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Now is the time to prepare, not when the storm arrives

With just barely two weeks to go before hurricane season begins, now is the time to put an emergency plan and survival kit together.

I know, you’ve heard this dozens of times in the past few weeks and months, but have you done anything about it?

My wife and I moved here late last year from the Florida Panhandle. We were there for just about three years, which means we went through, or were threatened by, a number of tropical systems.

We were lucky. But we also came close one time.

It was September 2004 and his name was Ivan.

Knowing the storm was coming, we got ready. I bought plywood and had it cut to fit all the windows of our house. Martha and I went out and bought flashlights and batteries, a battery-powered radio, water, and other staples.

And then we “hunkered down” as staying put and riding out the weather came to be known.

I remember we were watching TV as the storm moved closer to shore, watching it’s every move relative to our home.

The eye, or the center of the storm, was projected to hit west of us, in the Pensacola area. But we weren’t out of the woods by any means.

Our town was going to fall under the northeast quadrant of the giant weather maker. Think of a clock, and we were in the 12-3 section. Aside from a direct hit, that is the worst quadrant, the one that produces the most severe storms and tornadoes.

Sometime that evening, I can’t remember exactly, except I know it was dark, the weather man said a tornado had been spotted just outside of the tiny town of Cypress, about the same distance from us as Holland is to downtown Suffolk n maybe even closer.

And if that were not bad enough, it was moving our way.

I jumped up and called Martha, telling her to start gathering up the critters (there are eight of them) and head for the closet in the master bedroom. We were able to catch seven of them. Emmett the cat was her elusive self and never made it to the closet.

We also had some of our survival gear with us, particularly lights and the radio. And I am so glad I had the latter.

Long before the storm even formed, the Panama City TV stations struck an agreement with the local radio providers to simultaneously broadcast the weather reports. So, when the power at our house was interrupted, just moments after the weather man told us about the twister, we turned on the radio. There was the same voice we had just been listening to, giving us a play-by-play of the tornado’s movement.

We stayed in the closet for about an hour, not leaving until the weatherman reported the twister’s passage and sounded the all clear.

The rest of the night Martha and I slept in shifts, one of us staying up to listen to the radio in case Ivan had another funnel cloud or two to throw at us.

We also had that radio to listen to the following day until power was finally restored. And there was another warning the next morning.

After daylight I took a drive through the neighborhood. We lived on a half-mile street. Our end of the street was untouched, while at the other end, every tree in sight had been laid down flat by the twister. Fortunately no homes were damaged and there were no injuries.

To this day I am glad we prepared. If we hadn’t, once the power went out, we would not have known what was happening right outside our front door. And we wouldn’t have known when it was safe to exit our makeshift bunker.

My point is this: When it comes to tropical weather, or any kind of severe weather for that matter, there comes a time when it is too late to prepare.

Don’t wait for that time. Do it now.

Get yourself some flashlights and fresh batteries. Fresh is important. Don’t go dig those ones out of the camp box that have been there for years.

Buy a battery-powered radio.

And if you do nothing more n although there are plenty of things that should be done to protect yourself and your loved ones n this may be enough. At least you will know what is happening and be able to see in the dark.

If you want more information on how to prepare, visit any one of these Web sites:

http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/

http://www.fema.gov/

http://www.metlife.com/Applications/Corporate/WPS/CDA/PageGenerator/0,1674,P1705,00.html

http://www.epa.gov/naturalevents/hurricanes.html

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Take it from me, a little preparation goes a long way when all hell breaks loose.

And by the way, Emmett was waiting for us after we left the closet. She was just fine.

Grant is the managing editor of the Suffolk News-Herald. Contact him at 934-9603 or doug.grant@suffolknewsherald.com.