What It’s Really Like to Live Through a Hurricane

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by DannySea

Editor’s Note: Please give a warm welcome to a new guest writer, DannySea. Danny is a long-time Florida resident and he shares his thoughts on what it’s really like to live through a hurricane in this fantastic article. ~ Daisy

We, as preppers of one sort or another, actually have an edge. Some of us prep for day-to-day-events and some of us prep for other one-time events,  We stock extra flashlights, batteries, water, have a generator and some gas and oil, hopefully, a good chainsaw, all with extra parts and duplicate items. As preppers like to say “Two is one, and one is none.”

And for practical purposes and to minimize this writing, we prepared for any hurricane heading our way. Even boarded up any weak openings. Trash cans were secured as well as the tank pulled from the gas grill, and all that stuff tucked wherever possible.

The following post will be about staying and surviving the storm and living through 100-degree weather without electric and other common inconveniences.

The hurricane hits.

About 6 hours before the storm, we lowered our AC about 6 degrees. This alone has paid off dozens of times! Lots of drinking water, water to flush toilet, everyone got showers just prior to the storm, extra books, and reading materials, set the kids up on a movie and game binge to keep their minds busy.

We started using anything that required refrigeration/freezing that could spoil, but would not cook anything that required extensive work, unless fixed prior. At this point, the very minimum you had to prepare for eats the better. Be willing to cut your losses, even with a freezer full. This is a balancing act each of us has to decide.

So, now the winds have been picking up for quite some time, but the eye is going to miss us. As the storm circulates counter-clockwise, you are still 12 hours away from the strongest part of the storm you are going to experience.

Get the little ones in a comfortable routine. Make sure they have their top three comforts: stuffed animals, and a favorite blanket and pillow. If you are fortunate, they will be sleeping through the worst part of the storm.

Don’t even think about starting to drink or any dilution of your senses. More lives are lost due to this misconception. You as the adult might need every available mind and body strength you can muster, as houses tear apart, trees fall on the roof and water is pouring in, or there is a water surge from anywhere that starts bringing in a couple of feet of water. By being in a daze or overly relaxed because you are high, you might miss that extra ten-minute warning that could save you and your loved ones’ lives.

Then the power goes out.

But you prepared ahead. You turn on one of the fully recharged lanterns, get a low light on for the kids in case they wake up. You now dig out the extra lights you have and place one (left off) next to one of the lighted ones. At this point, your fully charged laptop and/or phone can still track the weather. Set up a routine and check it every half an hour. Don’t be foolish and try to make calls or stay online. If you can, during the hours you have been waiting, set up a single message that goes out to multiple parties. Tell them you will be in touch about every 6 hours and to not call. You want to keep your phone working as long as possible.

Living through a hurricane is exhausting.

You finally reach your own exhaustion limit. Power is out, but the house is cool. The wind is so extreme it sounds like a huge train is all around you. You can hear huge trees snapping every time there is a wind surge. As in all of nature, there is a heartbeat and a rolling up-and-down of the wind speeds. This is the sustained winds (lowest speed) and the wind gusts, (highest speed.)

Listen when a weather news speaker is discussing each. Now add in tornadoes. This is where houses get initially torn apart about 60% of the time. A tornado can decimate one side of a street and leave the other side with light damage.

But by now, after 10 hours into the storm and two days of prep, you are exhausted. Everyone feels safe in their beds or temporary center-of-house locations.

Then the worst has passed.

All of the sudden you come awake, Everything is eerily quiet. You find a safe place to look out and there is debris everywhere. You know the eye did not come near you, and passed before you laid down. There is still a subtle rumble of the wind. You take a quick walk around your property. By the time you make it back to your entrance, the rains and wind are increasing again. This is the back side of the storm and you are far enough away from the eye that the feeder bands can be felt again. They are less intense and are moving usually in opposite direction that the storm was throwing at you while it approached.

Another few hours pass. No electric, the house is getting warmer but is still comfortable. After several more exterior visits, it looks like it is mostly nature that is decimated, and you sigh a bid relief. The road and your driveway are blocked and probably under water. For days.

You would love to see an electric company truck go down the street, assessing power lines. What you do not know is that FEMA now requires even the local electric company servicing men and equipment to group 4 or more hours away in a planned staging area.

You probably will not see any government trucks or road crews for another day or two. Power lines are down everywhere, including for the nature lovers that say “every leaf is sacrad.”

Obviously, since you are home, you start clearing debris off of house, driveway, vehicles. All the while taking lots of documentation (pictures.) Lots and lots of pictures, different angles, etc.

You get the generator running, and start up the water pump, then running a small window-mount AC, then running refrigerators. All activities running through a cycle of events. You have a small generator for your back porch that will run fans to sleep with as the house is now in the 80’s, but you cannot afford to leave your bigger generator run outside while you are sleeping. And for safety, you cannot leave windows open. Remember, most people are honorable, but it only takes a few per neighborhood, to wreak havoc.

At this point, we have a family meeting. Decide where to send gramma and all the kids to friends and family where power and all the creature comforts are still intact. That is, if we still have a vehicle, and can cut the driveway enough to get by.

You are now probably about 12 hours since the center of the storm has passed you by.

Picking up the Pieces: Life after the Storm.

What you do not know minute-to-minute, is how long before power is restored. Hours, Days, Weeks, Months? The damage, assessment time, available equipment, crews, and other variances will be at play. And no one can work 20 hour days in the heat, day after day. You might get power, but you neighbor might be another two weeks. It is such a variable.

Meanwhile, you are starting to notice more and more damage to your structure and trees on so many small sheds and fences. You notice a lot of roof shingles are missing you did not notice on the backside.

Immediately, call your insurance company. You don’t need a comprehensive list. DO NOT send a pkg of pix. DO NOT call them for the next 4 weeks in a row, every day. Be glad you called them ahead of 90% of the public at large. NOW, Wait Your Turn! Some companies will cut a check or a partial check, like USAA; but for most, it will be another month before your first and maybe only check arrives after the adjuster was there. 4

Each year, Insurance is evaluated and paid out differently. I have had some years the insurance paid $500 per tree fallen, sometimes only if they took out a fence or structure, and sometimes would not pay for fence or tree. Every company and state is different.

Be patient. After highly destructive storms, I found I am still making improvements a year after the damage occurred. And I am a Florida State Contractor.

Don’t even think a storm is going to be a money-maker. There are so many costs you will incur that come out of your pocket. But what you have is the fact you prepared. And that is ALWAYS a saving of at least 20-to-1.

And you have upped the survivability of your family! The real payoff! Anything else can be replaced.

Here’s why I know this.

I have been an SWFL (South West Florida) dweller since my parents moved to Sarasota when I was just under two years old. During the late 80’s my wife and myself, with our four children relocated south another 100+ miles to Collier County. Part of the Great Swamp (Everglades National Park,) is located herein of Collier County. The southern part of our county encompasses 10,000 Islands, also known as Florida Bay. There is only one county south of Collier County, and that is the county that has the Florida Keys. Miami/Fort Lauderdale lie due east of us on the east side of the lower Florida peninsula.

I’m trying to give a little feeling for those reading on the subtropic locale we live in. This past year the most intense lightning location in the world has been awarded just east of where we live here in our county. And just like the islands of the Gulf of Mexico/Atlantic Ocean, the Horse Winds blow off of the Sahara Desert (yes, in Africa,) and depending on these summer winds, and how much the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico waters heat up, plays with how much “steam” or energy that needs to be released. Believe it or not, we are actually in a cooling cycle as the sun pulsates in a 20-something year cycle. But even during these times, we can experience extreme storms, but usually not as many “bad” life threatening ones.

The key to preparation is location, location, location. If your ego and finances allow you to live on the beachfront or the bay, then you are the man who has built your house upon the sand. Expect high-percent of loss. Live inland, away from bodies of water and reservoirs, build elevated (even above FEMA recommended minimum heights.) Build with hip roof designs, when possible, follow engineering tie-down/structural designs, and you have lessened your destruction percentage again and again.

Now, as far as survivability, in the waterfront/beach scenarios above, don’t even think of hanging around, even category one hurricanes. About two out of three change their category (wind speed) even just prior to landfall. And the more severe storm, the higher the damage, including flying debris and trees uprooted and collapsing on your well-built structure.

As mentioned in Daisy’s blog herein, prepare ahead if you are in a vulnerable location. Get out of town ahead of time. If you wait until the week of the storm, it is common that no hotels, no matter the price, will be available up to 500 + miles away. Sometimes you can find a small town that is not surrounded by any main highways/interstates, might have something for a day longer than any of the national hotel chains. Even places like vacation parks, (eg Disney parks) are booked solid if they are out of harm’s way.

To break this up, I will end here, on the long-term and short-term planning.

About the Author

DannySea was born into a family where there was plenty of love, food, and work. Having a nature that was easy to be industrious and a self-starter, he focused on being a Contractor when he grew up. And all of a sudden he found that 40-plus years had slipped by and he is still learning and adapting. A war exists within to implement old ways against new technologies, proven working techniques against new sciences; and yet he is still excited to turn the rock over, and see what he did not know before.

What It\'s Really Like to Live Through a Hurricane
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  • Thank you for the comprehensive article. I’m glad events went well because of your planning.

    Was part of your experience described above Hurricane Irma? It’s still vague to me if Irma’s path along the West Coast up to and around St. Petersburg’s ever made landfall or shifted down to a tropical storm as there were confusing reports at the time.

    Your quote above, “The key to preparation is location, location, location.”. I agree. After having lived beach side you’re on the front line. Not a good place to be. I used to kid that at least the newly built condos (‘The March of the Condos’ up the coastline), would take some of the hurricane force until you realize the amount of shattered glass that would be in the winds and due to the negative effect of the winds anything inside would be vacuumed out clean.
    It allegedly happened with an out-of-the-blue tornado. The morning edition of the local newspaper showed the damage from the tornado spread out for a hundred feet describing the body count while the same paper’s evenings edition redacted saying things were fine. Friends who were fishing close by seeing the bouncing tornado approach went under a bridge and afterwards noticed the missing boats that were there minutes ago. I wasn’t there. Florida relies on the tourist business.

    So, if anyone is considering moving onto one of those shifting sandbars, reconsider. The mangroves that used to hold the sand together have been built on making your house a prime location for an inlet in a straight hurricane landfall. After one Panhandle hurricane the community Seaside near Panama City, Florida had very minimum damage, perhaps a few shingles were blown off, because the barrier islands, without buildings, which were still intact took the blunt of the hurricane. (Seaside is the community shown in the movie “The Truman Show”.). Just as building a pier on the coastline will cause possible beach erosion down current I’m of the opinion that building on a barrier island not only destroys the barrier but also protection to inland houses.
    Note: Roughly ninety percent of Florida’s population lives within a ten mile zone along it’s coastline.

    Ironically what makes for a passive design house with cooling breezes during hurricane winds will lift up your roof such as two-foot overhangs. They’re good for shade during the noon hours but provide damaging upward pressure in hurricane force winds. Verandas, screened in porches, also. I’m not a builder but I imagine gable roof less than thirty degrees would provide less negative pressure on the leeward side and still enough slope to shed rainfall. A quarter of an inch per foot gradient slope is standard. Avoid flat roofs. A square pyramid roof house built on poles might be of interest.

    “Egos” combined with residential homes can be a bad mix since usually they want the biggest house for the cheapest price resulting in chicken wire covered with dryvit plaster and sub-code building safety features.

    best

  • As a native Florida Conch who lives in Central Florida, I have been through hurricanes since 1965. I agree the writer has provided accurate, thorough & helpful information.

    As a result of hurricane “ptsd” from Charley, Frances & Ivan in 2004 (thankfully Jeanne missed us) we went from prepared to full-fledged preppers.

    My husband and I were both first responders, working 12 hour shifts as a result of the hurricanes. We have now since retired.

    At that time, we lived without power for a total of 21 days during the August-September series of events. We also had a well/pump and livestock and other animals to feed & water as well as ourselves.

    All I can say is that even being prepared with food, generator, fuel, small window A/C unit & barrels of water for bathing and flushing, it was hell.

    As a result, we now have a whole-house propane generator with 250 gallon tank, 3 stand alone generators and a RV with generator. All of our vehicles never get below 1/2 a tank during hurricane season & all fuel jugs, gas & diesel, are filled.

    In addition to the RV propane stove, we have an additional propane grill and 2 camp stoves that all use 1lb propane tanks. We keep 3-4 cases of propane stocked at any given time, which is an additional 30-60 day supply of cooking fuel. We also use long-term food pantry storage.

    A deep well hand pump and hand-held radios are on stand-by.

    While the redundancy is not really necessary for us, it is useful to be able to help family, friends & neighbors in a disaster situation.

    I am thankful for the 2004 hurricanes because they changed the way we live & prepare for the future. We have been through other smaller hurricane/storms since then and when the power went out we slept right through it. And when the power stayed out for days we continued as if nothing happened. Being prepared has removed the stress & added a feeling of peace, comfort & self- sufficiency.

  • It hard to communicate the post hurricane misery that comes from living with out power and water In the modern age. As others have commented 2004 was eye opening for Floridians.

    I was reasonably prepared in 2004. The first storm resulted in 14 days without power and 7 days without water because I did not know how to hook up my generator to my well pump.

    Next storm seemed like 30 days later, 10 more days without power.

    In 2017 the power was out a full day before the actual hurricane arrived. Was caught unprepared and did not have Water ready to flush toilets when the power was out. I few trips out side with 5 gallon buckets held ius over untol my generator was running.

    Big take away from 2017 was the massive traffic Jams on I75 when people in south Florida tried to evacuate as the storm slid west.

    Worst gas shortages in my life time after the hurricane passed. Too many people tried to come home the day after the storm. They clogged the highways with bumper to bumper traffic for 100’s of miles and prevented the out of state power utilitie trucks from getting to their assigned locations.

    If you evacuate do not come home until power is restored in the majority of your town.

  • Danny and Momma Bear,
    Y’all are so right! I’ve lived through every hurricane here in Southwest Florida for decades. Very blessed to have made it through as well as I have.

    Btw, John, yes Irma made landfall here in Collier County. She went right over my house, brought along a tornado or two at my place (they like to call them microbursts now) and her winds registered 142 mph at the airport near by.

    Flew back in for Andrew… that was a trip. Flew back in for Irma…even crazier! Returned Monday afternoon to an oncoming Category (Cat) 1 storm and woke up to a Cat 4 or 5 the next morning! I needed to leave the prior Tuesday! Yes, a week plus ahead of expected arrival of the ‘cane. That gives you time to get well out of Dodge, and have the gas to travel so you’re not stuck in 30 mph traffic bumper-to-bumper all the way out of state, plus be able to find a place to stay. Folks drove to Sarasota Tuesday aftenoon, gas stations were OUT of fuel! They turned around and drove home. Irma did not arrive in Collier County until Saturday.

    I started my “last minute” preps first thing Tuesday morning. I keep food, batteries, candles, lanterns, etc. on hand. Had to get plywood for the windows and doors… landlord had no shutters for the house which had been through a few more ‘canes than I! Waited 6 hours at Home Depot for a truck overdue from the night before! That was Wednesday. They limited the number of sheets of plywood each customer could buy.

    Tuesday I had filled my tank, filled gas cans, gotten extra food for my dogs and cat and more litter. Remembering Andrew, I got about a month’s worth of pet food and more than enough litter for a month. Secured as much as possible outdoors, brought in hoses, trash cans after last pick up before the storm, etc. Filled 5 gallon containers with water which I kept in the bathtub for flushing, etc. Just so much to do, especially with only one person. A few ‘secrets’: first responders generally insist on their families evacuating ahead of a major storm. That is a hint, friends. Also, EXPECT power to be down. Our county lost most of its power. Cell towers are inoperable without power. In this kind of disaster situation, plan on texting only…uses less ‘space’ and more likely to work than phone calls. In addition, first responders are allowed to work ONLY until winds hit a certain speed. That is about 45 mph in my county. 911 will not answer calls until after winds and storm conditions abate to specified levels. Danny and Momma Bear, you have the ideas that work because they are borne of experience! Thanks for sharing! Also, the business of one gallon of water per day per person is ONLY FOR DRINKING and maybe cooking water. You need to have a minimum 3 gallons per person per day for drinking, cooking, washing up, etc. Oh, and water systems went down in Naples, Sarasota, I believe Ft. Myers, as well as other cities, and sewage backed up. Boil water notices were announced. That’s a huge laugh! Most people are without power and most of those do not have backup stoves or grills and the authorities want people to boil water! Hahaha!

    And please, stay away for several days after the storm. There may not be enough fuel for you to drive home! Roads will be blocked from fallen trees and debris, possibly even water. And when you evacuate, take enough of everything for at least two weeks.

    So thankful Florence stayed away from us! One year later, we still have roofs with blue tarps, missing signage and damage still awaiting repairs. And we were lucky! Make sure you can operate your generator. I didn’t realize mine required a pull-start. Next one will be a key start or better.

    Btw, a friend of mine who went through a tough hurricane in the Bahamas several years ago said they had no power for a month! She said she and her husband got really tired of eating canned food for a month. Worth thinking about.

    Glad for the great article, Daisy, and the great comments. Thank you.

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