Leaving on Vacation during Hurricane Season

Not only is Baton Rouge hot and humid from mid-May to October, it is in the heart of hurricane country. Out of seemingly nowhere has appeared “Barry”–the invest 92L turned tropical storm who is expected to make landfall as a hurricane and head straight for Baton Rouge. Most of us (me included) are not prepared for these storms on an ongoing basis but, rather, hurriedly prepared for the all too familiar flooding, power outages, etc. once we know the storm is coming. Sitting here, waiting for the next update from the National Hurricane Center, I have been thinking about the time we were on vacation when a hurricane just popped up. Here are some thoughts about preparing in case you aren’t home.

The Freezer

Have you ever noticed that supermarkets in the South have freezer sales in the summer? It’s because they are trying to minimize their stock that will go bad if the power is out. In 2008, we left for an end-of-summer getaway. There was no tropical anything happening anywhere in the Gulf. In less than a week, “Gustav” came up the Mississippi River and pummeled Baton Rouge. My subdivision was without power for three weeks (and we were the lucky ones.) Cleaning out a stinky fridge in a house without air-conditioning when it’s 95 degrees and 100% humidity is disgusting. Now, I try to minimize what I have in my refrigerator during the summer and, if we are going away, that we don’t leave perishables (except condiments).

Hurricane Gustav’s Labor Day Weekend Track

Talk to Your Neighbors

Tell your neighbors that you are leaving. Your neighbors are your out-of-town eyes and ears. For example, during the wild throws of Gustav, many trees were uprooted. Our neighbor, knowing that we were not home, came over to make sure our house was safe. She took pictures for our homeowner’s insurance and texted us to tell us that the tree missed the house.

Communication

Trying to get through during or immediately after a storm can be next to impossible. Frequently, all the circuits are busy. Texts, which are sent in small data packets and can be stacked, tend to be a more successful way of communicating with friends and family. However, that assumes that devices are fully charged. And, if the electricity is out for days or weeks, the initially fully charged devices may no longer be. Make sure that you have multiple points of contact. The friend you first get a hold of may not be able to get out and help you check on anything.

Part of our Vancouver Island Catch

The Lock

In July 2008, we went to Tofino, Vancouver Island and brought back 80 pounds of filleted, flash frozen salmon and halibut and lovingly placed it in the freezer. When Gustav hit less than two months later, most of that fish was still in our freezer. We texted our babysitter who had a key to our house, and asked her to salvage the now defrosting frozen fish from our powerless refrigerator. We also texted one of our neighbors to offer them fish. It was a win-win. Our neighbors enjoyed grilled salmon and halibut and the fish did not rot in my freezer. Make sure someone has a key to your house. If you travel a lot, invest in a smart lock with a code. These locks are battery-driven (so it doesn’t depend on the electricity) and you can assign a different code to each person.

Getting Home

When we flew out for our getaway, we left our car at the New Orleans airport. Obviously, flights in and out of an affected area are cancelled immediately before, during and immediately after a storm. But, no matter how long you think it takes to get home (back to the storm ravaged area)–it takes longer than that. And, even once the airport reopens and flights resume, there is a backlog of people also looking to fly. We needed to get home so we got a one-way car rental.

Come Prepared

Gustav happened over Labor Day weekend. The power was expected to be out for 2-3 weeks and, at the beginning of September, it’s still hot and humid for another month. In talking to our friends in Baton Rouge, we understood that there were no portable generators, no window air-conditioners and no groceries. If we were going to drive home, we might as well come prepared. We rented a Ford Expedition XL and stopped at a Home Depot on our way, to pick up a generator and an in-window a/c unit (since the generator would not run our central unit.) We stopped overnight in Mississippi so that we could stock up on non-perishables and leave early in the morning. Baton Rouge was under a police curfew and we had to be home before dark.

The view as we returned home after Gustav

Cash is King

Who knew? Actually, I never had a reason to think about it. Gas pumps work on electricity. Credit cards and debit cards require electricity and internet connections. In Florida, all gas stations must have generators. Not true in Louisiana. So–if there is no power, there may be no gas and/or no ability to pay for it. ATM machines require electricity. This could be a problem if, like me, you never carry cash. Now, I purposefully make sure I have cash before a storm. And, if the storm hit while you are away, stop at the bank beforehand.

Pets

Everyone loves their pets. But sometimes you can’t take your pet with you on vacation. But, unless it has happened to you, I bet you haven’t thought about what happens if the caregiver(s) can’t get to your pet. Or what if the power goes out and your pet is in the sweltering heat without food or water. Some of the vet’s offices and many of the pet hotels have backup generators. My vet’s office and the pet hotel we use have an emergency staffing plan to make sure that my dog and his boarding buddies will be taken care of. Regardless of what arrangements you make for your pets’ vacation care, make sure to discuss the contingency plan in an emergency.

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