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Sunday, September 04, 2005

Hurricane Survival Tips - Katrina - A Floridian Speaks

[Aside: OK, maybe I do read my comments. I was willing to say anything to end the spam attack. I'd kill a spammer with my bare hands just to make the prescription drug spam in my e-mail box go away. Lying is small potatos compared to homicide, however justified.]


As the blame game continues after days of intense partisan political combat, perhaps it's time to give Katrina a bit of historical context and try to learn some lessons unrelated to blaming forces of nature on a particular politician. Florida was hit by four hurricanes last year. We took the brunt of Charley (strong Cat I when he hit us) after he'd traveled over 100 miles of Florida. Frances was a rain grinder, slow-moving, but still dangerous.

1. The only sure way to survive a hurricane is to get out of its path.

2. Wind. There are many ways a hurricane can kill you. The most obvious characteristic of a hurricane is the wind speed. This is one useful measure of the strength of a hurricane, but rarely the cause of many fatalties. It is possible for the wind to propel an object like a sign, piece of a house, or awning straght into your head. This rarely occurs. More often the wind rips the roof off a house and things collapse on the occupants. Giant oak trees, seemingly a symbol of stability and strength, will fall during a Cat I storm. If the tree itself doesn't fall, the overhanging limbs will. OAK TREES KILL PEOPLE!

3. Rain. Hurricanes generate enormous rainfall. Slow-moving storms like Frances generate the most rain. Fast-moving storms like Charley drop less rain, at the cost of maintaining more wind speed as they race over land. Inland flooding kills a surprising number of people.

4. Storm surge. Near the coast, storm surge is the most destructive force of a hurricane. It happens quickly, and can catch people before they are aware of the danger.

5. Power lines. Just as people emerge from their homes to assess the damage, thinking the worst is over, very often they are faced with downed power lines. These kill a surprising number of people. Sometimes the power lines look dead, yet carry enough current to electrocute the survivors of all the other elements of the storm.

6. Clean up. In Florida, some people died trying to saw and remove large limbs from their property. It's a bit like shoveling snow. Sometimes people have the endurance for it, sometimes not.

7. Tornados. Hurricanes spawn tornados, some more than others. THE NORTHEAST QUADRANT OF A HURRICANE SPAWNS THE MOST TORNADOS AND PACKS THE MOST WIND. This is why we see more wind damage to the East of New Orleans after Katrina. Just as Frances was leaving us last year, sitting in the dangerous Northeast quadrant, we received a tornado warning from our weather radio. I went outside and heard the terrifying sound of two bricks grinding together, the sound you hear when a tornado passes over. There was a tornado, but it was overhead in the clouds.

8. Flooding. Watching the aftermath of Katrina, there isn't much reason to discuss this. Ordinarily the first responders can get out from one to three days after a hurricane. When 80% of a major city sits below sea level, evacuation orders are late and ignored, the logisitcs in rescuing thousands of people is compounded manifold over the usual problems of downed trees, power lines, collapsed or moved buildings, and debris. Helicopters and flat-bottomed boats do not grow on trees near disasters.

9. A LACK OF PREPARATION. Nothing kills more people than poor planning. As I noted at the top, there are no guarantees when you choose to "ride it out."

Katrina is the first storm I can recall where the first responders were criticized for not being there the day of the disaster and the day after. Everyone who's been through a major storm knows the bare minimum of potable water and non-perishible food to have on hand should last at least a week. Bottled water is nice, but you can bottle your own tap water in any container available. Filling bathtubs with water, sinks, bottles, every glass in the house, old milk jugs, jars, aluminum cans, whatever, is critical to survival. This must be done BEFORE the storm pollutes the water supply.

I was shocked when two days after Katrina hit there were desperate pleas for water. This is inexcusable given the history of major hurricanes destroying transportaton infrastructure. Able-bodied people must make some basic preparations for storms if they choose to ride them out. First responders will be tied up with the infirm, sick, and disabled.

Ignoring the personalites involved, what went wrong during Katrina?

1. The mandatory evacuation was ordered about three days too late. By the 26th of August the entire Gulf Coast from East Texas to the Panhandle of Florda should have been under a mandatory evacuation.

2. The major arteries connecting New Orleans to the rest of the world were not shifted to one-way (out!) traffic. The Florida Keys always reverse the roads days before a major storm is predicted to hit.

3. There was no evacuation of the hospitals. Power never survives a major storm. Emergency power is sure to fail within a week or so. There are no guarantees power can be restored in months, much less weeks. After Charley some people were without power for months (again, a strong Cat I).

4. There were no provisons at the designated shelters. Port-a-pottys showed up as some of the last refugees were leaving the Superdome. Hurricane prone areas like New Orleans should at least have potable water and MRE's stored in bulk for such contingencies. Moreover, shelters should be well known, not picked at the last minute.

5. No evacuation help was provided to those without transportation. All the school buses in New Orleans sat in their parking lots and became flooded. The late evacuation, clogged highways, and ignorance of the official Louisiana policy on evacuations didn't help matters.

6. There must be law enforcement planning already in place before the storm hits. Police officers should have designated rally points at critical areas in the city, sufficient supplies, communications not dependent on existing infrastructure, and a plan of action.

7. Finally, the culture of always being missed by storms caused a general sense of "It won't happen to us." The last storm to hit New Orleans in force was Betsy in 1965. The worst attitude to have about a giant storm is thinking it won't hit you. Katrina's size alone should have terrified everyone along the Gulf Coast. She was no ordinary hurricane, more like a giant Pacific cyclone.

The politics of hurricane Katrina have overshadowed the realites of riding out hurricanes. YOU WILL BE ON YOUR OWN FOR DAYS IN THE BEST OF CIRCUMSTANCES. If you cannot prepare for three days of no food, water, medicine, or power, you MUST run from the storm.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
kowarechatta said...

î_ (die stupid spam, diiiie... )

Well said. I'm from the Keys and even though Katrina took us by surprise, we weren't completely unprepared. This is hurricane season, after all. Of course, if a storm forms in the gulf and hits us at a full 5, my stack of canned beefaroni won't matter so much.

Chip said...

Sure, I can see how a home loan relates to my post. Rebuilding and all that.


/Screamin' Deano


Thank you for your relevant and helpful comment, quickly too I might add. I'm not surprised the spammer beat you. They strike like mambas. I'm going to start s-canning them ASAP. I've had enough.

And yes, beefaroni will just be debris if you get a monster V down in the Keys. Nobody evacuates better though.

sandspur said...

Excellent post, Beagle.
Yeaterday, on FNC, Geraldo rescued an elderly woman named Florita along with her pet dog. When he asked her how she had survived, she told him how she had stocked pleny of food and water for herself and her pet prior to the storm. She also had filled every container in the house before the storm hit.
Gee, I remember as a kid, doing exactly that every hurricane season.
And plotting every hurricane on our Publix grocery bag hurricane charts. When hurricane Donna hit central Fla.(1964, I think, I was young then) everyone in our neighborhood worked together just fine for several days until the stores reopened and we could get repair materials and fresh food. The menfolks chainsawed the downed trees and cleaned up the debris and the womenfolks mopped up the water that entered the houses (pushed by the wind *through* the cinder blocks)and cooked up tasty meals on the camp stoves. (Never did like powdered milk though.)
Oh, yeah there WAS no FEMA back in the day. No WDW, either, heh.

Anonymous said...

Actually contraflow was in effect from 4pm Sat to 4 pm Sunday in the NO metro area. Otherwise, not as many would have gotten out in time. I'm pretty sure Mississippi had their roads in contraflow as well to get their people off the coast, but I'm 100% sure that NO did because I observed it.

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