or aftter a disaster. Because these are in-depth guides, the files are pretty big. It may take a few minutes for it to download . 


Please note, these links are not direct to the pdf, in case the link changes. They are links to a page that has information about and a link to the handbooks. You may have to scroll down a bit to find it. These pages also have a lot of other information that you may find useful.

If you live in an Atlantic Coast state, I'd suggest downloading one of these handbooks anyway, because while they may have some state-specific info that won't apply to you, they'll have a lot that will be the same for any coastal community.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Start the Season Right

Day two of Atlantic Hurricane Season, and we have a tropical low just entering the Gulf. The National Hurricane Center says it has a low chance of developing into a tropical storm.Still, if you haven't checked your storm supplies, now's a good chance to do it. Even if this storm turns out to be nothing, you'll be ready in case something serious develops between now and November 30.

Food - Do you have at least three days worth of non-perishable food, enough for your whole family, potential guests, and your pets? Remember, you won't have the use of electric can openers, the microwave, or your electric stove.

Water - The rule is one gallon of drinking water per person, per day, and you're expected to take care of yourself for at least three days. FEMA can't bring in supplies until roads are cleared and the local government coordinates someplace for them to set up their distribution center. Don't forget that you'll need additional water for washing hands. Again, don't forget your pets.

Batteries - You'll need a battery-operated or hand-crank radio and flashlights. The radio will help you get crucial information about the storm's movements once the power is knocked out. It's also how you'll find out where those FEMA distribution centers are. And it's awfully dark at night when no one for miles around has electricity. Flashlights and battery-operated lanterns are the best way to see where you're going and what you're doing after dark. Candles and hurricane lamps both put off heat (which you don't need in the South in the summertime) and pose a fire risk. Make sure you have fresh batteries for all your lights, radios, and other emergency devices.

The Florida Public Service Commission, which oversees utility companies, has put together some safety tips. Also check out the sidebar links on this page for more lists of what you need to be ready for bad weather and other disasters.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Purifying Water for Drinking

It's important to have plenty of drinking water in an emergency. Of course, the easiest way is to buy bottled water. You can buy it by the gallon, or in 2.5 gallon bottles, or in the huge bottles that you need a water cooler to use.
You can also store tap water in sealed containers, if you know that a disaster is about to befall your community.

If you don't have time to stock up on water or if the disaster is sudden, you may need to purify the water that you have on hand. Perhaps it's trickling in to your faucet through damaged lines, so it may be contaminated. Maybe you're collecting rain water in a barrel, or you're just not sure how clean that game day Gatorade cooler was when you filled it up. In those cases, you can safely purify water yourself, with the right supplies.

This information is from the Washington State Health Department, who worked with theEmergency Management Division of the Washington State Military Department to put it this together.

These are tips to use when the only water available to you may be contaminated by bacteria or viruses. These techniques will not protect you if the water is unsafe because of chemicals, oils, poisonous substances, sewage or other contaminants. In those cases, do NOT use the water for drinking.

Storing water safely

  • Store one gallon of water per person per day.
  • Store at least a three-day supply of water per person.
  • Collect the water from a safe supply.
  • Thoroughly washed plastic containers such as soft drink bottles are best. You can also purchase food-grade plastic buckets or drums.
  • Seal water containers tightly, label with date, and store in a cool, dark place.
  • Replace water every six months.
  • Never reuse a container that contained toxic materials such as pesticides, solvents, chemicals, oil or antifreeze.

Water purification

There are two primary ways to treat water: boiling and adding bleach. If tap water is unsafe because of water contamination (from floods, streams or lakes), boiling is the best method.
  • Cloudy water should be filtered before boiling or adding bleach.
  • Filter water using coffee filters, paper towels, cheese cloth or a cotton plug in a funnel.


  • Boiling is the safest way to purify water.
  • Bring the water to a rolling boil for one minute.
  • Let the water cool before drinking.

Purifying by adding liquid chlorine bleach

  • If boiling is not possible, treat water by adding liquid household bleach, such as Clorox or Purex. Household bleach is typically between 5 percent and 6 percent chlorine. Avoid using bleaches that contain perfumes, dyes and other additives. Be sure to read the label.
  • Place the water (filtered, if necessary) in a clean container. Add the amount of bleach according to the table below.
  • Mix thoroughly and allow to stand for at least 30 minutes before using (60 minutes if the water is cloudy or very cold).

Treating Water with a 5-6 Percent Liquid Chlorine Bleach Solution

Volume of Water to be Treated Treating Clear/Cloudy Water:
Bleach Solution to Add
Treating Cloudy, Very Cold, or Surface Water: Bleach Solution to Add
1 quart/1 liter 3 drops 5 drops
1/2 gallon/2 quarts/2 liters 5 drops 10 drops
1 gallon 1/8 teaspoon 1/4 teaspoon
5 gallons  1/2 teaspoon 1 teaspoon
10 gallons 1 teaspoon 2 teaspoons

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Isaac Is Coming!

We put up some of our hurricane shutters today, on windows in the back of the house, the three pictured plus two smaller windows for the office and bathroom. Unless the track drastically changes, we'll put up most of the other ones tomorrow - side windows for office and bedroom, front windows on bedroom, cats' room, living room, dining room, and probably the back doors. I'm guessing Tim will want to wait and do the front door on Monday, so we can keep using it.

Once I get to work on Monday, I will likely be there until after the storm passes. I'll have the car, as our street will probably flood. With Ivan in 2004 and in the spring floods of 2005, the water got almost to our front porch, so the car will be safer in the parking lot at work. NOT under the tree where I usually park for shade.

I wasn't worried when Isaac was projected to be a Category 1 at landfall. Now it's expected to be a mid-range Cat 2. That's a little more troublesome, especially since we've had so much rain this year. Trees are blowing over left and right in regular thunderstorms. The large trees in our yard are all gone, but one neighbor has several oaks and pecans that could fall on our house, and another neighbor has a tall pine that could hit our shed.

If you want to better understand the Saffer-Simpson Scale (Cat 1-5), check out this animation created by The COMET Program and posted on the National Hurricane Center website. It illustrates how much wind damage can be caused at each level.

Be ready. Be safe.

Isaac on the Way

Isaac is intensifying as it approaches Haiti, and most of the models have it heading into the central Panhandle of Florida on Tuesday.

Ted Lange as Isaac Washington.
Am I the only one who keeps picturing Isaac from The Love Boat? I always liked Ted Lange. Unfortunately, the Isaac that's churning in the Gulf of Mexico is no fun to be around.

The models have been all over the place on this one. Over the past three days, the National Hurricane Center's track has taken the storm as far west as Mississippi and as far east as the Florida Peninsula. Sometimes the models are close together, sometimes they're more spread out.

A lot of different factors go into determining the way the storm will go. Troughs, ridges, high pressure systems all play a role in guiding the storm, and different models predict different developments of those areas. In other words, it's a guessing game. A very scientific guessing game based on our knowledge of weather patterns over the years, but it's guessing all the same.

No matter where the eye makes landfall, the rest of the Gulf Coast will get some of its effects. Right now, the storm is about 460 miles across. It's getting smaller; on Thursday, I read it was 678 miles across and before that, I'd heard a thousand miles across. Tropical cyclones tend to get smaller as they become more organized, as Isaac is doing now. It was a very scattered, low intensity storm. As I write this at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, the eye is becoming more defined. It makes a pretty picture, but it means the storm is getting scarier.

I bought batteries, duct tape, wet wipes, extra bandage strips, bread, and lots of bottled water today. We have plenty of canned tuna and chicken, potted meat, Vienna sausages, and green beans (which we eat cold out of the can). I also picked up some BelVita Breakfast Biscuits; they're like cookies but with some nutritious value. We have some shelf stable milk in the fridge, but I need to drink up the half gallon of soy milk I bought last week. Maybe that's what doomed us; since Hurricane Ivan, we haven't bought two gallons of milk at the same time, but this is soy AND it's chocolate, so I didn't think it would count. Yes, I'm a bit superstitious about this!

We'll continue to watch the storm's track and decide on Sunday if we need to put up the storm shutters that we got through Rebuild Northwest Florida. I'm glad that we'll be able to cover all of our windows this time; the long windows on the two front bedrooms didn't have any protection before, and all we had over the three large windows on the back room were burglar bars. Our roof was replaced, and between the roofing company and the folks from Rebuild, we have lots of extra nails and tie-downs in, to keep it attached.

I think we're as prepared as we can be.

My worries: one of the neighbors' trees has been leaning a bit since Ivan; the ground is saturated because of the flood event on June 9 and near daily storms since; and one of the cats is sick, which is unrelated to the storm of course, but still an extra stress we don't need. We will have to try to fix up some new sandbags this weekend.

Are you ready for the storm? Do you have a Family Disaster Plan and a well-stocked Disaster Kit? If you live on the Gulf Coast, you should have one ready. If Isaac doesn't come your way, the next storm might.