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Friday, August 26, 2011

Evacuating Ahead of a Hurricane

If you find yourself having to evacuate ahead of a hurricane this summer there are four key things that you need to keep in mind:

  • Pre-planning;

  • Patience;

  • Patience;

  • More Patience

A major hurricane is bearing down on the East Coast of the US and millions will be evacuating ahead of the storm. Anyone who has tried to evacuate ahead of a hurricane can tell you that traffic conditions will be nightmarish. During hurricane Rita which hit the coast of Texas less than a month after Katrina struck New Orleans, state authorities ordered a mandatory evacuation for 1.2 million people who lived along the coastline but they didn't count on an additional 1.5 million evacuating as well. As a result, 2.7 million people clogged the interstates leading inland from the Houston-Galveston area. The resulting clogged roads took days to clear up and hampered the ability of rescue workers to provide needed services.

The storms can affect not only those who live along the coastlines. Some storms, long after being downgraded to tropical storm status, caused more death and destruction from flooding in the Appalachian mountains than they did on the coast.

Coastal Zones - For those of you who live in the path of these storms, the decision on whether or not to evacuate is something that needs to be planned well out in advance of the actual event. Many states provide hurricane preparedness plans on their state Emergency Management websites. Among the coastal states, the Florida Division of Emergency Management probably has the best hurricane preparedness plan. The Florida website allows users to plug in data about their families and specific needs and then provides them with a detailed plan showing evacuation routes out of their particular county and links to local emergency contacts, pet shelters etc. The plan also includes information on how to handle pets, water and food needs, and emergency preparedness kits. If your state doesn't have such a plan, visit the Florida website and use Dade county as your residence county to pull up a lot of valuable information.

Before evacuating, you should decide what you want to take with you and keep those items in a central, easily accessible spot. The Emergency Management websites contain lists of what should be included in your emergency evacuation kit.

You should carry enough cash to last for several days; ATMs may be overwhelmed or inoperative.

If you live in a mandatory evacuation zone, you should not hesitate to leave as quickly as possible. If you hesitate, bridges and causeways over intercoastal waterways and rivers may close early due to high winds and you could be stuck. Heavy traffic leading out of the evacuation area may back up preventing you from escaping in time. Those who wait too long may also find the roads flooded or blocked by downed trees and power lines.

Most states will close Interstate and major highways to traffic driving toward the coastal areas and open all lanes in both directions to outbound traffic only. Even with all lanes going in one direction, traffic will be very slow and tempers will be high. This is where your patience will be required.

Before you evacuate you should ensure that your car is serviced and has a full tank. Gas stations in the storm zone may close early and gas stations inland may quickly run out of gas. During your evacuation, you should never let your tank go below half full if you can avoid it. You never know when a collision or a tie up will keep you tied up on the road between exits for hours.

With the electricity out, traffic signals may not work. If you are on a secondary road and there is no power to the traffic signals, you should remember to treat an inoperative traffic light at an intersection as a four-way stop sign.
Police, National Guard and emergency personnel may be directing traffic. If that is the case, follow their directions over the directions of any traffic signals and do not argue with them. They have the full authority of law and they may know of traffic and road conditions ahead that you aren't aware of. You should also keep your radio tuned to those stations that are members of the Emergency Broadcast Network for updates on storm and traffic conditions.

Restaurants and gas stations in the evacuation path will be overwhelmed and may quickly run out of supplies. Also, you may not be able to easily exit an interstate highway once you are on it so you should take enough snack food and water to last for 12 hours or more.

Inland Areas – after the storm passes over the coastline it is still capable of producing torrential rains, tornadoes, and flooding. If you encounter flooded roads, do not try to proceed. Turn around and try to find an alternate route. When encountering flooded roadways remember:

  • It is difficult to tell just how deep the water is on a flooded road and the flood waters may hide the fact that the roadway is washed out underneath.

  • Even if it appears intact, the roadway could collapse under the weight of your vehicle.

  • Less than an inch of water can cause a driver to lose control.

  • As little as six inches of rushing water has enough force to push your car off the road.

  • Your car can float in as little as two feet of water and you could be washed away into a flooded stream or river.

  • In hilly or mountainous areas, flash floods can occur long after the rain has stopped and far away from the site of a rain storm.

Let's hope you don't have to evacuate but, if you do, a little pre-planning goes a long way.

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