Learning From Hurricane Michael: Observations, Future Hurricane Prep, and Staying Fed & Safe During the Aftermath

Hurricane Michael proves that we need to be prepared all the time if we live in hurricane areas. Here are some observations I have thought about as the storm has played out and some tips on being more prepared for next time and grocery shopping in the aftermath.

The importance of evacuating in time

Being ready to evacuate is essential even if you ultimately do not. Sure Michael came up suddenly but when it was realized that a hurricane of any magnitude was going to make landfall, bags with enough supplies to last a week should have been packed. Not having to pack at the last minute means you can get in your vehicle or be ready to travel however you need to. It takes just a few minutes to throw 2-4 bags in a car plus pets and go if you are already packed.

Make checklists of what needs to be in each person’s bag. You can use this list every hurricane season so you can have your bag mostly packed ahead of time. This doesn’t have to be a bag that is intended for living in the bush for a week or more so it is a bit different than a bug out bag, however, some people may just want to grab their bug out bag if they have a major one put together already. I just think you may want to throw in a few items to take with you that you may not normally take if you were bugging out into the woods.

The poor don’t have as many resources when it comes to getting out ASAP

If you can afford accommodation elsewhere, then you are going to be more likely to leave. Some people may also fear they will be looted and lose even more so they stay.

Category 1 or 2 can turn into 3 or 4 very fast

I have heard those that live in hurricane areas talk about how they will not leave for a category 1 or 2. At the same time as we saw with Michael, a prediction of a low category hurricane can quickly go from 2 to 4 or 5, and by then it may be too late to pack and get out promptly. The last thing you want to happen is to be trapped near water or on a bridge because you waited too long. Debris and water can cause real issues!

Before and after Michael hit Mexico Beach, Florida. 

People tend to trust care facilities a little too much.

Sorry but I don’t trust it when a nursing home or other place says they have two weeks of food on hand and back up power. Even if they think they do when was the last time the supply inventory and back up generator was checked? This is tough because a lot of people have loved ones in facilities.

Seeing what Michael has done makes me think that if you have someone in a retirement community or rest home if may be a good idea to have a bag ready for them and stored where they live. I did an article a while back about prepping with disabilities.

Some ideas may be helpful depending on the individual’s exact situation and needs. I realize that some of those that require a lot of care may not be able to benefit from the ideas or methods I talk about but it may help you think about alternatives that could help them.

Prepping With Disabilities: A Guide For The Disabled and Caregivers

A category 4-5 hurricane should always have mandatory evacuations.

There were very few mandatory evacuations ordered in time because no one thought it would get so bad and the hurricane moved fast. Florence took some time to make landfall and allowed for more preparation and a longer time frame for convincing people to evacuate.

Emergency personnel was distraught how many people decided to ride out this storm and not listen to warnings.

A lot of areas will see the more massive damage because they have not had time to recover or dry out from Hurricane Florence. Some rivers have still not returned to their previous water levels.

Don’t Forget Your Pets

You need to be able to get your pets evacuated quickly too. Have a bag of pet food on hand that you can grab. I recommend putting it in a plastic bin with lid and a small scoop so you can avoid messes while traveling or if you have to keep it in your car awhile because of where you are staying.

Make a list for your pet. An extra leash and collar in a bag with some treats and a toy is a good idea. I recommend Kong toys because they can be filled with treats and chewed on and are a better deal overall then rawhide.

Make sure to have a spare key for each vehicle you will be using. There is no good time to lose your keys but when you are forced to be a bit nomadic because you can’t go home, it can be a lot worse.

You do not want to get in a lost or missing key situation in the middle of a disaster when locksmiths are likely not available. What if you pull in at a gas station for something and lock yourself out or you lock the door with the keys in it or a pet inside. Always carry a spare. My husband and I each carry spares just in case.

People did not have time to clean up after Florence and resume their lives in any way. The financial impact of a hurricane can be significant.

Not everyone has sick leave or vacation time. That means a lot of hardworking people didn’t make any money for days or even weeks and many of those that did had extra childcare expenses because there were no schools in session or after school daycare programs.

Less income also means some were not likely to have replenished their preps before dealing with Michael. This is tough and a hard lesson but it goes to show that if possible, you need to replenish ASAP or have supplies stashed in a safe place that can last through a very long emergency. The hard thing is what if your preps get destroyed in a hurricane, or you have nowhere that is very safe from damage?

Lack of electricity will be a longer lasting and more widespread issue than with Florence

Power outages and downed trees will be more of an issue because the ground is already very saturated and the winds will be high across a big area. Soggy ground and 40 mph winds can cause a lot of trouble and Michael has already proven it can pack 140 mph winds. Even winds have this speed are going to devastating.

Outages may last for weeks or months in the areas that are hardest hit and have true Category 4 wind damage. So that you know there have only been 24 landfalls of a category four hurricane on the mainland USA since 1851.

Michael is equal in intensity to Hurricane Maria which also made landfall with 155 mph winds and a very similar pressure.

Alternatives to hotel rooms.

If someone has relatives or friends in a nearby area that is safe they may want to try to work out arrangements to stay with them even if it means an air mattress on the floor. Pitching in on expenses and helping out while staying are all things you should try to do if you get taken in by others.

Airbnb is another choice if you can book fast online. You may have to travel quite a ways to find anything available.

If you have a camper or a vehicle large enough to sleep in, there are sometimes places like the Bristol or Charlotte racetracks and local businesses in nearby areas that are safe from the storm that will allow you to park and stay without any fee or hassle.

Our local distillery, Elevated Mountain, in Maggie Valley allowed people to park campers in their parking lot during Florence. I thought that was a wonderful way to help out!

Security and Safety

There was a lot of looting during Florence. Michael has proven to be a far worse storm that destroyed a lot of stores and homes so in some areas looting may not really be that much of a concern, but in other areas, it may be a major problem.

During any disaster or long-term emergency, there will be those that are ready to take advantage. Be careful out there and make sure that others in your family take the time to be more situationally aware. There are going to be a lot of desperate people out there that feel they have nothing else left to lose.

Try to make sure you have something to defend yourself with. There are a lot of non-lethal weapons out there if firearms are not realistic or a part of your life.

Best Non Lethal Weapons for the Prepared Individual

Substitutions At The Grocery Store

It is going to be harder to get supplies into areas that have seen a lot of destruction. Even if you were well prepared before the storm, it is going to be a long road to recovery and getting everything back to normal.

A lot of grocery stores and small markets were no doubt destroyed which means there are going to be far fewer places to buy supplies for an extended period of time and some stores may never reopen. Knowing how to shop during an emergency is an important lesson to learn. Here are some tips for shopping when a lot of the basics appear to be gone.

Water

Try looking for Gatorade, sparkling water, flavored water, or electrolyte infused energy drinks. Beer can be dehydrating but having just a few can provide some fluid. The Non Alcoholic beers work for this too and are less dehydrating than their standard counterparts.

Eggs

Egg products in cartons are better than nothing. Also be sure to look for egg substitute in the baking or gluten-free section. One package of Bob’s Red Mill Egg Substitute will replace 36 eggs and is inexpensive. No it won’t make up for not being able to fry or scramble an egg but it can be used for baking and cooking, and that is something. You can also use it in baking and cooking so you can ration out what fresh eggs you have.

Bread

While everyone heads to the bread aisle, they often forget all the other places in the store that have bread products.

Look in the freezer section for bread products. Just make sure to use them up soon after unthawing or toast to prevent it from getting soggy.

There are also tortillas and crackers. In my local grocery store, the crackers are in three different sections. Bagels are located near the regular cheeses.

Remember that you can toast waffles and pancake products and use those too.

Milk

Look for the shelf stable milk in cartons. Yes I know ultra-pasteurized is not the tastiest milk but during an emergency, it is great because you don’t need a fridge to keep it cold. Powdered buttermilk can be found in the baking section as can regular powdered milk.

Be sure to check where the juice boxes and other stuff for kids lunches are because you can find the cup sized cartons of milk that are shelf stable.

Some of the shelf stable almond and cashew milk may be available when there is little else on the shelves. They are good on cereals or when used in cooking.

Check both the organic sections and the conventional sections of your store.

Some stores have sections that are just for organic foods. During an emergency, people may not go for the more expensive organic foods. Sure they might take a bite out of the budget but not always and sometimes you have to pay a premium during desperate times. It is still a lot cheaper than eating out at restaurants or out of convenience stores.

Toilet Paper

Look in the natural paper products section. Also if you have to get paper towels, you are going to have to throw them away rather than flush, or you risk clogging your septic.

Flushable wet wipes are another option if you can find them.

Dog or Cat Food

Cats can do just fine on canned fish if they need to. Macarel is actually less expensive and more filling than canned cat food. It can also be used to supplement dog food if necessary. I know that cat and dog food is formulated for one or another but in an emergency feeding dog food to a cat and some cat food to a dog works until you get something else.

Check out the international foods

There are a lot of quick fix noodles and soups in the international section. Sure it may not be everyone’s favorite but you may actually find a new food you like!

Look for dried soups not canned

People go for the convenience first. Dried soup mixes can be a bit salty so you may have to watch it a bit if you are on a sodium-restricted diet. You can always add rice or a can of something that is lower in salt to reduce the overall concentration of salt.

Butter Substitutes

Canned butter and ghee is available in the international section and the baking section.  Ghee is clarified butter. You can also make your own ghee and can it for emergencies.

Think about what combinations you can make to substitute for ready to eat foods.

Instead of thinking about canned soups think about what you can do to combine ingredients and make your own. Canned veggies and some tomato paste and water with spices and a bit of pasta and you have a veggie soup with something extra. Canned beans and you have minestrone.

Baking bread

If you have a method of baking during an emergency, you can get bread mixes that have the yeast packet in them and bake your own. It may be an excellent opportunity to learn how to bake bread if you never have before. Check the gluten-free section too if you are having trouble finding mixes in the regular section.

I wish everyone the best out there. These hurricanes have been so devastating to so many. Living in the mountains, we have not experienced anything worse than some extra rain and some wind off of the hurricanes. 

Clean up is going to take a long time.

I received a letter from a Boy Scout Troop leader that said they were still cleaning up from Harvey hitting them in Texas. He wanted to share the post I did on flood clean up with his troop and other members of the cleanup teams. Here is a link to my previous post “Cleaning Up After A Hurricane & Flooding.” 

Staying strong during a disaster is hard. When you have kids and loved ones that you have to look out for, the extra weight of having to be strong for them and keep yourself together can really take its toll. I attempted to address this in my post “Keeping Up Morale & Finding Entertainment During Hard Times.”

Samantha Biggers can be reached at [email protected]

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  1. Good article. Thanks.

    Your suggestion of a list is critically important. We have a longish list of things to pack and things to do before evacuating, and review and revise it now and then. Without a list, one is sure to forget something, and it may be important.

    We live on Oahu, and had a big hurricane scare several weeks ago from Hurricane Lane, which was within a few hours of a direct hit when wind shear took the top off.

    We had already staged second hand military metal crates and 164 qt coolers which are stored under the house, ready to pack with valuables. We could have put only a couple in our truck for evacuation to a friend’s hi rise condo which is our evac location, but the rest would have been sealed with duct tape and strapping tape and left at home in the perhaps vain hope they would survive.

    We expect that when Oahu gets hit by even a Cat 1, the results will be very similar to those of Hurricane Michael or worse because 1) construction quality here is mostly far substandard compared to most of Florida, 2) winds which hit the beach at Cat 1 funnel into the valleys, compress, speed up, and hit the ridges at Cat 4-5 speeds, 3) there is no place to which people can evacuate.

    The so-called shelters here won’t stand up to Cat 1 winds, much less higher. The state and local governments told us all to shelter in our homes, even knowing that the older ridge devopments would have simply blown away. FEMA people told us a few years ago that they expect ‘thousands’ to be killed by a direct hit, and more than that to die in the aftermath because the water system will collapse.

    So….we store a 55 gallon barrel of water in the carport in the hope it will not be destroyed, 5 gallon water fountain jugs which will go into the vehicles, and water filters to clean the neighbors’ swimming pool water afterwards. We can process something over 6000 gallons, which should go a long way toward helping both ourselves and the neighborhood.

  2. I keep a “Swiss Army” entrenching tool in my car. This is a very good shelf defense item that is over looked. I have filed all the nicks out of the sides of the blade and filed a good edge on the front. This helps a lot when digging with a small shovel. Remember that a sharpened entrancing tools was a very feared weapon in the WW1 trenches

  3. Wonderful information for anyone to consider…whither you live in a hurricane prone area or not. My hubby and I live in “tornado alley” and have been through a couple that took the power out for a few weeks on one occasion. We keep a couple of “bug out” bags ready to go at all times …just in case. Also, the propane generator kept our food from spoiling and lights going. We are preppers and it sure makes it easier when the lights go out.

  4. Great information for all around for preparedness. The decision to “bug out” or “bug in” is always a big choice. Even if you plan to “bug in”, you need to have a bug out bag ready to go if officials advise you to evacuate. And also watch for storm surges if you live near coast. It won’t take much to flood you out.

  5. As a Native Floridian (Merritt Island), I’ve seen my share of hurricanes. I’ve been lucky to never be in a direct hit, like Mexico Beach. The 2004 hurricanes and Irma came the closest to my home. After Hurricane Irma, we were without power for 2 weeks. Thank God we were preppers. Our supplies were good and it was great to have a generator and a Solar Panel for power. We’re getting 3 more 100 watt panels so we will have plenty of power.

  6. I really like your suggestions about looking for alternative items in the grocery store. I happen to work in our local grocery store, so I know where to go while everyone else is fighting over the fresh bread and milk. No one likes powdered milk, LOL, but my family has never noticed when I use it!

    I also second what Tom Jackson said, esp if one is planning on going to a pet friendly shelter…they will not accept pets without proof of vaccination. Pet friendly shelters are few and far between, so you should have alternative plans in place anyways. Leaving your pets behind is NOT an option. We all saw the videos of the kitten/cat saved during Michael. Livestock, well, that’s a whole nother story. Sadly, they might not have another option there.

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