“What do people there do in a hurricane?” my mom asked.
It was a question that was more on her mind because during her visit here this summer, she also took her first trip to New York. How do you get all those people out, she wondered?
The short answer is that you don’t.
And it’s a mostly foreign concept to people who are accustomed to living in the path of dangerous storms.
Running from hurricanes, or riding them out, is part of growing up on the Gulf Coast. People remember entire parts of their lives in reference to the biggest ones. And tiny parts of the world that few knew existed suddenly have journalists traipsing through the wreckage.
In 1992, Dan Rather found his way to my hometown of Franklin, Louisiana after Hurricane Andrew came ashore there, ripping through homes and businesses. At the time, I was working in New Orleans, less than two hours from home. New Orleans was spared so I loaded up my car with food and brought it home to my family, which was without power and digging out from the wreckage.
But in the 20 years since I left home, my job during hurricanes is different. When something shows up in the Gulf, I start scouting routes of escape for family members and, when necessary, securing hotel reservations to ensure they have safe places to stop and rest.
Hurricane Irene, however, turned our routine on its head. This time, I am the one getting the calls and being reminded of how best to prepare. What was evident during the calls was how much I had forgotten.
Here are a few tips:
Remove anything that can from the yard and porch. Duh! Should have been a no brainer but you forget. Planters. Hanging plants. Water cans. Lawn furniture. Small barbeque grills. All of them during high winds become dangerous projectiles that can come crashing through windows.
Make sure you have water. Fill up the tub with water and any available jugs. At home in Louisiana, sometimes the tap water would be unusuable after a storm, so it’s best to have as much as possible on hand.
Locate candles and batteries. In case the lights go out for extended periods.
Buy charcoal. Because, of course, you have to grill any meat or seafood that is at risk of spoiling.
Fill your ice chests. A backup in case the power goes out, and when it’s no longer cold.
Board up your windows if you can. Often this is not plausible here but back at home we had pieces of wood that fit neatly over each window because tropical storms came so often.
Hurricanes are not a joke. So be in the safest place you can. My mom suggested maybe I hole up at work, which would mean that I would actually have to work through the storm.