The impact of a major hurricane on Texas coastal communities would be a disaster of significant proportions. It is important for all Texas coastal residents to prepare for these storms in advance. The following is a short listing of guidelines to help you develop a plan to survive a hurricane, minimize losses, and recover once the storm moves away.
Assemble a hurricane supply kit that you might need during and after the storm should you choose to shelter in place. Large waterproof storage containers and roll away suitcases make good storage devices. Ensure you have enough non perishable food, water, medicine, and miscellaneous supplies for at least a one week period for yourself, your family, and your pets. You should have at least one gallon of water per person per day. The supply kit should also include the following items:
- Battery powered radio or television
- First aid kit
- Sanitation and hygiene items
- Extra clothing and blankets
- A good map showing county roads and highways as well as evacuation routes
- Pet carrier and leashes
- Important phone numbers
- Photocopies of identification, insurance, prescriptions, and other important documents.
Consider purchasing a gas powered generator, with enough power (in kilowatts) to power one or two appliances, a window air conditioning unit, and several lights. If you obtain a generator, be sure to read the instructions carefully before use. Consider wiring your circuit breaker to handle the possible surge when the power is restored. Most importantly, use a generator indoors! A sizeable number of deaths, and a large number of injuries, after a storm has passed are often from carbon monoxide poisoning. In Galveston County alone, 25 deaths were reported due to indirect causes, including house fires started when candles used for light did not burn properly, fatal accidents while attempting to clear debris, and carbon monoxide poisoning. Don't let this be you!
Decide if you will need to evacuate when a storm threatens, and where you are going to go. The Lower Rio Grande Valley provides a unique and complicated evacuation scenario due to the growing permanent population, combined with limited major highways, not to mention logistical issues along and south of the U.S. and Mexico border. Contra flow, or highways that open four lanes to evacuation traffic away from the coast, will be limited to Highway 77 and 83 between Brownsville and Harlingen, Highway 83 from Harlingen to Pharr, and Highway 281 from Pharr to Falfurrias. Highway 77 north of Raymondville be available for evacuation. Check with local emergency management officials, found on page 30 of the Rio Grande Valley Edition of the Texas Hurricane Guide. An evacuation map is available from the guide, as well.
Now is the time to contact trusted friends and relatives out of the hurricane zone to make arrangements for a potentially prolonged stay should a hurricane strike. Ensure that your family and your pets are welcome. If you choose to strike out on your own, become familiar with extended stay hotels and motels well away from the danger zone, and be ready to make a reservation as soon as a threat appears. Be sure to check if these locations will house your pets. Make sure your pets have proper identification, and you have proof of current vaccinations.
Most important for any evacuation plan is being able to quickly take important items such as medicines, necessary food for the trip, critical papers such as mortgage and insurance documents, pet carriers, etc. This particular kit is known as the hurricane "go" kit, and should be small enough to fit inside your vehicle along with your family and pets.
Emergency shelters should always be a last resort! Local and State officials will ensure your safety, provisions, and that you are treated as humanely as possible, but nothing more. Shelters are not designed for long term residence. Thus, it is extremely important to have a family evacuation plan, or be able to secure your home (below) to avoid having to use an emergency shelter.
Plan to safeguard your property by protecting any openings where wind can get in, as well as stabilizing your roof. Sandbags may be needed for flood prone locations; these are usually provided by local officials several days prior to the storm's arrival. For windows, protection options include plywood and storm shutters. If choosing plywood, be sure to use exterior grade CDX rated boards that are at least five eighths of an inch thick. Sturdy lag bolts are your best bet to secure the wood to your window frame or wall. Storm shutters come in a variety of types, ranging from heavy duty plastic to aluminum "accordion", to the more pricey pull down types. Impact resistant glass is also available, but is the most expensive option.
For doors and sliding glass doors, consider purchasing Miami Dade Rated wind screen. Plywood and shutters may also be used here, but custom sizing is required. Finally, don't forget about the garage. Garage doors are notoriously the weakest link in home protection, so it is imperative that additional bracing or beams be applied on most typical garage doors.
Ensure that your roof is secured tightly to the rest of the house. Check that connectors, such as straps, clips, and bolts from the roof to the walls are sufficient and stable. Also, inspect the roof to see if hurricane clips and hurricane straps are sufficiently connected from trusses to beams. If the roof has gable ends, be sure to brace them accordingly. Gable end roofs, often found on A-frame structures, are often the first to fail given the direct force of the wind which pushes upward and stresses the top connection.
Check to see if your homeowners policy adequately meets your needs. A complete inventory of your personal property will help in obtaining insurance settlements. Remember, flood insurance is with your regular homeowners policy. if you live in a flood zone or an otherwise flood prone area, flood insurance should be purchased now. It takes 30 days from the date of payment and paper signing for a flood insurance policy to become active. For those outside flood zones, insurance costs are often less than a dollar a day; peace of mind can be priceless.
Before the storm approaches, gas up your vehicle(s), obtain plenty of cash, and leave immediately when officials advise. If and when power goes out, so will the availability of fuel, money, and other important items needed for evacuation, or, if sheltering in place, recovery after the storm. In short, procrastinating on any aspect of hurricane preparedness is playing Russian Roulette with your life and your family’s lives, should a major hurricane strike the Rio Grande Valley.