Hurricane-proof your home with these steps

By Ryan Cornell

As Virginia’s hurricane season reaches its peak this month, authorities encourage homeowners to prepare by creating an emergency survival kit.

The last major hurricane to hit the East Coast, 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, might have blown in near the end of October, though most hurricane activity in the commonwealth occurs between August and September.

In September 2003, Hurricane Isabel ravaged the area, flooding homes and roads, downing trees and power lines and causing about $29 million in damage to the Shenandoah Valley.

Although Isabel was more than a decade ago, Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue Chief Gary Yew said the region often feels the effects from less severe hurricanes.

“They do move up the coast without much impact to us, but over the years we’ve seen a few causing some problems,” he said. “Losing power for prolonged periods is one of our biggest threats, as well as flooding.”

Yew recommended that people prepare for these blackouts by creating an emergency survival kit.

He said the kit should contain a one-week supply of non-perishable food, a cooler to store ice and a battery-powered radio for monitoring emergency messages and weather reports.

If there are infants in the home, the kit should include a week’s worth of baby food, formula and diapers, and homeowners should remember to pack rations for their pets.

A roll of plastic sheeting can also come in handy for temporarily patching up a damaged roof.

“We found that people here in the valley are pretty good about preparing and checking on neighbors and the elderly,” Yew said. “Something we recommend is making those contacts and making sure you have all the necessary contact information for elderly family members.”

He said homes in the area are difficult to hurricane-proof because most of them are designed without storm shutters, but there are a number of other ways to prepare the home for hurricane season.

Homeowners should check to make sure their rain gutter systems are cleaned out so water doesn’t “pond up” at the bottom of the house and flood the home.

People should bring in or secure loose yard items such as patio furniture so they don’t blow away and become a safety hazard for somebody else.

Yew said people can sanitize their bathtubs and use them to store drinking water before the storm arrives.

He added that one way people can prevent perishable foods from spoiling is by freezing them prior to the storm.

“Prolonged periods without power is tough for most people,” he said. “Especially if it occurs in severe hot weather like the derecho and there’s no way to cool their homes anymore.”

Generators can help tremendously in emergency situations, though Yew warned people against using them inside a garage or building that could fill up with carbon monoxide. Similarly, people with a gas or charcoal grill should use it outside where carbon monoxide can safely escape.

Lastly, Yew suggested that people withdraw cash for emergencies.

“Because if the power is out, you can’t get to the bank or access the ATM, but if the store is open [and credit card machines are down], you can buy supplies,” he said.

“We like to tell people to be self-sufficient for 72 hours following a storm event. It generally takes that long for utilities and power to be back up.”

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com