Hurricane season for the Atlantic Coast begins June 1 and continues until November 30. Now is the time to make a plan, stock up on supplies and emergency equipment. Remember that old saying your mother used, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” Well, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management agrees.
A hurricane is a severe tropical storm that forms in the southern Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico or eastern Pacific Ocean. To form, hurricanes need warm tropical oceans, moisture and light winds. They gather heat and energy from the warm waters. Evaporation from seawater increases their power.
Hurricanes are classified into five categories, based on wind speed and potential to cause damage:
- Category One – Winds 74-95 mph
- Category Two – Winds 96-110 mph
- Category Three – Winds 111-129 mph
- Category Four – Winds 130-156 mph
- Category Five – Winds greater than 157 mph
In September 2003, Hurricane Isabel caused 32 deaths and approximately $1.9 billion in damages to homes, businesses and public facilities in Virginia, affecting 75 percent of the state. Yet, this deadly storm was only a Category 1 hurricane when it reached Virginia.
During a hurricane or tropical storm WATCH (threat of hurricane or tropical storm conditions within 36 hours), monitor local radio or television stations for official emergency information and instructions. Make a plan to evacuate in case you are asked to do so. During evacuations, roadways can get crowded and airports might close.
- Verify that vital records are in a safe storage area. Files, records and storage cabinets might be wrapped in plastic for moisture protection. If necessary, temporarily relocate records to a safe storage facility off-site.
- Inventory hurricane emergency supplies and restock if necessary.
- Clear all desk and table tops of small loose items.
- Secure first floor doorways with sandbags, duct tape or heavy plastic to protect interior from possible flooding.
- Disconnect all electrical appliances and equipment.
- Box or place any loose papers, books, hanging plants, etc., in desk drawers or storage cabinets.
- Close and local all windows. Draw the blinds or drapes.
- Secure adequate cash to operate for several days.
- If you are advised to evacuate, lock the doors when you leave.
- Secure your property. Install hurricane shutters over glass doors and windows or install protective material such as plywood (at least ½ inch thick). Make sure the plywood is flush against the wall and tight – gaps will allow wind to enter.
- Tie down or bring indoors any objects that might be blown around by hurricane winds (outdoor furniture, decorations, garbage cans, display racks, signs and any other loose objects that are normally left outside).
- Remove all outdoor signs, particularly those that swing or might cause damage during strong winds.
- Secure all items that cannot be brought inside.
- Remove antennas and loose objects from the roof.
- Keep trees and shrubs well trimmed.
- Ensure that all vehicles are serviced and fueled. Determine where they can be stored during the storm.
During a hurricane or tropical storm WARNING (hurricane or tropical storm conditions are expected in 24 hours or less), listen to your battery-operated and/or hand crank radio or NOAA Weather Radio for instructions.
- If you are not advised to evacuate, stay inside, away from windows, skylights and doors, even if they are covered.
- Close all interior doors. Closed doors will help prevent damaging hurricane winds from entering rooms.
- Have a flashlight and extra batteries within reach. Flashlights provide the safest emergency lighting source.
- If power is lost, turn off major equipment to reduce the power surge when electricity is restored.
- Stay out of flood waters, if possible. The water might be contaminated or electrically charged. If you find yourself trapped in your vehicle in rising water, get out immediately and seek higher ground.
- Be alert for tornadoes and flooding. If you see a funnel cloud or if local authorities issue a tornado warning, take shelter underground, if possible, or in an interior room away from windows. If waters are rising quickly or local authorities issue a flood or flash flood warning, seek higher ground.
After a hurricane or tropical storm, stay alert for extended rainfall and flooding, even after the hurricane or tropical storm has weakened.
- Stay away from flood water. Drive only if absolutely necessary and avoid flooded roads and washed-out bridges.
- Co not return to your home until local authorities say it is safe. After the hurricane and after flood waters recede, roads could be weakened and could collapse.
- Examine the exterior of the building and walls, floors, doors, staircases and windows to make sure that the building is not in danger of collapsing.
- Begin clean-up, document damages, and contact your insurance agent.
- Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and get everyone outside quickly. Turn off the gas, using the outside main valve if you can, and call the gas company. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.
- If someone needs to be rescued, call professionals with the right equipment to help. Many people have been killed or injured trying to rescue others in flooded areas.
- Stay away from loose or downed power lines. Immediately report them to the power company, police or fire department.
- Use battery-powered lanterns or flashlights when examining buildings.
- Check for sewer and water pipe damage. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap.
- Check refrigerated food for spoilage. If in doubt, throw it out. More information on food safety is available from the American Red Cross.
- Open doors and windows to ventilate and dry the building.
- Use the telephone only for emergency situations.*
For more information on hurricane preparedness and other types of emergencies, visit ReadyVirginia.gov.
*Source: The Virginia Department of Emergency Management