Although Hurricanes are nothing new, the number of surprising facts, and unexpected dangers after the storm, the challenges in getting home, and the clean-up process, may come as a surprise. My family and I live in one of the “epicenters” of hurricane Matthew, and like millions who evacuated, experienced the unexpected, and the knowledge I gained:
- Surprising facts after-the-storm
- Critical automated alerts, and mobile apps that help get you home safely!
- Safe clean-up and restoration, and maneuvering around unexpected dangers.
Hurricane “Matthew” is winding down, after Hurricane “Hermine”, and what came of Tropical Storm “Nicole”? Regardless, there will be more to come. Every year there is a season per region of weather-related danger, from earthquakes and tornadoes to wild fire, heat waves and treacherous winter storms. Usually the media and local authorities warn us about their potential dangers, “This one may hit us hard”. Often, residents react casually, not believing that it will “hit home”. That’s been true for most of our lives. But still, each time we are warned earnestly by the authorities, to take guard, and prepare ourselves, our homes, and community. Similar to “Crying wolf syndrome” and human nature cause us to believe, “These things happen to others, not to us”. Still we act responsibly, in the best interest of our loved ones and we prepare ourselves just in case. At least we stock up on for our hurricane preparedness list, drilled into us for most of our lives. We might go as far as putting ply wood over the windows. Hurricane Matthew, was different for the US Coast which rarely see a major hurricane hit landfall so close and with such power. With an estimate 2 million people evacuated from their homes and 1.3 million left without power and communications, if Matthew shifted just another 20 miles inland it could have meant widespread devastation, beyond our imaginations.
Now with Hurricane Matthew’s furious winds behind us, what’s next? We’ve been told how to prepare for hurricanes and are quite familiar with “hurricane kits”, “evacuation routes”, etc. But rarely are we prepared for the aftermath, and the dangers involved in recovery, since most hurricanes haven’t make landfall during most of our lifetimes. It’s astounding how many dangers are lurking, as noted by this Government Health Department, after a hurricane and the floods that often coincide and what we need to heed caution to, weeks or months later, not to mention the socio-economic toll it takes on families and communities, often not covered by insurance:
- carbon monoxide poisoning
- gas leak
- waste toxicity
- water safety
- electric shock
- mold allergies
- hazardous materials
- sharp objects
- unstable household structures
The following download offers details on safe cleanup procedures by the National Center for Health and Housing and unexpected dangers most of us have not experienced. Other surprising statistics are the elements during and after a storm that cause the most danger to human life.
Some Tips when returning home from a hurricane or flood, included in this Red Cross Guide:
- Do not enter a building if you smell gas. Call 9-1-1. Do not light a match or turn on lights.
- Clean your home as recommended to stop mold.
- Never mix bleach and ammonia, because the fumes could kill you.
- Only drink water you know is safe. Check with your local and county water authority for direction.
- Wear waterproof boots and gloves to avoid floodwater touching your skin.
- Wash your hands often with soap and clean water, or use a hand-cleaning gel with alcohol in it.
- Avoid tetanus and other infections by getting medical attention for a dirty cut or deep puncture wound.
Hurricane Sandy Statistics
Source: Matt Daniel, Meteorologist, 13WMAZ (CBS)and Weather Contributor CNN, and MSN Weather.
On a personal level, living on one of the islands of Savannah Georgia, hurricane Matthew did hit home, and caught me and everyone by surprise. Although my family and most people were warned well in advance, it has been a surreal experience, and one we are incredibly lucky to have escaped in time, but not easy by any means. Getting out during and after an evacuation, on the road for hours, as depicted in the movies, became very real, and scary. Finding a safe place for my family, at the same time as a everyone in my community, created great cause for concern. I kept envisioning having to leave our car on the side of the road, out of gas, dragging ourselves to shelter. That didn’t come to fruition, but the fear factor around the possibility caused some great levels of anxiety.
As successful as could be expected, I found myself sitting in a hotel room recollecting for days, still in shock, as if seeing this experience from someone else’s eyes. Feeling like a Journalist now, I’ll tell you what I learned for the first time. After running out of the 5 days of food packed into our truck, even a drive to the store to get bread for the kids, looking through sold out shelves, even though 100 miles from “the epicenter (home) and still having to reroute around trees across roads on the way to the store…
Power lines dangling on the ground, flooded roads, rooftops down, debris, roadways blocked.
Traffic lights sitting in the middle of the road (They are really huge, up close”)
Most of the traffic lights weren’t functioning for days after the storm. The authorities forgot to mention that this situation would be treated as you would approach a 4-way-stops sign, especially when ever other light was out. I was surprised that many people didn’t follow that rule, and ended up witnessing some fender benders as an effect. I can’t even imagine what back home must look like…not yet allowed to return, or the National Guard will turn us around.
Lights Out – Dark Streets – Dangerous Intersections
What I have learned the hard way, since never experiencing this before, is that I was much more prepared to stay safe while the storm hit, with heavy winds, then to live safely after the storm passed through. I now understand why the storm is just the beginning. More injuries and dangers occur after the storm then is evident. After finally getting home, it can often feel like “living off the grid” with no food, clean water, power/lights/refrigerator/air or heat. Often stores are closed as well. This living condition can definitely be dangerous, especially when the structure of the home you return to is in question. Stumbling around it in the dark can be a concern.
My home is at ground zero and one of the worst hit. Our neighbors were not so lucky
Subdivision down the street – hit really close to home…
Now checked into our 3rd hotel moving further distance each time 50 – 75 miles away and still not quite far enough, while downgrading in quality with each move, due to lack of vacancies, overwhelming costs, and becoming more desperate with each day.
Living in a hotel for an extended period can be an unexpected expense when balancing the budget…the other unexpected expenses such as auto damage and home damage can wreck havoc.
This hotel was decent, but a scary sight on our arrival. Now the question is, “where to park”?…
Doing everything to keep the family safe, but with so many worries, will my home be functional, in one piece, and safe when we return, when we are allowed to return. I hear our power came back on but then went down again 20 minutes later. What will I do with my kids who are off from school for a week, while I work?
Now 75 miles from the evacuation zone, yet a simple drive to get gas has become a hazard with multiple reroutes, and dangerous “landmines” of down power lines and 100 year old majestic oak trees toppled over across the road.
Inexperienced with all the hurdles and dangers in front of us, taught mostly about preparing for the storm, and boarding up our windows, hording food and water, batteries and candles and first aid, but not the aftermath and the clean-up in store, which last so much longer… I just found out that 88% of deaths in hurricanes are not from wind, but from drowning. I guess hurricane kits should include safety vests, but they don’t…
Source: The Weather Channel and supplied by National Hurricane Center
There are a greater number of non-fatal injuries that occur after the storm. According to a Mayo Clinic study, heart attacks in areas most affected by the storm increased 22 percent in the two weeks after the storm compared to the two weeks prior. There was 31 percent increase in the 30-day mortality rate after a heart attack, the study found. Further, after Hurricane Sandy, 10% of injuries occurred after the storm. According to the CDC post-storm skin infection and disease are most common issues. Staying safe after the storm is under-monitored a under-reported, but very real according to the CDC.
But like with most crisis, there is often a learning experience, or at least a valuable lesson. Even wild fires provide the earth with a regenerating properties that are critical to nature’s cycles. For example, after the storm, without power, air, and lights, neighborhoods converged outside, interacting on porches, and connecting. Today that is an unusual occurrence. Strangers combine their resources to relay information, share their stories in real time, while sitting around the hotel lobby together, talking about their homes, families, and combining pieces of knowledge to help one another make plans to get back, to get help answering some of the major questions at hand:
- Is my house structure sound? Are there trees down?
- What is curfew? Why do we need IDs when traveling back?
- Do we have power? When will will power be restored?
- Is our water safe? What steps to ensure this?
- Are roads cleared or can I get home via other route?
- When will schools open again?
Automated Alerts – Updates – Authority Notifications [INFOGRAPHIC]
Getting back home, we were reliant on various information services for updates on the conditions we were faced with on the roads, at home, and what we would be met with on arrival. We had set up automated alerts with the local county and city, the school district, power company and other amazing and efficient solutions around the local area. We were able to understand when evacuation areas permitted residents to return, Curfews in affect and the condition of our neighborhood.
Here are some great alert services we set up. Instead of having to remember the dozens of websites and phone numbers to contact and gather information, we were able to setup automated alert services. When a status changes, such as “power is restored” or “evacuation order is lifted” you are alerted via text, email or automated phone message. Some are high tech and others, good-old-fashion “hear-it-through-the- grapevine “ passing along information between people face to face, plus the newer version of that, local online social groups relaying information and News:
1. Electric Company Alerts – Receive text message or a phone call when power is restored
2. Electric Company Outage Maps
3. Friends and Family are safe “Check- ins” – are you friends, family and associates OK?
4. Neighborhood Support via Social Groups like Facebook’s Sales Group, “Bye, Sell and Trade” – Found many neighborhood photos from people who didn’t evacuate
5. Weather Alert Mobile Apps – Get My Weather Daily – Weather Watcher (many available)
6. Local Authorities Alerts & Social Page Notification (evacuation status, return status, curfew details, travel requirements)
CEMA was our go to local alert system – Chatham County Emergency Management Authority
7. Our Town’s Social Media Page
8. School Opening and Closing Alerts
- Each School has an alert system you can sign up for that will text, call and email updates on school closures , concerns and events, etc.
9. Roadway Travel Alerts – Evacuation and Re-entry Routes, Traffic Forecasts, Accidents/Traffic, Closures, Web Cams – Inrix App (below), Google Maps & GPS services have many of these features as well
10. Safe Cleanup, Financial Recovery and Assistance
- Health Department Guide
- National Center for Health and Housing
- Water Recovery
- Donations; Supplies
- Disaster Assistance
- Rental and Home Insurance Claims. Don’t forget to Take photos of your belongings. Try to take an account before you leave or evacuate, photographing each room, and then when you return. Insurance should cover many damages. When they don’t a quick online Title Loan might be able to help with those unexpected costs, or the deductible which can be $500 – $2,000, more than you may have at your immediate disposal.
Make sure to get your neighbors’ cell phone numbers and email address – you can group text for updates and information.
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