Decide Whether You'll Stay Or Go

Where will you go during a storm? It's a decision best made now, when you're calm, long before a storm hits. But in some cases, the choice may not be yours.

Should I stay or should I go?

The law says that if authorities order an evacuation, you must leave if:

  • You live in an evacuation zone where there likely will be flooding. Evacuation zones are based on the size of the storm, and on expected flooding, the No. 1 cause of death in hurricanes. People who live in a these zones run the risk that the rising ocean, called storm surge, will swallow them up.
  • You live in a mobile home. No matter how well you tie it down, it is unsafe.

Even if the law doesn't force you to evacuate, common sense dictates that you should if:

  • You live in a high-rise, anywhere. Winds are much stronger at higher elevations.
  • You know your building is unsafe and you can't repair it.
  • You use life-support equipment that requires electricity.

It's often best to stay at home

If none of these conditions apply to you, you should think about staying put and fortifying your home, something experts call "sheltering in place."

If your house is not strengthened and windows and doors are not properly covered, even the weaker fringe winds of a hurricane can cause serious damage.

Go inland

If you can't ride out the storm in your own home, and if you're not willing to flee three or four days in advance of any threat, then head inland, away from the evacuation zones. Plan to join friends or relatives farther inland, or go to a low-rise inland hotel. Go two miles, 10 miles -- not 200 miles.

Taking refuge inland, in a well-prepared building away from the water will increase your chances of surviving the storm.

What to pack

*** Remember to make plans for your pets, too! Do not leave them at home or outside if you have to evacuate.

If you go to a shelter, here's what to take:

  • Flashlight
  • Extra batteries
  • Medicine
  • Snacks
  • Baby food
  • Diapers
  • Blankets or sleeping bags
  • Cot and pillows
  • Identification
  • Photocopies of valuable papers
  • Playing cards
  • Games
  • Books
  • Eyeglasses
  • Hearing aids
  • Dentures
  • Special-diet foods
  • Toiletries
  • First-aid kit

Leave at home:

  • Guns
  • Alcohol

Go to a Red Cross shelter

As a last resort, go to Red Cross hurricane shelter. A hurricane shelter is refuge of last resort, a place to go if you can't stay at home or with a relative or friend. Shelters are schools or other solidly constructed buildings that provide a large safe area. They tend to be barren. Most creature comforts must be carried in by the visitor.

Wherever you live, find out which shelters are closest to you. Make sure you know how to get there, and practice the drive.

Information about which shelters are open in your area will be available through newspapers, television and radio. Be aware that shelter locations can change quickly, so stay informed.

Most public shelters are run by the Red Cross, but that doesn't mean medical care will be available. Some shelters will have food, others will not. It is best to bring your own. And don't expect to find a bed. Be ready to set up a home away from home on the floor.

Hundreds of other people will be in the shelters, so be prepared to live with strangers at close quarters for an indefinite period of time.

Go to a shelter as soon as an announcement is made that it is open; space is limited.

Remember to secure your home and shut off water, gas and electricity before you leave.

Leaving town

Experts advise against leaving town when a storm is approaching. The huge numbers of people who must leave and others who want to has created a giant challenge for emergency planners. All of those fleeing the storm will be using the same road system. That means gridlock.

The National Hurricane Center typically can give only 36 hours of warning in a Hurricane Watch and 24 hours in a Hurricane Warning.

That makes leaving early essential. But even early departure has its dangers.

You may be going from the frying pan into the fire; there's always the possibility you could leave, and leave early, only to drive right into the path of the storm.

Hotel rooms will be hard to find

If you do flee, you probably won't find a hotel room. As Andrew threatened South Florida in 1992, you couldn't find a vacant hotel room from Orlando, which has more hotel rooms than anywhere in the world, to the Georgia border. People ended up without shelter, sleeping in parking lots and by the side of the road.

**** If you have pets, make sure your hotel is pet-friendly and will accept pets.

Don't count on planes, trains or buses

Planes, trains or buses are not good alternatives. Here's why:

  • Getting seats on a plane, bus or train usually requires several days' notice. A hurricane evacuation order probably will come too late. The high cost of making last-minute reservations for a family to board a plane or train rules out many people.
  • There are not enough seats. About half the seats on commercial jetliners are reserved in advance, even during the slow months of August and September.
  • A bus is as likely as a passenger car to become stranded in a traffic jam. It is unsafe to ride out a hurricane inside a bus on a major highway.