September 12, 2008

How to hunker down during Ike

Posted: 10:18 AM ET

More than 4 million people were told to evacuate their homes in 2005 for Hurricane Rita. But this time, Houston residents are staying put, hunkering down to ride out Hurricane Ike’s possibly deadly winds – as ordered by city officials.

boarding up

Houston Mayor Bill White told The Associated Press that one lesson from the Rita mess was that too many people - who didn’t need to - fled. The gridlock on the highways caused 110 deaths, making the evacuation more deadly than the storm. This time round, White is instead asking residents to protect their homes.

"Think how your barbecue could become a flying object," he said.

A good recommendation - considering Ike could bring sustained winds of 105 mph, and a final storm surge of water more than 20 feet high.

If you are fleeing to a shelter, the Red Cross asks you to bring any prescription or emergency medications you may need. If you have an infant, bring formula and diapers. You can check the agency’s Web site for more suggested supplies.

The agency also urges people to register on Safe and Well Web site or call 1-800-733-2767 so loved ones can know your location and condition. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also offers a family registry and locating Web site.

If you’re staying put, here are a few ways to protect yourself and your home from damage:

Flying glass

The city of Houston is providing a map of predicted wind speeds for each Zip code. Windows and sliding glass doors present the utmost danger. If you don’t have storm shutters, you should cover the doors and windows with plywood to prevent glass from flying.

The city recommends remaining indoors in hallways, bathrooms or closets, away from any windows, during the hurricane. Officials posted more tips on their Web site.

Going without

People should realize they could be without power and supplies for days. Each home should have a disaster kit that includes a first-aid kit and essential medications; water, canned food and battery-powered flashlights (with extra batteries!)

The Red Cross provides a list of safety tips to follow during a blackout. For instance, make sure to use only flashlights – candles can be knocked over by high winds or small children and start a fire. Also, avoid opening the refrigerator and freezer as much as possible to conserve the cold inside.

Of course, no electricity often means no cooking. But here is a list of recipes that require no heat and simple canned foods.

During the storm, officials may tell you to turn off other utilities as well, including natural gas and/or your water. FEMA provides instructions on how to do so properly.

Be aware

A hurricane, although dangerous, can often lead to boredom. People get tired of sitting inside a windowless room and decide to venture out “just to see.” But this is a source of many hurricane injuries and deaths.

The Red Cross cautions that the calm "eye" is deceptive - the storm is not over, and the worst part may still becoming. Trees, buildings and other objects weakened by the first round can be destroyed by the second. They also ask that you be alert for tornadoes, which can form both during and after a hurricane.

Ike is expected to cause flooding. Texas officials warn that about half of all flash flood deaths nationwide involve vehicles, so they urge people not to drive through flooded roadways. Those waters may be hiding washed-out bridges or roadbeds.

To keep yourself and your kids occupied, play board games, read stories, do crafts or put on skits. The Red Cross has a disaster coloring book available for download here.

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Clark Howard helps you become a wise consumer. We know you're busy, and that's why Clark's tips are quick and effective. He'll arm you with the information you need to make smart choices. During these tough economic times, Clark wants to help you save more, spend less and avoid getting ripped off!