Be prepared for the worst in 2004 hurricane season

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 12, 2004

Special to the News-Herald

Last September, Hurricane Isabel caused 36 deaths and approximately $1.9 billion in damages to homes, businesses and public facilities in 100 Virginia jurisdictions. With her destruction still evident in many communities, residents are using lessons learned from Isabel to prepare for the 2004 hurricane season.

According to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) and the American Red Cross, Hurricane Isabel was one of the state’s costliest disasters, causing widespread devastation and disrupting the lives of thousands of Virginians.


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Hurricane Isabel was a mere shadow of the storms expected to make landfall in Virginia this year, and both the VDEM and Red Cross want everyone to be prepared for the possibility of another deadly storm.

&uot;Hurricane Isabel was one of the state’s costliest disasters, causing widespread devastation and disrupting the lives of thousands of Virginians,&uot; said Michael Cline, state coordinator for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. &uot;Yet, this deadly storm was only a Category 1 hurricane when it reached Virginia. Inland residents need to be prepared for the possibility that a hurricane stronger than Isabel will make landfall in the Commonwealth.&uot;

Faye Byrum, executive director of the Suffolk Chapter Red Cross, added the 2004 hurricane season began June 1 and continues through November 30. Byrum said that officials are expecting either a Category 1 or 2 hurricane to strike somewhere on the east coast. But also, chances are extremely good that worse hurricanes, Category 3, 4, or 5 storms will hit the coast. In addition, officials are expecting a strong tropical storm to strike this year.

&uot;The question everyone should be asking is, if a hurricane were approaching Virginia, would you be ready to evacuate or ride out the storm at home?&uot; said Byrum. &uot;Everyone needs to learn what to do whether they live inland or on the coast, and every family should immediately begin preparing a personal evacuation plan.&uot;

Byrum said that families should decide ahead of time where they could go if told to evacuate. She suggested that several places should be chosen-a friend’s home in another town, a motel, or a shelter.

Keep handy the telephone numbers of these places as well as a road map of the locality. You may need to take alternative or unfamiliar routes if major roads are closed or clogged.

Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or local radio or TV stations for evacuation instructions. If advised to evacuate, do so immediately, said Byrum.

&uot;You will want to prepare your personal evacuation kit as soon as possible and place it where it is handy,&uot; said Byrum. &uot;Also, remember to take with you prescription medications and medical supplies, bedding and clothing, including sleeping bags and pillows.&uot;

The list of supplies for the kit also includes plenty of bottled water, a battery-operated radio and extra batteries, first aid kit, flashlight, and of course, car keys and maps.

Byrum said is it extremely important that important documents, including driver’s license, Social Security card, proof of residence, insurance policies, wills, deeds, birth and marriage certificates, tax records and any other legal documents be included in your evacuation kit.

Also, assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit including canned foods and a can opener, protective clothing including rain gear.

Special items for infants, elderly, or disabled family members should also be included in the disaster kit.

&uot;Everyone should have a basic disaster supplies kit, and now is the time to check your supplies and supplement them for the hurricane season,&uot; said Byrum. &uot;If you will do this over a four-week period, it will spread out the cost and effort.&uot;

Byrum added that when thinking about hurricanes, it is also prudent to consider that tornadoes are spawned by hurricanes. In fact, 70 percent of hurricanes making landfall generate at least one tornado.

And, according to Cline, floods cause more damage and loss of life nationwide than any other natural disaster. In fact, Hurricane Isabel drenched parts of the Shenandoah and Central regions of Virginia causing five flood-related deaths and major damage to homes and businesses.

Strong winds from Hurricane Isabel also downed many trees and caused massive power outages across Virginia.

&uot;As we saw with Isabel, inland residents were affected by this storm as much as or, in some cases, more than coastal residents,&uot; said Cline. &uot;No matter where you live in Virginia, you should plan for the loss of power, telephone, water or other utilities for at least a week.&uot;

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management, in cooperation with the National Weather Service and local emergency management officials, said it is important before a storm hits to know your risk. Byrum said it is advisable to contact Suffolk’s Emergency Management Coordinator, Captain James Judkins if you are not sure whether a home is in a flood prone area. Also, Judkins can provide local preparedness information, and hurricane tracking information.

Byrum said anyone living in a flood prone area should identify where to go if told to evacuate, and the safest route to get there should be mapped out before the storm strikes. If there is a flood, you may only have minutes to get to safety.

If your home or business is in a flood-prone area, make sure you have a current flood insurance policy (not typically part of a standard insurance policy). A 30-day waiting period is generally required to purchase flood insurance, so take time now to visit your insurance agent to learn more.

Byrum also suggested that pictures of your property should be taken before the storm to help validate claims, and remember to take your policies if the need to evacuate arises.

If you have space in your refrigerator or freezer, consider filling plastic containers with water, leaving about an inch of space inside each one. Remember, water expands as it freezes, so it is important to leave room in the container for the expanded water. Place the containers in the refrigerator and freezer. This chilled or frozen water will help keep food cold for several hours if the power goes out.

Also, fill your bathtub with water to use for toilet flushing in case water services are unavailable following the storm. Bring in garbage cans, lawn furniture and other items that could blow away, and fill your vehicle’s gas tank. Functional gas stations will be in short supply in a power outage.

If heavy rains occur, be aware that floods are deceptive. Avoid already-flooded areas, and floodwaters that are above your knees are dangerous. It is advisable to turn around and go back to higher ground.

If you find floodwaters on the road while driving, turn around and find an alternate route. The road could be washed out and rapidly rising water could lift your car and carry it away.

Once the storm is over, continue to listen to local radio stations for official disaster relief information and instructions, said Byrum.

&uot;Prepare to be without power, telephone or any outside services for a week or more, just as we were in Hurricane Isabel,&uot; said Byrum. &uot;Watch out for downed power lines, weakened structures, rodents and snakes, and avoid standing water. Also, be extra careful when handling power tools, gas lanterns and matches.&uot;

As a result of using generators, a family died of asphyxiation in Hurricane Isabel. Byrum said generators should only be operated outdoors in a well-ventilated, dry area, away from air intakes to the home. Never use a generator indoors or in attached garages. Poor ventilation can result in carbon monoxide poisoning or death.

Byrum added that there are several Red Cross Disaster Classes available, as well as brochures on how to be prepared for hurricanes and other natural disasters. Also, a representative of the Suffolk Chapter is available by appointment to address clubs, civic groups, churches, schools and businesses. For more information, contact the Red Cross Suffolk Chapter at 109 1/2 Clay Street, or call 539-6645, or email