Ms. L. was a Cambodian refugee who came to live in Mississippi near the coast. She owned two greenhouses and made her living by growing water spinach. It was hard work, but she had built up her list of restaurants that bought her product. In August 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit and Ms. L. had to evacuate. Ms. L.’s greenhouses were not spared and when she returned weeks later nothing was left, no home and no greenhouses.
Following Hurricane Katrina, Ms. L. made the difficult decision to start over in a different location where she thought she would be safe. She would rebuild her greenhouses and her life inland, moving more than 50 miles away from the coast to settle near Houston, Texas. But in 2017, Hurricane Harvey pushed into Texas and devastated the Houston area. When the flooding subsided, Ms. L. had once again lost her greenhouses.
Like Ms. L., many people take what they can carry and flee to safety when facing a hurricane. Often times it is weeks or months before they are allowed to go back in to see the result of severe wind, rain, and flooding. However, evacuation is the safest course of action. Others choose a more dangerous alternative and elect to stay in an attempt to protect their homes, animals, and possessions. While many believe they have what it takes to weather the storm, the truth is very few have the resources, experience and capabilities to be successful in such a hostile environment for a prolonged period of time.
Weeks ago, Hurricane Florence devastated the Carolinas, and Hurricane Michael just made its way through Florida and Georgia. Their impact is still being felt. These hurricanes bring a teachable moment because they highlight the damage, destruction, and chaos that comes from riding out a hurricane. However, no two storms are alike and in recent years the damage caused and the amount of rainfall have steadily increased.
This increase in hurricane severity and rainfall has a strong correlation to increases in global temperature, to rising sea level, increased ocean temperature, and the increased atmospheric moisture content. The combination is what gives a hurricane its strength. Last year was a record-breaking year for ocean temperatures and now 2018 has exceeded that marker. This means more rainfall is to be expected with each future hurricane.
Why does that matter? It means that hurricanes are evolving into something different, something even more dangerous. Gigantic rainstorms! Rain is not a factor in the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which is how experts determine hurricane severity, and to base the decision to stay or evacuate solely on this grading scale is no longer enough. This increase in rainfall means smaller hurricanes will cause more devastation and flooding than previously witnessed or recorded. The severe flooding caused by these deluges will prolong power outages and increase levy damage in areas previously thought safe.
With this knowledge, how can people feel confident about weathering this new kind of storm? Well, the mindset of preparedness needs to change. Knowing that these newer storms are increasing in severity and amount of rainfall means that people staying behind need to prepare for increased flooding, severe water shortages, and power outages that may last weeks or longer.
The 5 to 7 day preparedness plan experts previously encouraged may no longer be enough. People should store AT LEAST 10 to 14 days worth of non-perishable food, clean water, batteries, portable charging devices, radios, medicines, important documents, insurance cards, identification and anything else they may need in waterproof containers that float. This way people hopefully will have enough supplies to weather the initial storm and the flooding that follows.
It is also important for people to understand where their home lies in relation to the 100- and 500-year flood zoning. Severe flooding that comes from these new storms is well beyond what has been seen in the past. Therefore, someone who stays should make sure that his or her home is well above the 100-year flood zone, preferably above the 500-year flood zone, because once the flooding starts, options for evacuation decrease dramatically. Use this link to see where a home lies in relation to flood zoning.
People who choose to stay should notify someone outside of the hurricane path and tell them they intend to stay put. Give them as much detail as possible about the plans to stay and the level of preparedness. Tell them the number of people staying, their names/age/descriptions, the address, everyone’s cell number, and any medical issues members of the group may have. Lastly, if there is any hesitation whatsoever about staying, any at all, that person should leave prior to the storm affecting the area.
Education is the foundation of preparedness, and people who plan to ride out a storm must be prepared. They cannot rely solely on sandbags and luck to see them through. Understanding how a specific area will be affected by flood waters, power outages, and a prolonged need for self-sustainment are perhaps the largest contributors to successful survival of large weather-related events like hurricanes.
Hurricanes, tropical cyclones, typhoons and the flooding they cause have killed more people worldwide in the last 50 years than any other natural catastrophe. Don’t be a part of the statistic! Get educated, decide what is safest, and make a preparedness plan.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
William Prichard MSN, RN, MS-HLS is a recent graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing MSN (Entry Into Nursing) Program and is currently working for the Veterans Health Administration. Mr. Prichard’s professional background is in disaster management, crisis response, military training, mountain medicine and alpine rescue. He has a Masters in Homeland Security, has worked for FEMA, and volunteers overseas in low resource settings for populations in need of medical assistance. Mr. Prichard is currently collaborating with local and international organizations to increase capabilities, training, and education opportunities for communities and populations in low resource settings in the U.S., Africa, and PNG.