EYES ON THE STORM SEASON ... Preparing for a hurricane before, during and after

Allison Hudson, Editor, Donaldsonville Chief

As hurricane season approaches, it is important to be prepared for the possible damage and aftermath of Mother Nature.

A hurricane is a type of tropical cyclone that is capable of destroying coastal areas with sustained winds of 155 miles per hour or higher, and causing intense areas of rainfall. Hurricanes form over tropical waters in areas of high humidity, light winds, and warm sea surface temperatures.

Hurricane season began June 1 and lasts until Nov. 30.

It is most important when a hurricane forms to be prepared for the worst.

According to Hurricane Researcher William Gray and his counterparts at Colorado State University, 11 to 16 tropical storms have been predicted to form this year. Six to eight should become hurricanes and three to five will become major hurricanes with winds in excess of 111 mph.

Hurricanes generally strike within 24 hours, so during the event of a possible hurricane, it is important to stay informed of the storm’s progress.

The 2012 designated hurricane names are: Alberto, Beryl, Chris, Debby, Ernesto, Florence, Gordon, Helene, Issac, Joyce, Kirk, Leslie, Michael, Nadine, Oscar, Patty, Rafael, Sandy, Tony, Valerie, and William.

The most recent example of hurricanes that have devastated the state of Louisiana is Hurricane Gustav in 2008, which was noted as the second most destructive hurricane of the 2008 hurricane season. Gustav’s damage cost more than $4.3 billion and claimed the lives of over 153 people. Over 1.9 million people evacuated southern Louisiana, making it the largest evacuation in the history of the state.

Three years prior to Hurricane Gustav, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Mississippi, and parts of Alabama in 2005, and was noted as the deadliest and most destructive hurricane in the 2005 season; it is also ranked one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States.

Hurricane Katrina caught most people off guard with the storm surge causing 53 different levee breaches in New Orleans alone. Katrina’s bill estimated a whopping $81.2 billion dollars. There were 1,577 deaths recorded from Louisiana, and 238 from Mississippi.

One month after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Rita wreaked havoc on the western side of Louisiana and East Texas, destroying most of the coastal town of Cameron and causing extensive damage as far as 100 miles inland. Estimates exceed $10 billion is damages.

Louisiana has seen its fair share of hurricane damage over the years and the region has been impacted by hurricanes even during seasons of low tropical activity; regardless of the outlook of the upcoming hurricane season, it is best to be prepared.

There are several Web sites that provide family disaster plans and emergency preparedness. It is practical to practice and maintain your plan with your family so everyone knows his or her role in the disaster plan.

A few things to keep in mind is emergency supply kits with at least a five-day supply per person such as: water, food, first aid kits, clothing and bedding, important family documents, and specialty items like prescription medications, batteries and flashlights.

One gallon of water per person, ready-to-eat canned foods, and any special foods for infants and diet foods, bandages, hygiene products, sunscreen, and anti-bacterial soaps and ointments, blankets, sturdy shoes, and full change of clothes. Insurance papers, wills and deeds, bank and credit card information, and important contact telephone information and addresses are important. Setting aside some cash is necessary because ATMs and banks may be inoperable during a disaster.

Also, for pet owners, keep in mind a plan for your pets and their needs.

Evacuation routes may be necessary depending on the storm’s severity, so knowing your evacuation routes and alternate routes will be important.

If officials have not ordered an evacuation, there are several ways to be prepared at home. The most common preparedness for homeowners is to board up windows and check with local officials on where to get sandbags if needed. Ensure that flashlights and radios have batteries, a week’s worth of canned goods for food supply, and freezing water to create ice are just a few preparedness tips for a possible hurricane. When waiting out a storm, listen to local weather updates because the storm may not be over.

If an evacuation is ordered, remember to first stay calm, fill your vehicle with gas, and bring a disaster supply kit for each person. Before leaving home, turn off all appliances and lights, and let someone know of your evacuation plans.

After a hurricane is when most deaths occur because people are anxious to assess damage and get back to there everyday lives.

Do not return home until officials declare an area safe, and know that when returning to an area that has been devastated by a hurricane it is a gradual process. Use extreme caution when entering your home for the first time upon returning; be alert for chemicals that may harm your family upon entering and be sure to check for structural damage before allowing others to enter. Hurricane-driven floodwaters may have damaged buildings where you least expect it. Use the telephone only for emergency calls because telephone lines are frequently overwhelmed in disaster situations and they need to be clear for emergency calls to get through.

Check the news frequently for information on things like drinking water and possible curfews and road closures.

Regardless of the storm’s severity, have a plan and be prepared for the worst. For additional information visit the National Weather Service’s Web site at www.noaa.gov, or visit your local emergency preparedness office for local details and help with your preparedness plan.