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September 13, 2008

Coping in Hurricane Ike's aftermath

Posted: 11:18 AM ET

Hurricane Ike roared ashore early Saturday as a Category 2 storm, packing 110-mph winds, heavy rains and storm surges expected to be at least 20 feet above normal levels.

 

The storm severed power to millions of people, left roads impassable, sparked fires and flooded streets and homes. As the storm moves farther inland, officials said they fear Ike will cause extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure, especially in Houston, Texas.

 

The full extent of the damage will not be known till later Saturday when emergency crews and rescue teams are expected to fan out across the affected region. Some of the hallmarks of hurricane damage, however, already been have reported: flooded homes and streets, downed power lines and trees, and debris.

 

Here are some tips on what residents ought to keep in mind when authorities in the region say it’s safe to begin the recovery effort:

 

‘Safe and well’

 

The Red Cross is providing a “safe and well” Web site to help families communicate during and after the storm. Register at the Web site, and family members outside the disaster area will be able to check on your well-being.

 

General tips

 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has some general rules of thumb to follow if you are planning on returning to a disaster area. Among the FEMA tips:

 

– FEMA advises to use caution when entering areas where floodwaters have receded. “Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car,” the agency’s Web site says.

 

– Similarly, remain cautious when entering buildings and homes because the storm may have weakened their foundations.

 

– Take a battery-powered radio to monitor emergency updates.

 

– Do not use smoke or oil, gas lanterns, candles or lighted torches inside a home because of the possibility of leaking gas.

 

– Use a battery-powered flashlight to look at damage and remember to turn on the flashlight outside a home. It’s possible for the battery to spark if gas is leaking.

 

– Do not enter your home if it is surrounded by floodwaters, if you smell gas or if it has been damaged by fire and has not been declared safe.

 

– Only check out the electricity system if you are not wet, are not standing in water and are sure of your safety.

 

– If you smell gas inside your home or hear a hissing sound, open windows, if possible, and leave immediately.

 

– Inquire if the community’s water supply is safe to drink and avoid floodwaters because of contamination by elements such as sewage or gasoline. Be mindful that standing water may carry an electric charge from downed power lines.

 

– Watch out for wildlife, especially poisonous snakes, and poke the debris before wading through it.

 

For all of FEMA's tips and advice, visit the agency's Web site.

 

Electricity

 

At least 4 million people were without power Saturday morning, and that number may rise. In some areas, it may take weeks for power to be restored.

 

CenterPoint Energy Inc., a regional electricity company, has these tips on what to do in the immediate aftermath of the storm:

 

– If floodwaters have risen above the electrical outlets, contact a licensed electrician before turning on the power.

 

– If appliances or electrical equipment were submerged in water, they need to be dried for at least one week. They also need to be checked out by an electrician or a qualified repair person.

 

– If your air-conditioning system is outside, and if it was under water, have it looked by a technician.

 

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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!