Dodging Hurricane Dangers—What You Need to Know
Technically, the Atlantic hurricane season concludes at the end of November, but given the effects of global warming, our primary care doctors in Delray Beach know that the old rules may be unreliable.
So after seeing the heartbreaking images from Fort Myers and surrounding areas earlier this month, we think it’s not too late to review some hurricane safety tips that could save your life if another storm approaches our coast.
Water is the Main Killer
While the most impressive videos from landfalling hurricanes are often shots of the damage wind can do, water kills more people in a hurricane than wind.
“I don’t want to scare people, but they need to understand: The leading cause of death is going to be drowning,” W. Craig Fugate, former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Florida Division of Emergency Management, told The Washington Post.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the combined effects of storm surge, high surf, and inland flooding caused nearly 90 percent of tropical cyclone deaths in the U.S.
Storm surge occurs when the low pressure in the center of a hurricane literally lifts the surface of the ocean higher than normal, like a magnet, and carries it onshore. This joins with the high surf churned up by the storm’s winds to create a deadly combination.
NOAA cautions that if you can see a body of water while on the flat ground prior to a storm, you’re too close. Always heed evacuation orders in advance of a storm.
One other word of caution: The forecast “cone” simply predicts the possible landfall of a hurricane’s eye over the coming days. Never assume that because you’re outside that cone, you’re safe from the winds, rain, and storm surge.
With Ian, the forecast cone showed Fort Meyers at the cone’s southern edge, leading many to believe they were in the clear, so they didn’t evacuate. Many of them died.
“The storm is not a point,” Craig Setzer, a broadcast meteorologist in Miami, told The Post.
“As much as we have told people that hazards extend outside the cone, which is almost a disclaimer, people don’t perceive that,” he said.
Even those hundreds of miles inland can experience severe flooding, as those in the Orlando area saw with Ian.
Before the Storm
- Be sure you have a 30-day supply of your medications—both prescription and non-prescription—on hand before the storm hits. See us if you need refills of any drugs you may be taking.
- If your medications need to be refrigerated, talk to us about how to keep them properly stored if your power goes out.
- If you are on dialysis, talk to the doctors or staff at the dialysis center about where to go after the storm.
- If you use medical devices such as ventilators or oxygen concentrators, be sure the batteries are fully charged and know where to go if the battery doesn’t work.
- If you are on a special diet, be sure to have enough food available to last at least a week. And have enough bottled water available for everyone in the household to prevent dehydration. The rule of thumb is, one gallon per person per day.
- If you have service animals or pets, make sure they have enough water, food, and any medications for them to last at least 10 days after the storm.
- If the power goes out, hand sanitizers and hand wipes will be critical. Be sure to have plenty available.
- Make sure to take all your medical paperwork with you if you evacuate: a list of current medications, a list of drug allergies, insurance cards, and contact numbers for your physicians.
- If you haven’t had a tetanus vaccine in the past 10 years, see us now to be inoculated. During after-storm cleanup, tetanus bacteria can infect you from even a minor cut or scratch.
After the Storm
- Avoid floodwaters if at all possible. They are filled with such contaminants as oil and gas, household chemicals, and sewage, not to mention frightened animals. Water may also cover potholes and sinkholes.
- If you’re using a generator to maintain power, be sure it’s far enough away from the house to prevent carbon monoxide from seeping into the home.
- Never drive through floodwaters or over compromised bridges. Pay attention to barriers and signage. If you encounter flooding, remember: Turn around, don’t drown.
- Do not eat any food or water that may have come into contact with floodwater. If in doubt, throw it out.
- If lifesaving drugs have been exposed to floodwaters, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that if the container is contaminated but the contents appear unaffected (i.e., the pills are dry), they may be used until replacements are available. Other types of drugs or drug products such as inhalers, oral liquids, drugs for injections, and so forth, should be discarded if they have come in contact with contaminated water.
- Insulin loses its potency according to the temperature it is exposed to and the length of the exposure. Under emergency conditions, you might still need to use insulin that has been stored above 86 degrees Fahrenheit. When a fresh supply becomes available, discard any questionable insulin remaining.
- Take care during cleanup. Be aware of downed power lines, the hazards of power tools like chainsaws, and the dangers of overexertion and heat.