Hurricane Irene: PREPARE!

August 25, 2011 / 3:05 pm • By Dr. Melissa Clouthier

So, on Twitter a few minutes ago, I created a list for folks on the Northeastern seaboard looking at their imminent crisis. Most seem rather blithely detached from the impending pain. I know that feeling. It’s the same one one has looking into the Grand Canyon and seeing the vastness and feeling small and overwhelmed. People see that satellite image and it seems unreal. It isn’t.

Prepare. The New York Times has a gorgeous interactive tracker here.

Overarching ideas: If I were a single mother or had health problems or have infants or small children, I would be evacuating now. New York is going to have some problems that New Orleans had: A rather land-locked populace, many of whom rely on public transportation. The time for leaving is now. You have two days. Don’t dally. If it comes to nothing, you’ve had a nice long weekend away. If it comes to something, being stuck three or four floors up and helpless with not enough food, water, medicine? Misery. Ask for help NOW.

So, here’s some things you’ll need if you decide to ride it out — something I most certainly DO NOT recommend considering what’s coming. But if you’re a stubborn mule and refuse to leave, at least be prepared.

  1. Bleach: You’ll use it to clean. Before the hurricane hit here last time, I became a whirling dervish. I cleaned EVERY piece of laundry. The house was spotless. The first thing that happens when the hurricane comes through — no electricity, no sanitation, no public works. Think about it. Think about not flushing your toilet. Yeah.
  2. Extra paper goods: Toilet paper, paper plates, plasticware, garbage bags, baby wipes (no showers), etc. You can’t have too much.
  3. Camp lamps: You know those propane camp lamps? Make sure you have fuel, too. But when you lose electricity, you’ll want to sit around in the sweltering heat and do something. Get cards, books (no iPad), board games.
  4. Landline for telephone and MAKE SURE you have an old-fashioned phone that doesn’t need batteries.
  5. Buy more perishable food than you think. Fruits, veggies. Dried goods get boring after a couple days.
  6. CASH IS KING. ATMs won’t work. Banks will be closed. You will need money to buy things from whomever is still open. Their credit card machines WON’T work.
  7. Fill up the car with gas. This could save your life. Your car engine is a generator. It can charge your phones. It can get you the hell out of Dodge. Fill it up.
  8. Buy a chainsaw now.  Laugh if you will, but we helped many people get out of their driveways and out of neighborhoods with our chainsaw. People were stuck. Don’t be one of them.
  9. Buy a handcrank NOAA radio. You will use this. When the reality of no electricity settles in, you’ll start panicking because you don’t have enough batteries. Hand cranks work no matter. Buy one here.
  10. Guns and ammo. Make sure and have it ready. There was no looting in Houston. Know why? Self protection. People get desperate. When we left and finally evacuated a week after the last hurricane, we stopped at a private gas station that our friends are part owner of — we needed to top off the tank after doing some running around. A very frantic dude came up (he was armed) who wanted gas. We all were armed (four men and me and the kids). It was a good thing we were.
  11. High calorie food and multi-vitamins. Chocolate. PB&J. Boxed foods. Get a variety. You’ll be sick of it all before it’s all over.
  12. Clear plastic covered containers and plastic bags. PUT ALL VALUABLES in clear plastic bags. Put plastic bags in the bin. Be ready to put them in the car and go. 12.5 Have a container with emergency items — hunting knife, rope, tarp, duct tape, etc.
  13. Gas stove works. Everything else won’t. You’ll need a grill and charcoal and matches or a lighter. Keep em dry.
  14. WHEN IN DOUBT EVACUATE.  What’s the worst that can happen? You’re wrong? Who cares? It’s better than being stuck in a flooded city, I can promise you.
  15. Get water. During the first hurricane, we had surprise guests. Friends and extended family lived in a mobile home. They couldn’t afford to leave but the hurricane was on a direct path. We had them come to our house. It was a good thing we had lots and lots of extra water. You want to be in the position of helping people–not needing help.
  16. You have a short window to make contact with family. The government will take over the cellular and landline network for emergency channels. This will piss you off. Don’t panic. Addendum: Make sue someone knows what your plans are. Give out back up phone numbers. People will be worrying about you.
  17. Extras: Duct tape (for windows and blowing and stuff) and LED flash lights. FIRST AID kit. Aspirin, antibiotics, butterfly bandages, etc
  18. Take pictures for insurance. Right NOW, get out your phone. Go around your house and take pictures of everything. Save the photos somewhere safe. Insurance. Someone mentioned emailing them to yourself. This is a good idea. Get it in the cloud in case you need to make claims.
  19. Last thing before all else fails: Fill the tub with water. And as @chrisofrights says, the water tank has extra.
  20. Plastic bags. You really can’t have too many between trash and clean up. RT @FineCalliCat: wipes..don’t forget wipes
BONUS: Don’t forget an emergency kit. Fill up on your medicine, etc.
Double BONUS: Manual can opener. Forgot that.
You’re probably thinking this is melodramatic. Not so much. Things get primal awfully quickly. When it comes down to it, there will be a grim determination that sets in. You’ll start only seeing men at the grocery store. You’ll see panicked people pleaded with grocers for more water. You’ll wish you had prepared. You’ll feel foolish because you knew what you should do but you didn’t do it.
Do it.
Once the hurricane hits and once the electricity goes out, you’ll be thrown back in time. There will be no sanitation. There will be water everywhere. Trees and debris will be strewn. You’ll wonder when someone will clean up. No one is cleaning up. YOU are cleaning up.
Civilization is a delicate thing. It goes out the window, and quickly, under trauma. Your best defense is preparing now. Communications will fail. You’ll wonder how the government does anything. And the answer is, they don’t do much, very well, on a good day. Under pressure, they go to where they’re most needed first and there’s many things they simply can’t do. Expect nothing and be pleasantly surprised when they come through.
Good luck!
  • Anonymous

    Excellent list, especially for somebody in Houston (out of the way of Irene but having experience with this sort of thing).  We are planning to sit it out in NJ.  I will be working from home on Friday to prepare (I work in lower Manhattan).  I hope it just passes us to the east.

  • Two points:

    – Make sure that chainsaw is gas-powered.  Electric chainsaws won’t cut it (no pun intended) once the power goes out.

    – If you have a backpacking-quality water filter (no, not the stuff from Pur; it has to filter things no more than 0.3 microns large), be thankful.

    Oh, and don’t run that grill (or camp stove; I like the one-burner ones) inside; carbon monoxide poisoning is no good.

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  • Db2guy

    It’s New York: number 10 is probably useless. They’ll use harsh language.

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  • Susnn

    Cat litter. Drain the toilet, put in a garbage bag and fill with litter. Remove waste and seal in an air tight container. It works for people as well as cats.

  • DBinSD

    Great stuff – I haven’t lived in hurricane country for years (Houston, back in the day), but this is really good advice. 

  • bernfp

    You can use the bleach to purify water for drinking.  Wild guess, 1 capfull per  filtered gallon and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes.  A shovel is real handy to dig a slit trench latrine if you live where there is dirt you can dig.  Candles are nice as well. Charcoal  is very handy for cooking.  A few briquets can get you hot water. And get some matches.  A few of the plastic five gallon buckets (with lids) lets you store all the emergency stuff.  I seal them with duct tape and put red crosses on the outside.

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  • Firehand

    I’ll suggest, when can, get one of the old P38 can openers; they fit on a keyring, very small & light, and come in damn handy over time.

  • The P-38 is the original multi-tool. I still have one I got in ’74 strung on my old dog tags. Never go anywhere without one.  🙂

  • I live in Maine and there’s always a box of stuff ready for when, not if, we lose power. Candles, matches, sterno & a sterno stove, and an old army canteen cup for boiling water. I keep a jar of instant coffee, plus instant soup, oatmeal, etc to make with water boiled in the canteen cup. Works like a champ.

     Also handy are a couple blue plastic tarps and a couple rolls of duct tape. It was invaluable a few years back when a tree limb took out a window. I was able to put the tarp up with the duct tape for a few days until we got power back and I could get the window replaced.

  • My family survived the April 27 tornadoes and loss of power in Alabama. Buy extra canned food – fruit, tuna, etc. Hickory Farm type sausage that doesn’t have to be refrigerated. A good plastic jar to make sun tea in. Batteries and a radio with FM – seriously, this was our only contact to the outside world. Charge your Kindle – it will last a long time. WisperNet on Kindle was rumored to be a good thing. Sturdy gloves to use for clean up. Good sturdy shoes with several pair of socks. Poison Ivy protection and/or ointment for cleanup. Chainsaws are vital, but smaller hand tools are a huge help – especially for the younger or weaker members of your family.Tarps, more tarps. Bottled water!!!

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  • Wudndux

    Good idea! Even easier to use the bucket the litter came in, tho maybe less comfortable. If you are willing to make the effort- other things may be much higher priority- you can find and buy a toilet seat made to fit on top of a standard round 5 gallon bucket. Then use the bucket to store supplies.

    Most suggestions are way overblown. Just keep it simple: Water, food, a campstove with fuel, GOOD flashlights and a lantern, batteries, a first aid kit augmented for cuts from flying debris and broken glass, a medium size Swiss Army knive like the Victorinox Climber, a battery radio. Of course the list can go on forever, but get those first and you can add to later.

    The only person who uses a Rambo knife is Rambo. A compass??? Why? To navigate from Times Square to 108th and Broadway?

  • Beth

    After Ike hit down here in Houston, I added a car cell phone charger to my list. Also battery powered Coleman lanterns and a small battery powered TV.

  • Beth

    After Ike hit down here in Houston, I added a car cell phone charger to my list. Also battery powered Coleman lanterns and a small battery powered TV.

  • Anonymous


    Computer backups. Make one. If you don’t have time, do the following:

    Shut down the computer. Unplug the power cable from the computer. The two foot air gap is still the finest surge protector on the planet.

    Unplug the network cables and printer cables — any cable connecting to anything that plugs into the wall. They conduct electricity just fine. (This also applies to your big screen and cable box / dvd player / etc.).

    3. Open up the case, take out the hard drives, put them in a padded and sealed box, and take them with you.

    4. When you come back, wait until the power has been stable for 8 hours . Then put the hard drives back in the computers, and reconnect the cables. Everything should be good.

  • Best hurricane advice ever!

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  • Nathan

    Good call on the bleach but your recommendation is way too much.  1 eyedropper full of bleach per quart of water and let sit for at least an hour and shaken all up.  At least, that is what I remember from the ol Army training when we purified our water that way.

  • Steve

    1/8 teaspoon per gallon, shake and smell. If you can’t smell the bleach add another 1/8 teaspoon per gallon and try again. If you still can’t smell the bleach, discard and find another water source. 16 drops should equal about 1/8 teaspoon.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not worried, we elected a messiah that can stop the seas from rising -my well spent on government tax money will protect me.

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  • Anonymous

    The windup radio is great – mine as a light embedded in it, but I also have a couple of windup flashlights as well. 

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