Life

6 Lessons Learned After Hurricane Irma 

Last week I faced a new challenge during my fairly new journey of adulting: preparing for a hurricane. As a Florida resident, I am very aware of the potential threat of hurricanes. Geographically, it is a high possibility during this time of year. But, the Tampa Bay Area hasn’t experienced a hurricane in almost 100 years, let alone the 10+ years that I’ve lived here. Having to prepare for a hurricane on my own for the first time was definitely an experience.

And boy did I learn a lot.

Thankfully, my family and I didn’t suffer any major damages or loss after the storm – minus an extended power outage for a few days, but that’s minor. Other areas faced far worse than what I experienced – my thoughts and prayers are with them.

After the hurricane, I realized how unprepared I was. I felt like I was running around for days without really knowing what to do or what I really needed. And, after talking to a few of my friends, they felt the same way.

So I decided to create this helpful list, in case we ever need to prepare for a hurricane in the future.

Water

Water became liquid gold overnight. People made a run for the stores and bought large quantities in no time. In a little over 24 hours, most stores sold out of water. Once they did restock, they limited the number of water customers could buy.

Always keep bottles of water on hand

If you have water handy, you won’t need to rush to the stores to stock up, or fear that you won’t find any. I normally use a Brita filter for my normal water drinking. It’s my gift to the environment since I drink so much water each day (less plastic water bottles piling up in landfills). But, I felt helpless thinking I wouldn’t have any water if the water supply was severely contaminated or shut off.

Coconut water is a great hydration source.

During my panic of not finding any bottles of water, I noticed that the shelves were still stocked with coconut water. I stocked up on a few bottles of coconut water in the off chance I didn’t find any regular water. Coconut water is a great replacement for regular water. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated and has a long shelf life. Bonus: it is a great way to stay hydrated without drinking a lot.

Food

Whether you are going to brace through the storm or evacuating – you need food! I was a little lost on foods to buy at first. How much would I need? What happens if the power goes out? Do we have space for this stuff?

Buy foods that are easy to store and non-perishable.

Easy to store and non-perishable is a very broad term. So here are a few things to keep on your Hurricane grocery shopping list:

  • Water
  • Canned goods (like vegetables, beans meat)
  • Non-refrigerated milk
  • Quick meals (think Easy Mac)
  • Bread
  • Fruits (like bananas, apples or grapes)
  • Snacks (like chips and cookies)

Having an outdoor grill is also a plus if the power goes out for a few days (assuming you don’t have a gas stove in your kitchen). You can still cook your food without any electricity!

Secure Your Space

You never know what will happen to your home or apartment during a hurricane. If you’re renting, you may be limited with how much you can do to protect the structure – like putting shutters or boards over the window. But, there are things you can do to protect your personal items.

Move things out of harm’s way and provide extra protection to valuable items

That lesson may seem very broad, but there are so many steps that go into making sure your items are safe and secure like:

  1. Review your homeowners or renters insurance policy. Do you have hurricane coverage?
  2. Take a time-stamped video of your entire space in case you need to file an insurance claim
  3. Move your items away from the windows and doors.
  4. Unplug all items or turn off all breakers – especially if you are experiencing flooding.
  5. Have flashlights handy
  6. Store all important documents and valuables in a waterproof case
  7. Park your car on higher ground

I’ll be honest; I was completely clueless for this section. My parents gave me some guidance based on their experiences with hurricanes in Jamaica. Thankfully, nothing was damaged, but I did have peace of mind knowing I prepared for the worst.

Evacuation Plan

Hurricanes are tricky to follow. They can increase/decrease in strength or change direction at any given moment. When we first received word that Hurricane Irma would be making landfall in Florida, most projections had the storm on a more eastern course (the east side of Florida).

As the storm got closer, the path took a dramatic shift and was heading directly to Tampa. By the time projections changed, most highways were seeing serious delays and hotels were selling out quickly.

Plan where you would go before you need to go.

Evacuation doesn’t always mean leaving the city, state, or country. You can go somewhere a few miles away that is deemed a safe zone.. For example, where I live is categorized as Zone A – which means at high risk of flooding or a storm surge. My zone was the first zone to evacuate once the notice was given by the local government. I traveled about 20 miles inland away from any flood or storm surge areas.

Your evacuation plan will depend on the situation and your location.  Check your local evacuation maps and zones to determine safe spaces. But, the most important rule is to listen to your local officials. If they give the order to evacuate, it is for your safety. So take their warning seriously!

Gas

Once the news hit, every gas station had long lines. People rushed to fill up third gas tanks and any portable containers they may have had. Before you knew it, gas stations were running out of gas left and right.

Fill up your gas tank as soon as possible and try to limit your gas usage.

A full gas tank is the key to a safe and successful evacuation plan. If you decide to evacuate is the best option, waiting to buy gas can slow down those plans, or worse, prevent you from evacuating.

After the Storm Passes

Driving through my neighborhood a day after the storm felt like a scene from an apocalyptic movie. The streets were empty. Gas stations were caution taped and closed because they didn’t have any gas. Trees were down everywhere. It was surreal. The worst was driving through areas without any power at night.

As I write this post, some areas do not have power, and some gas stations are still closed. This is just the beginning of the recovery efforts in Tampa, Florida and the islands in the Caribbean that suffered devastation because of Hurricane Irma.

If you can donate or volunteer – please do.  Every bit helps during recovery. I’m thankful my family and friends (and their families) are safe, but we can’t turn a blind eye to those who may not have been as fortunate. So I urge you to help where and when you can.

Do you know an organization that will be helping with Hurricane Irma relief efforts? Let me know below!

Sincerely, Ash

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