Hurricane Florence Pro Tips: Here's How I Survived Sandy and Matthew | News
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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Hurricane Florence Pro Tips: Here's How I Survived Sandy and Matthew

Posted by on Wed, Sep 12, 2018 at 11:53 AM


On October 29, 2012, I was in my final semester at New York University.

I was also hunkering down with my BFFs in our Alphabet City apartment, about three blocks from the East River, awaiting the arrival of SUPERSTORM SANDY.

We were in a voluntary evacuation zone and on the second floor, so we decided not to leave the city and risk being unable to get through traffic and back in time for classes. We did what most college students would—stocked up on beer, snacks, and candles.

Around 9:00 p.m., things were pretty anti-climactic. We were feeling, as many of you might be now after Hurricane Florence's track has shifted slightly south, like we had bought a ton of pickles and Nutella for nothing. When my dad called and asked how things were going, I said fine—nothing was happening except some rain and wind.

"Really?" he replied. "Because I'm watching the news right now and seeing water rolling down your street."

I ran to the window and, sure enough, a wave of water was heading south on Avenue C, carrying the debris of our colorful neighborhood with it—trash, garbage bins, a mattress. Our block slowly started to fill up like a tub until the water reached the tops of the wheels of the cars parked below, setting off their lights and alarms underwater as they sloshed into each other.

Still perched at our window, we see this huge, green flash and hear a sound like a giant robot in the sky powering down. The lights go out. It was the Con-Edison power plant, about eight blocks away, exploding.


Not long after (feels like it was midnight), we started smelling gasoline and wondered if there had been a gas leak. But at this point, it was windy as hell, and water was coming into the lobby of our building, so we knew evacuating wasn't going to be easy. Eventually, we managed to flag down a firefighter patrolling our street who confirmed our suspicions. Yes, it was risky to go venture outside, he said, but it was riskier to stay here.

We banged on the doors of neighbors who also planned to ride out the storm, grabbed our go-bags (we packed everything in trash bags first to try to keep out moisture), and waded out into knee-high water, strewn with trash and panicking rats. Lucky for us, we had a friend down the block who said we could take shelter at his place. Together we rode out the storm, and when the waters receded the next day, we were able to get back to our apartment, which, fortunately, hadn't blown up. We got a week off school and spent the rest of the aftermath making s'mores and hot toddies on our gas stove and turning our apartment into a planetarium with a battery-powered constellation projector.

My second harrowing hurricane experience came October 8, 2016, when I lived and worked as a reporter in Lumberton, North Carolina.

Robeson County was not prepared at all for Hurricane Matthew—flooding is a fact of life there, and we all just thought it would rain a lot and we'd have to spend a Saturday inside. But the Lumber River was already at flood stage before we got nearly a foot of rain in one day, causing the river to breach a gap in the levee where the railroad tracks went through (which had never happened before) and flood South and West Lumberton after the storm had already passed.

Unlike Sandy, we lost power for just a few days after Matthew—along with internet and cell signal. But most roads in and out of the county were flooded or washed out, as well as most roads in and out of Lumberton, the county seat. Highway Patrol told me there was no gas within an hour-and-a-half drive.

The delayed levee breach submerged the city water plant, frying electronics on the first floor and shutting off the city water supply for fifteen days. You had to find a friend outside the city to do laundry or take a real shower—not easy given the state of the roads—and use bottled water for everything else. In between opportunities to do that (we continued to update the newspaper's website throughout the storm and commenced print editions a week after), I washed my hair in a bowl in my backyard.
I tell you all this not to scare you as Hurricane Florence approaches, but to let you know that this isn't my first rodeo, and I'm here to offer what will hopefully be some helpful tips as you hunker down over the next few days. You should, of course, heed the advice of emergency officials (more on that below).

While power outages—perhaps prolonged outages—are expected from Florence, it's not likely the Triangle’s municipal water services will shut down as they did in Lumberton (if you're on a well, however, you may very well lose water as a result of power outages). But you'll still need to be prepared to feed and occupy yourself until this thing is gone.
  • If you're facing a long-term power outage, think about ways you can cook. If you've got a gas stove, lucky you. If you've got a grill, make sure you have charcoal and something hearty to cook in, like a cast iron skillet, or use tin foil to make foil packets (we'll be serving these at the Willets household). During Matthew, we peeled the labels off soup cans and put those directly on a camping grill. Silver lining: A power outage is a great excuse to get your neighbors together for a cookout and use up meat and other foods that will go bad.
  • Think about what you can cook before you lose the ability to refrigerate and cook food. Prior to Sandy, my friends and I baked a ton of sweet potato fries and carried those around in takeout soup containers for a healthy snack. Ahead of Florence, I baked a strawberry cake so the buttermilk in my fridge wouldn't go to waste. Kale chips, granola, and cookies are also good options.
  • Obviously, stock up on nonperishable foods—but who wants to eat canned goods three times a day? For Florence, I got a bunch of unripe bananas and avocados that will last a few days and won't require prep or dishes you won't want to wash in the dark. I also got trail mix, those ready-made salad bags (which I'll chill in a cooler and probably mix right in the bag, because, again, screw dishes), edamame crisps, peanut butter, and bread. We also got canned beans, tuna, peaches, and green beans. And bae took advantage of the excuse to eat Lunchables.
  • To keep your fridge and freezer cold longer, freeze Ziploc bags or bottles of water ahead of time for make-your-own ice packs.
  • If your house is at risk of flooding, pack a go-bag with clothes, important documents, and medication. Make sure you seal anything that can't get wet in camping bags that lock out water, or in a pinch, Ziplocs. You can find out if you're in a flood zone here. Durham County will also begin notifying people today if they live in flood-prone areas.
  • Get a detailed forecast for your town at Weather.US, which will show you a range of possible outcomes for the storm.
  • Charge all your devices, get rechargeable external batteries—and charge those too. When the power goes out, reduce the screen brightness on your phone to save the battery. If you lose cell signal, turn it on airplane mode to keep your phone from searching and sucking up battery life—calls will go straight to your voicemail, so record a message saying your phone is on airplane mode to save the battery, you're OK as of 5:00 p.m. or whatever, and you'll call back soon. This is also a good idea if you're expecting your phone to die.
  • Load up on wipes in case you lose water. I like these nice-smelling underarm wipes, which I get at Target and tear in half because I'm stingy.
  • Fill up your tub or stick a bucket outside to catch rain to flush your toilet if you lose water. If you live near a river, like I did in Lumberton, you can also fill up your bucket that way.
  • Keep a few emergency items with you if you venture out before roads and businesses are open— band-aids, extra socks, granola bars, a flashlight, and disinfectant wipes (in case you come in contact with floodwaters, which can be contaminated).
  • Invest in a battery-powered radio for alerts. Also, sign up for free emergency alerts on your phone. Download the state's ReadyNC App and/or get alerts from Durham County, Wake County, or Orange County. You can also get text messages from FEMA.
  • Unfortunately for us, it's too hot to line the entire perimeter of your apartment with six packs and keep your beer cold (as we did during Sandy), so if you're buying beer, look for darker, stronger varieties that are traditionally served at warmer temperatures. Think Scottish ales, Belgian ales, Doppelbocks, imperial stouts.
  • Do laundry before the storm and buy some extra socks and underwear in the event you can't do another load for a few days.
  • Under a state of emergency, you can get one early prescription refill, except schedule 2 substances, which include many painkillers.
Got hurricane tips? Send me an email at swillets@indyweek.com and we may add them to our list!

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