Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Running into a Hurricane on Your Vacation

As I sit watching the minute to minute reporting of Hurricane Irma, my mind goes back to our visit to Florida last October just as Hurricane Matthew was approaching.  Since we were driving, I made certain to check the news before leaving the safety of our cabin in the Tennessee hills and heading south. Since we would be staying in Orlando it looked as though we would miss the worst of it. We also received a confirmation that “The Chew” taping would still be taking place at EPCOT (we had tickets) so we packed up and hit the road.

Watching the news in our cabin before hitting the road
You know that saying, “What a difference a day makes,” well we didn’t have to wait a day. Sometime in the afternoon, we received an email from “The Chew” saying that it was too dangerous for them to stay so our taping (two days from now) had been canceled. By the time we checked into our hotel it was completely full of tourists like us plus folks who had been evacuated from the coast (this was a good sign since they usually evacuate folks to a place that will be relatively safe from the storm.) There was a note at the front desk explaining the process they would be following during the storm (this included shutting down the elevator by order of the fire department,) this was getting real. At about this time, our youngest daughter called to say her flight had been canceled so she wouldn’t be able to join us for her few days off. Better than trying to fly in ahead of the storm and hitting bad weather though.

Notice at the front desk
Having lived in Florida as a child and experiencing tropical storms and hurricanes (nothing to the extent of what we are seeing this year,) I knew we would need to stock up on supplies for the next few days. Heading off to the local Walmart Supercenter we were greeted with the sight of empty shelves. They were already sold out of bottled water, bread, canned salmon, tuna, pasta, and beans (anything you can open and eat if the power goes out.) Fortunately, I knew the area where we were staying and remembered there was a Big Lots down the road. Heading straight there, we had success. People hadn’t hit their shelves yet (although there were a number who had the same idea as us and it was getting busier) so we were able to find everything we needed. Our next stop was at the drive-thru ATM to get some cash. This is always a good idea in case the bank systems go down.

Heading back to our hotel, we stopped to top off the gas tank and found several stations were out of fuel or only had supreme. I must say this is one of my pet peeves in these types of situations. Really, people, there is no need to hoard, just purchase what you think you will need for the next 72 hours and to get out of the area if you must evacuate. (Sorry for the rant but I hate to think of some folks going without while others are sitting on a pile of bottled water that could last them a month.)

Our 72-hour canned goods
Now where was I, oh yes, we got our supplies and headed back to our room in plenty of time to load our fridge freezer (our suite had a full kitchen) with bottled water and charge all our devices. This was a perfect time to teach our grandson about the importance of being prepared for a storm. He helped us make two batches of Rice Krispie treats and some Toll House cookies (he wanted enough to share with other kids in the hotel) and turn the fridge up to its coldest setting. Later, he helped to fill the bathtub (helpful to have if the water stops and you NEED to flush,) the kettle, coffee maker, and all our water bottles (better safe than sorry.)

Our little chef
After making sure that our car was parked in as safe a spot as possible (NOT under a palm tree) and bringing our auto booster box upstairs to charge (my daughter remembered it has USB slots we could use to charge our phones if the power went out, super important for staying on top of conditions and connecting with family at home) we settled in for the next few days. Although we did have free passes for EPCOT the next day, we decided to stay in and not add to the traffic on the roads or be in the park when cast members were preparing to shut them down (for only the fourth time in park history.) I’m sure they would have liked to get home and prepare themselves for the storm.

Our battery booster/charger - very handy with an emergency light as well 
By the time we went down for breakfast the next morning, the lobby had become a bit of a hub for visitors and evacuees alike. I talked to one couple who had come in from the coast with their two (very large) dogs. This was certainly not their first evacuation (nor likely their last.) They had blue Rubbermade totes neatly organized with everything they would need (seriously the nicest 72-hour-kits I have ever seen.) They were clearly tired from the drive and worried about their home but still in good spirits. The breakfast room was humming as people chatted and watched the weather news on TV.

Because we travel by car and homeschool, we always have books, games, toys, and battery powered DVD players. We also tend to stay at hotels with kitchens (or at least a microwave and mini fridge) so feeding kids is much easier to manage. To keep EJ occupied, we did some research and learned about the causes of a hurricane and talked about some of the ones I had been through when I was around his age. Keeping him actively involved helped keep things calm and even though the winds were heavy by bedtime, he had his hot cocoa and cookie and fell right to sleep.

As things turned out, we were lucky, Matthew didn’t directly hit Orlando but I am still happy that we were ready for it. The worst we experienced was the rain blowing straight sideways in through our room’s air conditioner (that was interesting and a bit scary) and the litter of leaves and seeds from trees that were covering our car (I’m still finding bits of them now!) Things could have been much worse.

Glad I didn't park under this tree
So, getting back to my watching the news. This summer has been a rough one for so many people. I’ve had cousins evacuated due to wildfires in British Columbia, another with her furniture up on blocks to save it from flooding in Houston, and friends in Florida and Mexico who are being threatened by earthquakes and hurricanes. Then there are the fires in Montana, California, Idaho, and the Pacific Northwest (I may have missed some, basically there is smoke in the air covering western Canada and the U.S.) I’ve heard from folks who had 30 minutes to evacuate (and others who only had 5!) This is clearly not much time to gather your thoughts, never mind your important belongings, so there has been a lot of discussion on having go-bags (bug-out bags, personal 72-hour kits) ready to grab if you must leave in a hurry. It's also a good idea to have supplies to hold you in case you lose power and are stuck in your home for days (those of us in north have to deal with snow storms.)

You never know when a storm will knock the power out and strand you
Although we have our totes for travel we didn’t have individual bags so we made this a family activity. We used inexpensive backpacks for each person and packed them with things like bottled water, fruit leathers, nuts, juice, granola bars (anything that keeps and is easy to handle) plus baby wipes, a small first aid kit (band aids, ointment) tissues, a rain poncho, a set of light clothes, glo-sticks, and water bottle. We added allergy pills, pain killers, flashlight, battery (or wind-up) radio, extra batteries and cash/coins to the adult bags. Each person also added things they thought they would like to have with them like a small book, a deck of cards, or a small travel game. Of course, we also made sure to put together a 72-hour kit for our home using this list I found on the Alberta Emergency Management Agency's website. Most areas have them so you should be able to find a local list fairly easily.


It might seem like a lot to have enough food and water to last your family (and pets) for three days but you never know when you might need it. We also keep copies of important documents (birth certificates, passports, custody documents) in our main bag in case we would have to leave in a hurry. Having a list of numbers for your doctor's office and your insurance agent can be helpful as well. I hope we don’t have to use them but I feel better knowing they are handy if we do.