Surviving a Hurricane

Each year brings a new hurricane season for US coastal states. Usually, the seasons start and end on the same dates: They begin June 1 for the Atlantic Ocean coast and May 15 for Eastern Pacific coastal states. Both seasons end November 30. That's a long time, and predicting when and where a hurricane might hit land isn't an exact science.

The point is, one may hit at any time, so it's best to be prepared all the time. Take advantage of the calm before the storms and prepare to protect yourself, your family and your belongings.

What To Do

It's a good idea for anyone living in a hurricane-prone area to know some of the things to do before, during and after a hurricane.

Before the Storm

  • Stay up-to-date with the latest weather conditions
  • Secure your property. Use permanent storm shutters or marine plywood to cover your windows
  • Use extra straps or clips to secure your roof to the house frame
  • Tie down or remove loose furniture, gutters and down-spouts
  • Prepare a hurricane emergency kit
  • Look into building a safe room
  • Try to keep a full tank of gas in your car if you know there's a chance a storm is approaching

Just Before and During the Storm

  • Evacuate! Follow the designated evacuation route. Don't take shortcuts because the storm may have made them impassible
  • Contact local authorities and arrange for public transportation for evacuation if you don't have your own car

Have you decided to stay? You have work to do:

  • Stay tuned to local TV or radio stations for information
  • Turn the refrigerator thermostat to its coldest setting and keep its doors closed
  • Gather enough clean water for personal hygiene and toilet use - use the bathtub and sink basins
  • Go to your safe room. Stay inside and away from windows and glass doors if you don't have one. Tightly secure exterior doors and close all interior doors. Get into a small interior room, closet or hallway on the lowest level of your home

After the Storm

  • Re-enter the area only when officials say it's safe to do so
  • Keep an eye out for inured people and call emergency personnel if someone needs help
  • Watch out for downed power lines - they may be live
  • Don't enter your home if you smell natural gas or propane, see sparks or see serious structural damage
  • Take inventory of your home and your belongings. Check for damage to the roof and foundation. Take pictures of any damage and contact your insurance agent

These are by no means complete and exhaustive lists of do's and don'ts. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a lot of information to help you learn about and prepare for many disasters, including hurricanes. Take some time and get to know as much of this information as possible and put it to practice. It very well could save your or a loved one's life.

Evacuations: Move to Safety

Perhaps the best thing you can do to protect you and your family is to evacuate the area and avoid the storm all together. Many times, state and local authorities - from a state governor to a city mayor - call for a mandatory evacuation of certain areas.

"Mandatory" May or May Not Mean Mandatory

What does mandatory mean? Strangely enough, it depends on where you are. Mandatory means just that in some states - you have to leave, no exceptions, or else. For instance, once a mandatory evacuation is ordered in Texas, state and local law enforcement officials may use force to make you leave and may arrest you for refusing to do so.

Not so in North Carolina. For example, although a "mandatory" evacuation was called for the Outer Banks when hurricane Earl threatened landfall in 2010, only visitors and vacationers were ordered to leave. Permanent residents were "warned" to leave, but weren't required to.

Staying May Not Be Worth It

Regardless of whether the police can arrest you, you should know you'll be on your own and in danger. There likely won't be anyone to call if you need emergency medical or rescue help; no one to fix downed power and telephone lines; and no one to sell you food or gasoline.

Also, it's possible you could face criminal charges if someone is hurt because you decided to stay. For instance, if you don't evacuate your young children and they're hurt by high winds or flooding, you could face child neglect or endangerment charges.

Don't risk your and your family's safety. Leave the area when an evacuation is ordered.

The force and fury of Mother Nature can destroy homes and buildings across hundreds of miles. Dozens, even thousands of lives can be lost in a matter of minutes. Be prepared and be ready to act when a hurricane threatens and you can avoid the destruction.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can I use lethal force to protect my family and home if I decide not to evacuate?
  • A deputy sheriff said he could arrest me for refusing to evacuate even though our state doesn't have such a law. Is he right? What could he arrest me for?
  • If someone ignores an evacuation order and later needs to be rescued, can state or local authorities make him pay the costs of the rescue efforts?
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