My Story: Lessons we learned from hurricane evacuations

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hurricane evacuations


These evacuations tips are excellent, even if you don’t live in hurricane country.

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On August 28. 2005, My family did something we had never even considered doing before. We evacuated for a hurricane. After seeing the path of devastation Hurricane Katrina did to our beloved city of New Orleans and in particular our home, we know we made the right choice.

Hurricane evacuations are different from many other types of evacuations. If you live near the coast, every year you should make a plan to evacuate at the beginning of hurricane season. We are preppers. This should be on your list of preparations.

Most people are safe to shelter in place for most hurricanes, but you need to have a plan in place if you are facing an above average storm.

What we did right in both hurricane evacuations

  1. If you are going to evacuate, DO NOT just go to Aunt Betty’s house an hour or two down the coast. These areas are going to take some damage as well, and the cities do not have the infrastructure to care for evacuees in addition to their own citizens. Go inland. Not just an hour inland either. Go at least a 4-5 hour drive inland. And that’s a normal-traffic 4-5 hour drive, not 4-5 hours in painfully slow evacuation traffic. (See #8, below.)
  2. Honestly, I suggest you plan it as a forced vacation. Go to a city that you have never been. Explore the town. See the sites. It will give the everyone something to do besides worry about their home. For Hurricane Katrina, we evacuated to the home of family in North Louisiana. We explored Ruston and Monroe. The kids considered it a grand adventure and enjoyed hanging out with their cousins. For Hurricane Gustav in 2008, our family no longer lived in north Louisiana, so instead we headed to Memphis and had a great family vacation there.
  3. Of course, grab your BOB, important papers, and family photos, but assume you will be gone for a few weeks. Don’t reach for those pretty suitcases. Grab a laundry basket or two. Pack your clothes in there. Why? If you are stuck somewhere for more than a day or two, you are going to have to do laundry. It is so much more convenient to do laundry with a hamper than a suitcase. A laundry hamper will also provide easy cushion for any breakables that you decide to take with you. While we are talking clothes, grab your favorite expensive perfume and a nice outfit. After a while, you will want to go to a nice dinner or church.
  4. If you have kids, take their school work with you. If you are homeschoolers, you can keep them busy during the long hours of waiting by getting school done. If you aren’t homeschoolers, you can always use it as an opportunity to do some review with your kids or study something they find interesting that school doesn’t cover.
  5. Grab everyone’s favorite blankets, pillows and loveys. When we are scared and worried, even the adults want the comforts of home.
  6. With the exception of fish, take your pets with you. If it isn’t safe enough for you, it isn’t safe enough for them. Your snake may only eat once every week or so, but your grandma doesn’t want to find it crawling around the house when she helps you clean up (This happened to a family I know). Our tropical fish did fine.
  7. Grab your prescription medications. Don’t just grab a couple out of the bottle. Take the prescription bottle from the pharmacy with you. There were people who didn’t even know why they were taking medications, and doctors were left matching pills to a PDR.
  8. Leave either very early or late at night. Very few people are ready to leave quickly. Even less want to drive at night. We left our home early in the contra flow process, but left around 11 p.m. We had no traffic the whole time on the road. Being prepared to begin with will reduce the amount of time needed to leave your home.

What we did wrong

  1. When you are grabbing the family photo albums, do NOT ignore the family photos hanging on the wall. They may be too big to take with you, but take them off the wall, put them in trash bags and put them somewhere high and safe. While our home did not have flooding (we had a 2nd and 3rd floor condo), we had significant roof damage. Pictures were knocked off walls and sat in moldy puddles.
  2. Empty your refrigerator. Do not assume you will be back in a day or two. The ketchup and pickles in the door may be fine. They shouldn’t leak. Everything else? Either take it with you when you evacuate, freeze it, or throw it out.
  3. Do you have a separate chest freezer? Great! Empty out your refrigerator’s freezer and squeeze everything into your chest freezer, and lower the temperature as far as possible. There is no way to get the smell out of a rotten refrigerator. We tried everything for a year while we rebuilt our home. We finally gave up and just bought a new one. The rotten food juices drip into the insulation. The chest freezer is worth the risk. If the power is out too long, tape it up and wheel it to the curb, still full, for trash pick-up. If the power isn’t out too long, you might still be in luck. It’s pretty much a break even point for most of us. Quick Check to know if the freezer contents are a loss or not: Put a bag of ice cubes in the chest freezer before you leave. When you return, if the ice cubes are still separate, your freezer is fine. If they have formed a solid block, consider the freezer a loss.
  4. If you have multiple reliable cars, do not take the best one. Take the most valuable, roadworthy one that has the least insurance coverage. We took our best vehicle, which was fully insured and left our vehicle that was in good condition, but was paid off and had liability only insurance. Liability insurance doesn’t pay for flood damage.

Both of our evacuations were major growth points for our family. Our family grew closer and stronger, knowing that we were in this mess together. Thorough preps were a big bonus, and made our evacuations more comfortable. I hope that you never suffer the major damages that we did, but I hope some of these tips from our survival story will help you.

READ MORE: Get the basic essentials of hurricane preparedness fast.

Guest post by Suzi Champagne.

7 thoughts on “My Story: Lessons we learned from hurricane evacuations”

  1. I’m glad to see someone pushing hurricane evacuation. It’s one of those things you do it no matter what, it’s better to have gotten out and nothing happen then to try to ride it out when it gets bad.

    We were lucky and already living in the Monroe area when Katrina hit but back in the 90’s we had to evacuate from Lafayette for one of the hurricanes that came through.

    I’d of never thought to take the photo’s off the wall either, it’s a good tip because those are the ones I treasure the most.

  2. I love the concept of a forced vacation. Make the most of it and enjoys the execution. We only have to worry about tornados here but evacuations can happen for many reasons

  3. These are great tips. Also it is important to know what the area you evacuate to might deal with as the storm weakens and moves away. Sometimes the damage there can be as bad or worse then in your own area. I know for Hurricane Irene which hit our area more as a tropical storm then a hurricane (we did not evacuate) the damage was significant, though North of us which would have normally been our evacuation area the damage was even worse. Whole towns were cut off (road wash outs, flooding, no electricity) for over a week due to heavy rainfall. It would have been worse to evacuate there then staying put.

  4. Excellent article. My family had to evauate from Beaumont, Texas, back in the early 90s when a hurricane came through. We went up to Shreveport, LA where my family was, so everything worked out o.k. My husband knew all the back roads so we didn’t stuck in the traffic jam either.

  5. If you have a fridge of rotting food clean out all the food and get a 2 pound can of cheap coffee and scatter the coffee all over,close the door and leave it for a few days with the fridge on then open and cleam out and the odor will be gone. I put coffee in ice chest and cooler and store for the winter and next spring they won’t smell musty.

  6. When you fill the chest freezer with food, put the contents into plastic trash bags. Line the bottoms of the bags with a few old newspapers first. They grab and hold liquids. then put your bag of ice cubes on top. If it is solid, contents are not good, they will however be contained and you can lift the bags out and toss. The odor wont be hard to clean out either. I like a combo of baking soda and coffee grounds. You can dry your used coffee grounds and use them for deodorant purposes.

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