How to Prepare for a Hurricane

I am writing these notes after passage of a bad hurricane. We have been without services for a week and it looks like basic survival mode is going to last a lot longer.

Note: Please bear in mind the ideas and suggestions listed in this article have nothing whatsoever to do with the most important issue – personal safety. Hurricane personal safety has been discussed in other articles and is, of course, far more important than comfort or convenience. But take it from me–comfort matters too.

A Preamble:

A cigarette card showing hurricane warning flags.During hurricane season keep a weather eye and ear out for approaching storms. Bear in mind a hurricane can speed-up forward velocity so don’t bank on meteorologist’s projections for a hurricane’s date and time of arrival. Five days from estimated arrival of a hurricane a person should be hip deep in preparation. The following point is going to appear again and again – The size and intensity (F1 – F5) of the approaching storm determines just how much stuff you need to buy. The recommendations below are for a category 1 or two storm. For a category 3 or 4 storm DOUBLE the quantities or suffer running short – a real crisis.

The single most intelligent strategy is, of course, to place yourself far outside the hurricane’s cone of impact.* Catch an early flight or prepare to drive perhaps three hundred miles sideways, outside the hurricane’s projected path. Ticket purchases at airports increases exponentially the closer a hurricane gets. Five days in advance, buying tickets and catching a flight out is a breeze. Three days later, it will  be a nightmare of overbooked or canceled flights, impossibly long lines, and flaring tempers. Waiting until the last minute to depart via automobile is unwise as well. Everyone is going to top off gas tanks and jugs, and gasolineras frequently have long lines, purchase limits, or an employee standing by a gas pump waving people off.

GOTTA TOUGH IT OUT ?

It’s going to get physically very uncomfortable. Fancy hotels will be just as uncomfortable as one star hotels. A common myth is that the-sky-is-the-limit palaces have generators. But wherever you stay, basic preparation can make life a little easier to bear. The preparations Cigarette card called 'a hurricane'are going to cost money and the money spent is not recoverable. Grit your teeth, grab your wallet and get going…if you don’t prepare you are going to bitterly regret it…

If the hotel owner lives on-site (often the case with one and two star hotels), have them write down their name and cellular number. IMPORTANT: Land line telephones will operate long after the cellular system goes offline. Ask them if it would be possible to use their stove. Having the ability to heat water to cook food or brew beverages makes a tremendous difference in shopping planning and the quality in your hurricane diet.

Do not count on the hotel reservoir (tinaca) lasting more than a few hours.

Purchase empty five-gallon pails (buckets) from a hardware or paint store. Three buckets should last a solo traveler 2-5 days, depending in how frugal they are. The buckets are not for drinking water. This is toilet flushing, utensil washing, and minimal sponge baths. Buy a gallon plastic pail with a metal bale to use as a scoop for toilet flushing and bathing.

  • Fill buckets in the shower and keep them there. 

  • Figure on one gallon per day per person absolute minimum for purified drinking water. Five days without water would not be an unreasonable assumption except if the hurricane forecast is describing the oncoming storm to be huge or extra-strong.

  • Bring an additional two gallons per day for cooking. Don’t chintz! This figure is realistic. And it is frugal. Four days of water in an eight-day hurricane is tantamount to disaster.

  • Buy a box of huge plastic garbage sacks. You’ll want at least 20 bags. Roofs leak and so do windows. You want to avoid wetting your clothes at all cost. Store everything you have in garbage sacks: clothing, medicines, laptops and cameras. Empty suitcases dry quickly. Clothes are impossible to dry in steam bath post-hurricane climate. If the approaching hurricane is a bad one, remove the mattress from the bed, stand it on its side, slit open the garbage bags and cover the bed like you are using small tarps. Wadding a few extra sacks and stuffing them under the mattress keeps it off the floor. Hell on earth is a wet mattress.

  • Late minute shopping is a freaking nightmare I cannot harp this point enough. Long lines, short tempers, panic buying and empty shelves. Start shopping days in advance.

  • When buying, think small. Small jars of mayonnaise, smaller size cans of beans. Remember, your ice will run out! Unopened containers do not need refrigeration. Do not forget to get a can opener and plastic eating utensils. Garnishes like relish and mustard (or salsa casera) are fabulous mood elevators. Bread will last three to five days if resealed quickly. Synthetic bread, Bimbo, will last the longest. A sandwich and cup o soup makes for a decent meal. Try to go easy on sugar snacks–sugar causes the body to feel like the weather is hotter than it really is. That being said, chocolate contains lots of caffeine, a better than nothing fix in case the thought of having coffee becomes a dream. Canned corn, green beans, Mangoes, peaches, pineapple are great choices. Tuna fish atop a disc-like tostada is another idea. Celery dragged through a jar of peanut butter yet one more. Horrid as it may sound, prepared meat with lots of nitrite preservatives is the article of choice for the cooler. Bologna, pressed ham, hot dogs, and such. Sandwiches will become a staple in your hurricane bunker.

  • Flashlight batteries. Oh woe is me. Trying to keep a pitch black room lit requires an enormous purchase of batteries. More than I could ever afford. I’ve given up long ago and now use the hand torch for trips to the bathroom Get used to the idea that after sundown to dawn means pitch freakin’ boring-to-the-point-of-screaming empty blackness. See the note about bringing along an e reader with a back-lit screen.

  • Small bottle of chlorine bleach. Add a tablespoon of bleach to each full five gallon bucket of service water. You need to wash dishes, flush toilets, and sponge bathe with sterile water. Dosing utility water with bleach is essential for maintaining hygiene. But don’t get carried away and bleach overdose. Dribble a tablespoon into the toilet as needed to prevent odors. Use a garbage bag for disposed tissue.

  • Small bottle of liquid dishwashing detergent. Not only used for washing plates and silverware, but for hand washing. Liquid dishwashing detergent requires about one-fourth as much water to rinse as does greasy feeling bar soap. My personal favorite is an anti-bacterial dishwashing liquid “Tri Cloro”.

  • Candles. What a joke. Candles provide minimal flickering lighting but tons of unappreciated heat. At night, I’ll light off a single candle then place it near the bathroom door and use the point of light like lighthouse beacon. One candle is good for a mere few hours of light. You’ll need to buy a fistful. And don’t forget a lighter! Made in México Tokai brand butane lighters are excellent: look for the orange and white plastic.

  • Insect repellent. Indispensable. Biting insect like to stay dry and snack in hotel rooms. Mexican repellents are pathetic but almost better than nothing.

  • Codo's new nickname

    Codo’s new nickname

    BOREDOM. If there is a single overlooked item in any preparations it has to be a time occupier, anything to avoid spirit-quashing boredom. Going outside into the chaos of the aftermath of a hurricane is foolish. Stores and restaurants will be closed. People will be scurrying from place to place, worried sick. Streets will be flooded, broken glass everywhere. Shock makes poor treatment for boredom. If you are a reader, a fully-charged e-reader with screen back-lighting will be worth more than an unspendable foot-high stack of thousand peso notes. When the sun goes down and you can no longer stare at a ceiling, an e-reader with a back-lighted screen will become a treasure beyond price. Mosquito Coast is my favorite hurricane read. Use the fully charged battery in your otherwise unused laptop to recharge the e reader battery. Make sure batteries in e readers and laptops are topped off before the hurricane hits. An MP3 player is also excellent.

Send a boilerplate email to family and friends so they don’t worry themselves sick. Describe your elaborate preparations. Spell out the name and address of your hotel with the manager’s telephone number, provide the name of the on-site owner or manager. Phone and Internet connections can be out for a week or more in a bad hurricane. Roads will be closed, telegraph and post office doors padlocked. Explaining your preparations will provide better-than-nothing comfort to folks back home.

  • Go to an ATM machine and draw a maximum amount of pesos. Point of Sale and ATM machines are going to go into hibernation and continue to sleep even after power and communications are restored. When ATM machines get working again they will be cleaned out. Repeatedly. There may be three dozen people standing in line and a five day wait after power and phone lines are restored. Load up on pesos. Having lots of money in your bank account but an empty wallet is frustrating as hell.

  • Ask hotel management for fresh linens and offer to pay an extra day or three in advance. It will get their attention. If the hotel offers bottled drinking water ask for extras. They won’t be offended.

  • Preparations all done? Time for a reward. Go to the nearest ice-cream joint and pig out. This isn’t being foolish – this is a psychological countermeasure in its most sophisticated form. If it takes a banana split followed by an ice-cream sundae to fill in all the nooks and crannies, do it. Depart the nieveria absolutely stuffed. Later, when other people are drooling at the thought of cold, creamy ice cream you can smile to yourself.

  • Return to your hotel room and revel in a cool  shower. Try for a shiver and some goose bumps. More psycho-therapy 101.

  • Aren’t you glad you asked hotel management for extra towels and linens? Spread the towels out atop your bed. This avoids getting the bed linens and mattress soggy with perspiration. This is one time when the saying Don’t Sweat It has meaning

  • Who Doesn’t Know What. Through experience, I have discovered that, when it comes to a crisis, the Mexican people are amazingly conservative with gossip and fearmongering. Gringos aren’t so picky about  spreading rumors and embellishing reality. Keep this in mind.

  • Speaking of lying, Mexican government agencies  are worse than Pinocchio on steroids when it comes to official pronouncements regarding when utility services are supposed to click back on, when roads are going to reopen, and the arrival of jetliners to whisk people back to comfort.

  • And finally, if you are within a few hundred miles of an international airport, and the roads somehow remained open or got cleared, you may have a chance to be evacuated to said airport by military transport or even the Federal Police DC-10. Leave your food and water stockpile behind. It will go to good use.