Best Methods for Surviving
How Do You Improve Your Odds for Surviving Hurricane Disasters?
Hurricanes and tropical storms are cyclones with tropical origins (tropical cyclones). When the winds of a tropical storm (winds 39 to 73 miles per hour) reach a constant speed of 74 miles per hour or more, it is called a hurricane. Hurricane winds blow in a large spiral around a relatively calm center known as the "eye." The "eye" is generally 20 to 30 miles wide, and the storm may have a diameter of 400 miles across. As a hurricane approaches, the skies will begin to darken and winds will grow in strength.
Ground View of Hurricane Katrina
Hurricanes are nature's most powerful storms, bred out of heat, moisture and intense low pressure. Serving as a heat-release valve in the Earth's atmosphere, hurricanes can be as expansive as 600 miles in diameter, build to a height of more than 50,000 feet into the sky and pack sustained winds of up to 185 mph. In the Northern Hemisphere, they always swirl counterclockwise. To give the public a reading on their power and potential for destruction, hurricanes are classified into five categories under the Saffir-Simpson Scale. The scale is based on maximum sustained winds:
- Category 1: 74 to 95 mph;
- Category 2: 96-110 mph;
- Category 3: 111-130 mph;
- Category 4: 131-155 mph;
- Category 5: More than 155 mph.
When a hurricane is a Category 3, 4 or 5 it is considered a major - or intense - hurricane. The graphic quantifies that attributes of various hurricane strengths for classification purposes.
Hurricane Classification Scheme
Since 1925, hurricanes have caused almost $5 billion in damage per year on average in the United States. Major hurricanes account for more than 80 percent of the damage and strike the United States every 1.3 years on average.
The storm surge, a steady rise of sea waters above tide levels, is the most deadly aspect of hurricanes, as it can result in severe flooding and battering waves. Inland flooding also has proven to be a prolific killer. Yet, many people die in the aftermath of storms from downed electrical wires, water-covered ditches or falling objects such as trees.
Scientists say hurricane activity rises and falls based on a natural cycle of warm waters ebbing and flowing into the tropical regions where hurricanes frequently are spawned. These cycles, or eras, can last 20 to 30 years. However, in recent years, a growing number of scientists say global warming has increased the number of major hurricanes each year, as well as increased their intensity.
The storm seasons spanning 1995-2005 comprised the most active 10 consecutive hurricane years on record. Hurricanes are born out of low-pressure areas called tropical waves. In the Atlantic basin, these waves are frequently created by the heat of the North African desert. The waves feed off warm ocean waters. Thunderstorms develop and a low-pressure center forms.
When the thunderstorm activity forms a closed circulation around a low-pressure center, the system is deemed to be a tropical depression. When the sustained winds reach 39 mph, the system becomes a tropical storm. When those winds reach 74 mph, it becomes a hurricane.
The strongest winds of a hurricane are usually found near the eye wall, or the circle of clouds around the center. The eye can be 10 to 30 miles in diameter. Generally, the stronger the hurricane, the smaller the eye.
While hurricanes most commonly form between June and November, the most powerful hurricanes are spawned near the Cape Verde Islands between mid August and the end of September. Officially, the hurricane season begins June 1 and ends November 30.
FEASIBILITY OF A HURRICANE OCCURRENCE FOR YOUR LOCATION
An average of five hurricanes hit the United States coastline every year. Of these five annual hurricanes, two will be major hurricanes. Most U.S. hurricanes occur during the hurricane season and impact the eastern and southern coast. Although the Pacific coast will feel the residual impacts of hurricanes coming up the western coast of Mexico but typically do not have the force of the eastern and southern coast hurricanes. The Hawaiian Islands are hit from time to time with tropical hurricanes, called typhoons. Hurricanes do not penetrate the coastline much more than several hundred miles.
Florida is the most hurricane vulnerable state in the nation. Since 1900, 67 hurricanes have struck the state, 29 of them major. Texas is closest behind with 40 hurricanes, 17 major.
If you are not familiar with an area, learn about hurricane risk in your community by contacting your local emergency management office, National Weather Service office, or American Red Cross chapter.
Your local weather stations keep the public very well informed today about potential hurricanes in the area. The National Weather Service has a set of terminology that defines the level of concern:
NASA Satellite Image of
Katrina over Florida
Here are some of the hurricane weather-watching terms:
- A National Weather Service WATCH is a message indicating that conditions favor the occurrence of a certain type of hazardous weather. For example, a severe thunderstorm watch means that a severe thunderstorm is expected in the next six hours or so within an area approximately 120 to 150 miles wide and 300 to 400 miles long (36,000 to 60,000 square miles). The NWS Storm Prediction Center issues such watches. Local NWS forecast offices issue other watches (flash flood, winter weather, etc.) 12 to 36 hours in advance of a possible hazardous weather or flooding event. Each local forecast office usually covers a state or a portion of a state.
- A National Weather Service WARNING indicates that a hazardous event is occurring or is imminent in about 30 minutes to an hour. Local NWS forecast offices issue warnings on a county-by-county basis.
- A HURRICANE WATCH is issued when there is a threat of hurricane conditions within 24 to 36 hours.
- A HURRICANE WARNING is issued when hurricane conditions are expected in 24 hours or less.
Many people do not realize the threat of hurricanes as each one is different. Over the past several years, U.S. hurricane warning systems have provided adequate time for people on barrier islands and the immediate coastline to move inland when hurricanes threaten. However, due to rapid population growth, it is becoming more difficult to evacuate people from the barrier islands and other coastal areas because roads have not kept pace with the expansion.
The problem is further compounded by the fact that 80 to 90 percent of the population now living in hurricane-prone areas have never experienced the core of a "major" hurricane. Many of these people have been through weaker storms. The result is a false impression of a hurricane's damage potential. This often leads to complacency and delayed actions, which could result in the loss of many lives.
WHAT TYPICALLY HAPPENS WHEN A HURRICANE OCCURS
A hurricane can bring torrential rains, high winds, and storm surge as it nears land. A single hurricane can last more than two weeks over open waters and can run a path across the entire length of the eastern seaboard.
More dangerous than the high winds of a hurricane is the storm surge - a dome of ocean water that can be 20 feet high at its peak and 50 to 100 miles wide. The surge can devastate coastal communities as it
sweeps ashore. In recent years, the fatalities associated with storm surge have been greatly reduced as a result of better warning and preparedness within coastal communities.
Most deaths due to these tropical cyclones are flood-related. Inland flooding is a common occurrence with hurricanes and tropical storms. Torrential rains from decaying hurricanes and tropical storms can produce extensive urban and river flooding. Winds from these storms located offshore can drive ocean water up the mouth of rivers, compounding the severity of inland flooding. Inland streams and rivers can flood and trigger landslides. So surviving hurricane disasters often requires surviving the resulting disasters generated by the hurricane--flood, and mud and landslides. See these specific types of disasters and how to prepare for them on this site as well.
Mudslides can occur in mountainous regions. In addition, hurricanes can spawn tornadoes, which add to the destructiveness of the storm.
Hurricane Katrina Flooding
Planning and Preparation for Surviving Hurricane Disasters
in New Orleans
To prepare for a hurricane disaster, you should take the following measures:
Hurricane Evacuation Plans
- Make plans to secure your property. Permanent storm shutters offer the best protection for windows. A second option is to board up windows with 5/8" marine plywood, cut to fit and ready to install. Tape does not prevent windows from breaking.
- Install straps or additional clips to securely fasten your roof to the frame structure. This will reduce roof damage.
- Be sure trees and shrubs around your home are well trimmed.
- Clear loose and clogged rain gutters and downspouts.
- Determine how and where to secure your boat or plane should you have either.
- Consider building a safe room.
- Plan for evacuation.
When Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans, government authorities begged the residents to evacuate and even had hundreds of school buses lined up and prepared to take people to safer areas.
But, many, many residents thought they had what it took to survive the storm and stayed put. But, one disaster upon another occurred when the storm surges penetrated long standing levees allowing an enormous amount of ocean water to flood most of the city wiping out thousands of homes and taking many lives.
Those survivors remaining were then evacuated to the Astrodome, an enclosed NFL football stadium. Crime and violence became common place and many of the police force turned in there badges rather than protect property and businesses when shooting of theives was the only way to stop the madness. Law enforcement from as far away as Arizona came to help restore law and order. One of my sons made two trips to the region to help out over the course of the tradegy.
- When community evacuations become necessary, local officials provide information to the public through the media. In some circumstances, other warning methods, such as sirens or telephone calls, also are used. Additionally, there may be circumstances under which you and your family feel threatened or endangered and you need to leave your home, school, or workplace to avoid these situations.
- The amount of time you have to leave will depend on the hazard. If the event is a weather condition, such as a hurricane that can be monitored, you might have a day or two to get ready. However, many disasters allow no time for people to gather even the most basic necessities, which is why planning ahead is essential.
- Evacuations are more common than many people realize. Almost every year, people along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts evacuate in the face of approaching hurricanes.
- Ask local authorities about emergency evacuation routes and see if maps may are available with evacuation routes marked.
Hurricane Katrina Post
Hurricane Evacuation Guidelines
in New Orleans
Keep a full tank of gas in your car if an evacuation seems likely. Gas stations may be closed during emergencies and unable to pump gas during power outages. Plan to take one car per family to reduce congestion and delay.
If Time Permits:
Gather your disaster supplies kit.
Make transportation arrangements with friends or your local government if you do not own a car and if you are leaving get out as early as possible--massive traffice jams are almost certain.
If Time Permits:
Wear sturdy shoes and clothing that provides some protection, such as long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and a cap.
Listen to a battery-powered radio and follow local evacuation instructions.
If Time Permits:
- Secure your home:
- Close and lock doors and windows.
- Unplug electrical equipment, such as radios and televisions, and small appliances, such as toasters and microwaves. Leave freezers and refrigerators plugged in unless there is a risk of flooding.
Gather your family and go if you are instructed to evacuate immediately.
If Time Permits:
Let others know where you are going.
Actions to Take for Surviving Hurricane Disasters Before They Occur
If a hurricane has targeted your area, you should:
- Leave early enough to avoid being trapped.
- Follow recommended evacuation routes. Do not take shortcuts; they may be blocked.
- Be alert for washed-out roads and bridges. Do not drive into flooded areas.
- Stay away from downed power lines.
- Listen to the radio, TV, or monitor the internet sites for information.
- Secure your home, close storm shutters, and secure outdoor objects or bring them indoors.
- Bring lawn furniture inside, as well as outdoor decorations or ornaments, trash cans, hanging plants, or anything else that can be picked up by the wind.
- Turn off utilities if instructed to do so. Otherwise, turn the refrigerator thermostat to its coldest setting and keep its doors closed.
- Turn off propane tanks. Avoid using the phone, except for serious emergencies.
- Moor your boat if time permits. Secure your boat securely or move it to a designated safe place. Use rope or chain to secure boat to trailer. Use tie-downs to anchor trailer to the ground or house.
- Ensure a supply of water for sanitary purposes such as cleaning and flushing toilets. Fill the bathtub and other large containers with water.
- Install permanent hurricane shutters if possible and time permits. Hurricane shutters provide the best protection for your windows and doors. Taping windows could take critical time from more effective preparedness measures. All tape does is help prevent glass from broken windows from scattering all over inside. Tape does not prevent windows from breaking. Cover the outside of windows with shutters or plywood.
- If you do not have permanent hurricane shutters, install anchors for plywood (marine plywood is best) and pre-drill holes in precut half-inch outdoor plywood boards so that you can cover the windows of your home quickly. Mark which board fits which window. Note: Tape does not prevent windows from breaking, so taping windows is not recommended. Most homes destroyed during recent hurricanes had no window protection. When wind enters a home through broken windows, the pressure builds against the walls and can lift roofs, followed by collapsing walls.
- Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit. Hurricane-specific supplies should include the following:
Install protection to the outside areas of sliding glass doors. Glass doors are as vulnerable as windows to breakage by wind-driven objects.
Well ahead of time, buy any other items needed to board up windows and protect your home. When a hurricane threatens, supplies are quickly sold out at many stores. Stock may not be replenished until after the storm.
Strengthen garage doors. Many houses are destroyed by hurricane winds that enter through damaged garage doors, lifting roofs, and destroying the remainder of the house.
Have an engineer check your home and advise about ways to make it more resistant to hurricane winds. There are a variety of ways to protect your home. Professionals can advise you of engineering requirements, building permits or requirements of local planning and zoning departments to provide the most effective protection.
Stock up on prescription medications. Stores and pharmacies may be closed after the storm.
Recheck manufactured home tie-downs. Manufactured homes may not be as affected by strong winds if they are tied down according to the manufacturer's instructions. Properly tied down homes are more likely to stay fixed to their foundations.
Store valuables and personal papers in a safety deposit box in a waterproof container on the highest level of your home. Hurricanes leave much water damage inside homes. Historically, it is shown that protecting valuables in this manner will provide the best security.
You should evacuate under the following conditions:
- A week's supply of food and water (to be kept at home in addition to the recommended three-day supply for your evacuation kit).
- Disaster Supply Kit basics.
- Evacuation Supplies Kit.
What to Do if Hurricane Evacuation Is Necessary
- If you are directed by local authorities to do so. Be sure to follow their instructions.
- If you live in a mobile home or temporary structure-such shelters are particularly hazardous during hurricanes no matter how well fastened to the ground.
- If you live in a high-rise building-hurricane winds are stronger at higher elevations.
- If you live on the coast, on a floodplain, near a river, or on an inland waterway.
- If you feel you are in danger.
- Leave as soon as possible (if possible, in daylight). Avoid flooded roads and watch for washed-out bridges. Roads and bridges frequently become crowded and traffic moves slow. Evacuation will probably take longer than expected. Give yourself plenty of time.
- Secure your home by unplugging appliances and turning off electricity and the main water valve. This will reduce potential damage to your appliances (from power surges) and to your home.
- Tell someone outside of the storm area where you are going. Relatives and friends will be concerned about your safety. Letting someone know your travel plans will help relieve their fear and anxiety.
- If time permits, and you live in an identified surge zone or area prone to flooding, move furniture to a higher floor. Moving valuable furnishings helps reduce potential damage.
- Bring preassembled emergency supplies and warm protective clothing. People frequently arrive at shelters or hotels with nothing. Having these items will make you more comfortable in other locations.
- While shelters provide a safe place to stay and food, specialty items for infants and individuals on restricted diets may not be available. It may take several days until permission is given by local authorities to reenter an evacuated area. Bring these items with you to a shelter:
Lock up your home and leave. There may be individuals evacuating after you, or returning before you. Police may be busy with hurricane related emergencies and not able to patrol neighborhoods as usual. Lock your property as you normally would when leaving home.
If you are unable to evacuate, go to your safe room. If you do not have one, follow these guidelines:
- First aid kit, manual, and prescription medications.
- Baby food and diapers.
- Cards, games, books.
- Battery-powered radio and extra batteries.
- Flashlight (one per person) and extra batteries.
- Blankets or sleeping bags.
- Valuable papers (copies of insurance papers, passports, and other essential documents).
Actions to Take After Surviving a Hurricane Disaster
- Stay indoors during the hurricane and away from windows and glass doors.
- Close all interior doors-secure and brace external doors.
- Keep curtains and blinds closed. Do not be fooled if there is a lull; it could be the eye of the storm - winds will pick up again.
- Take refuge in a small interior room, closet, or hallway on the lowest level.
- Lie on the floor under a table or another sturdy object.
The following actions and items represent a laundry list of things to consider after a hurricane has left your area. The order is random.
- Continue listening to local radio or television stations or a NOAA Weather Radio for information and instructions. Access may be limited to some parts of the community, or roads may be blocked.
- If you evacuated, return home when local officials tell you it is safe. Local officials on the scene are your best source of information on accessible areas and passable roads.
- Stay alert for extended rainfall and subsequent flooding, even after the hurricane or tropical storm has weakened. Hurricanes may stall or change direction when they make landfall, or they may bring a lot of rain upriver, causing additional flood hazards for hours or days after the storm.
- Stay away from flood waters. Drive only if absolutely necessary and avoid flooded roads and washed-out bridges. Continue to follow all flood safety messages. Flood waters may last for days following a hurricane. If you come upon a flooded road, turn around and go another way. When you are caught on a flooded road and waters are rising rapidly around you, if you can safely get out of the car, do so immediately and climb to higher ground. Never try to walk, swim, or drive through such swift water. Most flood fatalities are caused by people attempting to drive through water or people playing in high water. If it is moving swiftly, even water six inches deep can sweep you off your feet, and two feet can carry away most automobiles.
- If you come upon a barricade, follow detour signs or turn around and go another way. Barricades are put up by local officials to protect people from unsafe roads. Driving around them can be a serious risk.
- Stay on firm ground. Moving water only six inches deep can sweep you off your feet. Standing water may be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
- Help injured or trapped persons. Give first aid where appropriate. Do not move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Call for help.
- Help a neighbor who may require special assistance - infants, elderly people and people with disabilities. Elderly people and people with disabilities may require additional assistance. People who care for them or who have large families may need additional assistance in emergency situations.
- Avoid disaster areas. Your presence might hamper rescue and other emergency operations, and put you at further risk from the residual effects of floods, such as contaminated waters, crumbled roads, landslides, mudflows, and other hazards.
- Avoid loose or dangling power lines; immediately report them to the power company, police, or fire department. Reporting potential hazards will get the utilities turned off as quickly as possible, preventing further hazard and injury.
- Electrical equipment should be checked and dried before being returned to service. Call an electrician for advice before using electricity, which may have received water damage.
- Stay out of the building if water remains around the building. Flood waters often undermine foundations, causing buildings to sink, floors to crack, or walls to collapse.
- When entering buildings, use extreme caution. Hurricane-driven flood waters may have damaged buildings where you least expect it. Carefully watch every step you take.
Open windows and doors to ventilate and dry your home.
Check refrigerated food for spoilage. If power was lost, some foods may be spoiled.
Avoid drinking or preparing food with tap water until you are certain it is not contaminated. Hurricane-driven flood waters may have contaminated public water supplies or wells. Local officials should advise you on the safety of the drinking water. Undamaged water heaters or melted ice cubes can provide good sources of fresh drinking water.
Pump out flooded basements gradually (about one-third of the water per day) to avoid structural damage. If the water is pumped out completely in a short period of time, pressure from water on the outside could cause basement walls to collapse.
Service damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits, and leaching systems as soon as possible. Damaged sewage systems are health hazards.
Use the telephone only for emergency calls. Telephone lines are frequently overwhelmed in disaster situations. They need to be clear for emergency calls to get through.
Additonal Resources for Surviving Hurricane Disasters
- Wear sturdy shoes. The most common injury following a disaster is cut feet.
- Use battery-powered lanterns or flashlights when examining buildings. Battery-powered lighting is the safest and easiest, preventing fire hazard for the user, occupants, and building.
- Examine walls, floors, doors, staircases, and windows to make sure that the building is not in danger of collapsing.
- Inspect foundations for cracks or other damage. Cracks and damage to a foundation can render a building uninhabitable.
- Look for fire hazards. There may be broken or leaking gas lines, flooded electrical circuits, or submerged furnaces or electrical appliances. Flammable or explosive materials may come from upstream. Fire is the most frequent hazard following floods.
- Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas, using the outside main valve if you can, and call the gas company from a neighbor's home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.
- Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell burning insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice. Electrical equipment should be checked and dried before being returned to service.
- Check for sewage and water line damage. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company, and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water from undamaged water heaters or by melting ice cubes.
- Watch out for animals, especially poisonous snakes, that may have come into buildings with the flood waters. Use a stick to poke through debris. Flood waters flush many animals and snakes out of their homes.
- Watch for loose plaster, drywall, and ceilings that could fall.
- Take pictures of the damage, both of the building and its contents, for insurance claims.
See your local city, county and state government organizations.
Historical Notes Related to Surviving Hurricane Disasters:
Some of the most deadly U.S. hurricanes include:
From the NOAA: A Special Hurricane Preparadness Video.
- The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 hit Galveston, Texas on Sept. 8, 1900 as a Category 4 system with an estimated death toll between 8,000 and 12,000.
- The Great Florida Hurricane of 1928 hit near West Palm Beach, Fla., on Sept. 16, 1928 as a Category 4 with an estimated death toll of about 2,500, most of those around Lake Okeechobee;
- The most recent and devastating hurricane to hit the U.S. was Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005. It came ashore in New Orleans as a Category 3 hurricane. The storm surges destroyed the city's levees which caused nearly the entire city to be flooded. The city still has not fully recovered nearly 5 years later. Other southern states were also impacted, but without the degree of devastation the New Orleans suffered. Sadly, 1800 people lost their lives because they refused to evacuate when ordered to do so either privately or through provided buses.
Some of the content for this guide is from public domain sources. Where applicable, requested attribution is as follows:
Talking About HURRICANES:
Guide for Standard Messages. Produced by the National HURRICANE Education Coalition, Washington, D.C., 1999.
American Red Cross:
Go to www.redcross.org
Coalition of specialists on water conservation in Florida and recommendations that were developed through the National HURRICANE Education Coalition's "Drought Forum":
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):
Go to www.fema.gov
Produced by the: National HURRICANE Education Coalition consisting of:
American Red Cross, FEMA, IAEM, IBHS,NFPA, NWS, USDA/CSREES, and USGS.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) and their National Weather Service:
Go to www.weather.gov
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