In the movie “Jaws,” Amity Mayor Larry Vaughn said, “You yell ‘Barracuda!’ and everyone says, ‘Huh?’ You yell ‘Shark!’ and we’ve got a panic on our hands.” The same could be said of hurricanes. At the first mention of one — in contrast to, say, “tropical storm” — people tend to panic. That’s the worst thing to do. Remaining calm and thinking carefully about what you should do is the key to surviving one.
As we saw on the Louisiana coast this past week, a hurricane — or, yes, a damaging tropical storm — can strike at any time, even in July. So now is a good time to review hurricane preparedness.
A hurricane is a powerful coastal storm with sustained winds over 74 mph that is immense in size, duration and destruction, according to the National Hurricane Center. Long Island’s hurricane season stretches from June to November.
With good reason, warnings about either a tropical storm or a hurricane should be heeded. Hurricane Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it hit Long Island in August 2011, but it still caused hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of damage here, and $15.8 billion in total. Then Sandy — again, downgraded from hurricane to tropical storm — struck in 2012, causing more than $65 billion in damage along the East Coast. Houses are still being restored and elevated, and flood insurance premiums now rise annually.
With news media, especially television, reporting on storm tracks with regularity, there is no reason to be caught unaware of what could be coming. A hurricane watch is issued for coastal areas 24 to 36 hours before a storm is predicted to strike. A hurricane warning comes 24 hours or less ahead of the storm.
As part of a readiness plan, compile a list of relatives’ or friends’ homes that you can go to safe from the storm, along with hotels, motels and Red Cross shelters. The evacuation centers are usually at Farmingdale State College and Nassau Community College. Know your local evacuation routes.
As a storm approaches, collect all your vital documents — birth certificates, house deed, insurance papers, passports, Social Security cards, wills — in a waterproof, portable container. These items are part of a “go bag” that should also include water (one gallon per person per day), nonperishable food, clothing, a first aid kit, a battery-powered radio, a flashlight, personal items such as contact lenses and eye glasses, and cash. Remember, ATMs don’t work when the electricity is out.
If you live in a low-lying area that is typically evacuated during a storm and you receive a call from the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management telling you to get out, you should go. Don’t delay. Emergency responders — ambulance, fire and police — shouldn’t have to come and get you during a hurricane or tropical storm. In most cases, they simply won’t be able to. Forcing them out into a ferocious storm could jeopardize their lives. Remember, they have families too.
If you live outside an evacuation zone and choose to remain at home, be prepared with enough food and water to last three days. Fallen trees can make it hard to get out of your homes. Stores in your neighborhood may not receive deliveries.
Whether sheltering in place or evacuating, board up your windows and doors. Taping windows might reduce flying glass, but it won’t prevent them from breaking. Clear your yard of unsecured items like bicycles, hanging plants, lawn furniture and trash cans. If you have time, remove damaged and diseased tree branches.
If you keep a boat in your driveway, as many Long Islanders do, make sure it’s tied as securely as possible to its trailers.
Many organizations and municipalities have compiled storm preparedness information guides. Keep them on hand. And we urge our elected and appointed officials at every level of government — village, town, county, state and federal — to make available the storm preparedness information their constituents need to survive a serious storm.
How strong are hurricanes?
Category Sustained winds Damage
1 74 to 95 mph Some to moderate
2 96 to 110 mph Extensive
3 111 to 129 mph Devastating
4 130 to 156 mph Catastrophic
5 157 and higher Catastrophic
Source: Saffir Simpson hurricane wind scale