As Hurricane Ian approaches the west coast of Florida, more than 2 million people have already evacuated. The storm comes less than two weeks after Hurricane Fiona barreled through Puerto Rico in what was, until that point, a relatively quiet hurricane season.
It's easy to feel powerless while facing natural disasters of such epic proportions. Although evacuating early is the only true way to avoid these dangerous storms completely, it isn't always an option for everyone; however, you can take measures to protect your home and family. Stacker consulted official recommendations from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Homeland Security, Red Cross, and other experts to compile this comprehensive list of steps you should take to prepare for and recover from a hurricane.
Take the following steps to ensure you have everything you need the next time disaster strikes—and to ensure you're able to return home, assess the damage, and begin to rebuild while staying safe. Remember: Even after the weather itself clears, the negative effects of a hurricane often linger.
From emergency supply kits to reporting losses, keep reading for 30 ways to prepare for and recover from hurricanes.
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No matter where you live, you should have an emergency plan for natural disasters. Sit down with your family and friends to discuss how you will find shelter, where you will evacuate to, and how you will communicate in case of an emergency.
Every household should also have a stocked emergency supply kit, including a "go bag" for each person. That way, if you need to shelter in place or leave home in a hurry, you'll have everything you need to stay safe and healthy.
Some states like Florida get hit by hurricanes every year, while others very rarely experience this type of storm. Do some research on your county to find out how often your area experiences tropical storms, then check FEMA's flood map to determine your risk of flooding.
Right before a hurricane makes landfall, home improvement stores will be swamped by homeowners trying to purchase sandbags, plastic sheeting, and other supplies to keep floodwater out of their homes. Store these supplies in a safe place ahead of time so you don't have to join the mad dash.
Don't overlook the nonhuman members of your family! If you have to evacuate, your pets will need to evacuate, too. Make sure they're all microchipped and have identification tags—and make sure you have a plan for how to evacuate them.
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As soon as you hear that severe weather might be possible, start thinking about where you will go. Can you stay with friends or family? Do you need to make reservations at a hotel? Consider your route out of town, as well.
Hurricanes can fill your home with floodwater, causing damage to computers, phones, and other electronic devices. Save important documents by uploading them to an online backup service or external hard drive that you take with you.
Extreme weather can knock out utility service, so it's best to prepare enough drinkable water to survive for several days without running water. You'll need at least one gallon of water per person daily for at least three days. Having seven-day's worth is even better.
If officials call for an evacuation, you're going to want to leave immediately—not to have to stop for gas along with everyone else. Don't let your gas gauge dip below half a tank just to be safe.
Check your home insurance policy to ensure it's valid and that you understand what is covered. Most standard policies cover damage caused by flying debris, falling trees, and high winds, but many don't cover flooding—a significant problem during hurricanes. Consider purchasing flood insurance if you live in a hurricane-prone region.
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Local officials might warn residents to turn off their utilities before a hurricane to prevent gas leaks and dangerous explosions. Make sure you know how to turn off your gas, water, and electric lines.
If stormwater has nowhere to go, it will back up into your home. Remove debris and clogs from rain gutters and other drains to keep water moving and limit the potential for flooding.
To be considered a hurricane, a storm must have sustained winds of at least 74 miles per hour. Winds that high can easily topple trees, creating the potential for extensive damage to your home. Keep tree branches trimmed and consider removing any trees within 20 feet of your home.
Once hurricane winds enter a property, the likelihood of severe structural damage rises dramatically. Residents of hurricane-prone regions might consider installing permanent aluminum or steel storm shutters. If such a project isn't in the budget, make temporary covers for your doors and windows out of five-eighths-of-an-inch exterior grade or marine plywood. That way, you can install your temporary shutters quickly and easily when meteorologists predict a hurricane.
When was the last time you had your roof inspected? If you're unsure, it might be time to call a contractor to ensure that your roof is sturdy enough to withstand hurricane winds.
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If you eventually have to file an insurance claim for hurricane damage, you'll need a detailed inventory of everything you own. The easiest way to prepare this quickly is through photos. Walk through your house and snap a photo of everything you can think of—that way, you won't have to rack your brains trying to remember how many books you had on that bookshelf later on.
Those 74- to 157-mph winds can lift patio furniture, garbage cans, and bicycles like they weigh nothing. Bring anything you can indoors so it doesn't become a flying projectile during a hurricane.
What about other objects that are too heavy to lift? Anything you can't bring inside by yourself should be permanently attached to the ground in your backyard if you have one. Use heavy chains to attach grills, swing sets, and other large objects to the ground.
As soon as you hear of an approaching hurricane, set your fridge and freezer to the coldest setting. Chilling your food as much as possible will help it last longer in the event of a power outage.
If your home floods, large area rugs will soak up stormwater like a sponge. Roll them up and set them upright to keep them dry.
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Before you turn off your water supply, fill bathtubs, sinks, and even buckets with clean water that you can use for flushing the toilet, bathing, and cleaning. You might not need this water, but it could prove useful if your water supply is off for several days.
Surging floodwaters can break gas lines or dislodge seals, causing dangerous gas leaks. When you return to your home for the first time, use a flashlight rather than a candle to light your way. That way, if there is a gas leak, you won't accidentally cause an explosion. If you do smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main valve and call your gas company, police department, and fire department immediately.
Hurricanes and tropical storms can also contaminate the tap water with the same harmful bacteria found in floodwater. Don't drink or cook with tap water until local authorities give the OK.
As soon as you are able to return to your home, check for any damage. Walk through the house room by room, taking photos of any issues you notice. That way, you'll be prepared to file any necessary insurance claims and begin repairs.
If your home has been damaged in the storm, you should notify your insurance company immediately. Provide a general description of the damage, as well as any photographs you took of the losses.
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Even if the worst of the storm has passed, lingering weather can still prove problematic. Once it's safe to return to your property, take steps to prevent further damage. If falling trees punctured your roof, cover any holes with a tarp to keep out rainwater. If your windows have been blown out, tape plastic sheeting over the opening. Since most insurance doesn't cover damage sustained after the storm, this step could be crucial.
Ensure that your home is safe to inhabit before starting any cleanup or repairs. Contact a licensed contractor to check the building's structural integrity, an electrician to check your wiring, a plumber to check the water lines, and the gas company to check for any gas line breaks.
Even if your home didn't sustain much damage, you'll likely have to clean up a lot of debris on your property. And since that debris might have been contaminated by floodwater, you don't want to use your bare hands. The CDC recommends wearing safety gear such as heavy work gloves, waterproof boots, goggles, and hard hats during disaster cleanup.
Start the process of cleaning up by airing out your home and throwing out any wet items that won't dry quickly, like mattresses, couches, and books. If mold has already started to grow, clean it up with a mixture of bleach and water. Drywall and insulation that have been soaked by floodwater have to go, too.
Experts also say you should be careful not to over-exert yourself as you recover from a hurricane. Emotions often run high after a disaster, causing physical tasks to tire you out more quickly than usual.
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