Things that I had been putting off since resuming blogging earlier this year are (a) making any reference to Hurricane Irma* and (b) updating this post…
But, after some panicked messages from friends with family in Hawaii this morning, I realized that I was being a little irresponsible and that this post could actually be a useful resource.
So here you are – ‘A Sneak Peek Inside my Hurricane Kit, the Post-Irma Edition’. Below is my original post (published September 4th, 2017) with updates to reflect what I learnt and found useful during and in the aftermath of a Category 5 hurricane. If you find this helpful, please be sure to share it.
SEPTEMBER 4th, 2017
No sooner have I returned from my holidays and already a hurricane is on our doorstep. Never are you more aware of the beauty and power of Mother Nature than when you live in a hurricane belt.
Living in the Caribbean for as long as I have, I am no stranger to hurricanes and tropical storms but, by and large, (barring TS Otto that sent mudslides into my house in 2010) Mother Nature has been pretty kind to us in the BVI for the last decade. This year though, the gloves are off and we already suffered a huge storm in early August that caused widespread flooding and extensive damage to homes and businesses across the islands. Now Hurricane Irma is headed our way and looking increasingly like she’ll be at Cat 3 or 4 strength when she lands on Wednesday/Thursday.
2018 Update: Hurricane Irma hit the British Virgin Islands on Wednesday September 6th 2017 at Category 5 strength. She was the largest Atlantic hurricane in recorded history. Sustained winds of over 160 kts devastated the BVI and left us without power for months.
We only have to look at the damage done in Texas recently to know that these storms are not to be messed with and my heart goes out to all those suffering in Harvey’s wake, especially as I make my own preparations for Irma’s arrival.
Thankfully we have the weather reports to keep us updated (I’ve also downloaded a really helpful app – Hurricane Tracker for $3.99) and we watch anxiously as she creeps ever closer…
Still, forewarned is forearmed and these next couple of days will be spent stocking up on all the necessities and readying the house as best we can (read: putting up the hurricane shutters, setting out the sandbags and hoping for the best…).
Obviously, we are keeping all of our fingers and toes firmly crossed that Irma causes no trouble for anyone, but the motto that I’ve always adhered to is ‘Prepare for the worst and hope for the best’.
Want to see which supplies I will be packing to see me through the storm?
:: Water –
The general rule of thumb is that you should pack one gallon of drinking water per person/per day (this should include animals) so for our little family we ideally need 4 gallons of water per day and we should aim to have enough to cover 3-7 days at least (More water will be needed for cleaning and washing.)
2018 update: Keep on hand enough drinking water for 14 days. Water purification tablets would also be useful if you can get them. Stock more water than you think that you could ever get through.
:: Canned food, non-perishable items and pet food –
Tinned soup, protein/granola bars, nuts (anything you can eat right out of the packet), crackers, cans of Beefaroni (don’t judge me…) and Pringles have always featured in my hurricane supplies since they can be eaten hot or cold, if absolutely necessary. I also like to ensure that I have an adequate supply of teabags (I might live in the Caribbean but I’m still British after all!)
2018 Update: Have food and water for AT LEAST 2 weeks. It may seem excessive, but non-perishable foods will always come in handy after the fact, or you can donate them to your local food bank if you’re fortunate and don’t need to use it all.
Do not purchase foods that require water or cooking. Pastas and grains won’t be much use to you if you have no fresh water to cook them in. You won’t want to waste your supply of drinking water. My recommendations are still tins of cooked pasta (Chef Boyardee or similar), tins of soup (not the concentrated kind), trail mix, protein/granola bars, tins of tuna, or anything that you can eat cold and out of a can. There won’t be any water for washing up either. I have also been meaning to try MRE’s (Meals-Ready-to-Eat) like those supplied to the military, as they are excellent for camping/hiking/emergency stores and keep for years. I would love to hear if any of you have tried them?
:: Passport, cash and important family documents –
In a ziplock bag or waterproof box you need to ensure that you have your passport or travel documents, as much cash as you’re comfortable withdrawing (ATMs could be down for a while and card machines at the store won’t work either) and any insurance policy documents or other Id and banking docs.
2018 Update: Keep your passport and any other important documents on your person! My colleague had his passport in his house, but that wasn’t much use to him when the house collapsed. Getting him out of the country for evacuation was even more of a challenge than usual. Scan or send pictures of your passport to trusted family members or friends outside of the hurricane zone. Write down emergency contact details in case your mobile phone runs out of battery – you may need to hand them over to officials so that they can contact your family.
Speaking of friends and family outside of the hurricane zone. Set up a central Facebook message and add friends and family. In the days following you might be able to get word to one (in our case it was a call my husband made on a borrowed satellite phone to my brother-in-law that lasted approx 14 seconds) and that one person can then update everyone to let them know that you are safe.
:: Torches, batteries, candles and matches –
No two ways about it, you’re going to be without power for some period of time, the question is, just for how long? Having an adequate supply of candles and torches will make life a lot easier. Then just grab a good book and hunker down. Be sure to fully power up your phone, kindle, laptop, tablet etc to keep them going for as long as possible.
2018 Update: Collect up any battery-powered LED lights that you have around the house, string lights etc. can be useful for providing a low-level of light to a room and making it easier to move around after dark.
:: Portable chargers –
I mentioned these in a previous post here, they are great for travel and an island essential to see you through the regular power cuts. But, never are they more useful than during hurricane season. I have two (one large and one small) and will be fully charging them both. This will hopefully mean that I can keep my phone powered – then I just have to keep my fingers crossed that the phone signal holds out.
:: Books, playing cards and board games –
Not withstanding the fact that you have fully charged all your electronic devices, they are still unlikely to see you all the way through the power cuts. August’s storm saw some houses without power for 3-4 days and that’s nothing in the grand scheme of potential issues post-hurricane. My new favourite game is Monopoly Deal but you should also make sure you have a good book to read and maybe use this time as an opportunity to brush up on your poker skills with friends.
:: First Aid Kit and Prescription Meds –
For all the obvious reasons you’ll want to make sure that you have a small first aid kit (our one is fab and reasonably priced) along with at least a 2 week supply of your usual prescription meds.
2018 Update: Aim to have at least one month’s supply of any prescription medications. Even though I was evacuated after 6 days it took a while to get set up with a doctor who could prescribe my medications – I was fortunate to have enough to cover it but these are things to be aware of.
:: Wet wipes, dry shampoo, hand sanitizer, toilet paper and other personal hygiene supplies –
As unpalatable as it is to think about, you may be without running water for a while… a pack of wet wipes, hand sanitizer and some dry shampoo will help you freshen up, since you’ll be wanting to save the bulk of your fresh water for drinking. I’m packing up all my mini travel supplies as we will be de-camping to a friend’s house to ride out the storm.
2018 Update: Water for washing – fill your bath (if you have one) and/or sinks with water. This can then be scooped out to flush toilet and wash. A portable camping shower and bucket of clean water could also come in handy for a fresh water rinse off.
:: Change of clothes and spare underwear –
You never know if, or when, you might have to evacuate at short notice. Have a grab-bag packed and ready to go, just in case.
2018 Update: In the days leading up to the predicted hurricane – be sure to do as much laundry as you can. You will want to ensure that you have clean sheets, towels and plenty of clean clothes on hand, if possible.
:: Other useful items –
battery-powered or hand-crank radio, paper plates/cups, cooler with ice, can-opener/bottle opener, duct tape, tool kit, fire extinguisher and car charger.
Further 2018 Edits
:: Boots –
After the storm there will likely be significant amounts of debris everywhere; nails, glass, rocks and wire. At the very least you will need trainers, but preferably hiking boots or something more solid. I had a leather pair of moto boots that were super comfortable and sturdy. Every time I left the house people asked to buy them off me. You do not want to get cuts and scrapes on your feet – the debris will be filthy and it is the prime environment for infection.
:: Grab bag –
One of the things that I maintained during the storm and in the days after (before I was evacuated) was a grab bag containing all of my essentials. A change of clean clothes, my battery pack, a torch, batteries, my passport, some trail mix and a bottle of drinking water, my phone, wallet and kindle. Wherever I went, that bag came with me. With long days out of the house; finding friends, community meetings, trying to buy food/water/gas etc. it gave me a certain reassurance to have these supplies with me.
:: Boarding Up –
It is vital that wherever you are planning to stay during the hurricane takes boarding up and hurricane shutters very seriously. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of securing your windows and doors as best you can. The damage that can be done to the house as soon as the winds start to get inside can be catastrophic. If you are staying in rented accommodation – insist that your landlord takes their responsibility to board up your house seriously, even if you have hurricane glass windows.
:: Do not get drunk –
I have removed any reference to alcohol from my previous post. As much as it is tempting to hunker down with friends and crack open some wine. Please don’t. You will need to keep your wits about you – particularly if you suffer damage to where you are staying and need to move to somewhere more secure during the eye of the storm. On that same note – it is impossible to know how long it will take the eye of the storm to pass over. DO NOT go outside during the eye unless it is absolutely necessary to move for your own personal safety.
:: Gas –
Be sure to fill your car(s) and any cooking gas cannisters. Gas and diesel were in short supply after the storm with long lines at the gas station and supplies rationed.
:: Big ticket items that are desirable but not essential –
A gas BBQ – preferably one that has a gas ring burner attached for boiling water and heating food in pans.
A small generator – we were without power at our house for over three months and were fortunate enough to stay with very patient friends, but when our generator arrived we were able to move back home and live comfortably while we waited for power to be restored. Our generator cost in the region of $1,000 including shipping and duty into the BVI but they can be purchased for around $300-$400.
A satellite phone – these are very expensive so it isn’t realistic to expect many people to be able to afford one at home. But in the days following the storm they were the only way to get word to anyone outside the Territory. I would recommend that your office or business look into purchasing one as part of their disaster response plan.
My thoughts are with Hawaii as Hurricane Lane heads their way – and with everyone affected during hurricane season. It is a time of great anxiety for many of us. With the anniversary of Hurricane Irma rapidly approaching hurricane safety has been at the forefront of my mind. I hope that some of these tips and observations will prove helpful.
*in case you’re new here (welcome!) we experienced a direct hit by Cat 5 Hurricane Irma in September 2017 – the strongest Atlantic Hurricane in recorded history – and life hasn’t been quite the same since…