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Bill, New York, 2012

In November of 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit our forested property near the Delaware River in New York. We had thought that since we lived a couple of hours inland and over 1000 feet higher than sea level, we were fairly safe. We have always made some preparations in case of emergencies but we had a lot to learn about being ready for a situation like this.

We knew the storm was approaching quickly and it was going to be severe. We had waterproof canoeing “go-bags” ready and we had a 625 gallon above ground water storage tank and a good non-electric water purification system. Even our dog had his saddle bags packed with his food and supplies. But we were not prepared for the intensity of this storm. Bugging out was not an option, at least by car.

When the storm hit, the winds kept getting stronger. Just when we thought that it was as bad as it could get, the wind picked up even more. Trees blew down and ripped out the power lines to our house. The circuit breaker box exploded. Several large conifers fell on top of our house, partially crushing the roof. Our daughter was watching the storm just as the wind hit and a huge tree blew down and landed directly on the roof above her room. An old garden trellis, made from large timbers took the brunt of the force and probably saved her life.

We gathered the kids to the center of the little house as far from windows as we could get. We had a few battery powered LED lanterns lit because the power was out.

Trees and down power lines blocked our street so we had to shelter in place and tough it out. I think there might have been a tornado along with the hurricane because some trees were twisted in half and not just blown down in one direction.

Once the storm passed, we had to assess the damage. No one was hurt thankfully. We made sure the propane tank was shut off and every appliance was unplugged. Clearing the driveway and property of downed trees and debris took several days. We had no intention of clearing the road of trees, it was too dangerous since the power lines crisscrossed everywhere. We were able to check on our neighbors and offer what assistance we could.

We had to stay in the house since the roads were impassable and dangerous. Since we have a private well and use an electric well pump, we had no running water. We had plenty of fresh water in the water tank, fortunately, and every drop of water we consumed went first through our counter top purification system.

After the house was rebuilt and the storm was mostly behind us, we made lists of things that we could have done better. The first thing we did was to make a plan in case we got separated. Perhaps next time an emergency struck, we might not all be home. We planned where we could meet and who we might call for information. 

Over the next couple of years we invested a wood burning stove and a generator that could run on either gasoline or propane. Gasoline was scarce for weeks after the storm and rationed. 20 pound propane tanks were available, though. We also built a battery bank for backup power. Several deep cycle batteries connected to a power inverter. So we had two power sources. We now all keep a pair of jeans and sturdy slip on shoes next to our beds so we are ready to go in 5 minutes flat.

A few other changes we made to our preparations.... We got 2 camp type toilets, emergency nonperishable foods like freeze dried back packing meals, MRE's , canned foods, more lanterns and extra batteries of all types, a good quality am/fm and weather radio that runs on either batteries, a/c power or a crank/dynamo and we doubled the size of our garden. Some eight years later, we continue to improve our emergency preparations and refine our plans.

Christina, Virginia, 2003, 2011, 2018

I have been through three major hurricanes that tore up my area of Virginia pretty badly. My first lesson learned was Hurricane Isabel in 2003. Isabel really messed our area up in the northern neck of Virginia. No power for 13 days. Nowhere to get gas or ice. I will never forget the howling of the winds and thinking this will this ever stop. Many houses were lost into the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers during Isabel.

My next experience was Hurricane Irene. A microburst (powerful wind) came right across the street. It looked like someone’s hand just cut a swath right through the trees. The sound of that wind! It creeps me out every time. No power again for 7 days.

Last year Hurricane Michael got us! No power for 5 days and many main roads washed out. Several roads were impassable until this past March! I DO NOT play with these storms.

Do not think just because you’re not taking a direct hit that it can’t be destructive!! Prepare ahead of time! Buy lots of water, fill up large buckets with water to flush toilets, buy batteries, charcoal to cook food, table sandwiches food like peanut butter and jelly will help too. Always have paper plates and plastic utensils. Get baby wipes for personal hygiene for everyone, not just babies. Fill your vehicles up with gas and remember your pets!! Get extra pet food, litter, etc. Get your prescription and over the counter medicines ahead of time! And don’t forget you need a NOAA Weather Radio when the power goes out to stay on top of things.!! Be prepared to be self sustaining for days because you will be without power for days and possibly stranded for days. Do not ever wait til the last minute to gather supplies and if they tell you to evacuate then do it!!

Steve, Houston, Texas, 2008

I remember the day Hurricane Ike struck Texas and Louisiana back in 2008. It was Friday night, September 12, 2008, in Houston Texas. I was 11 at the time and my mom and dad were sitting in front of the TV watching as Ike crept closer towards Texas. My dad went to Walmart and got some dry food, flashlights and batteries for the storm. I was really nervous because of the size of Ike (it was 450 miles wide!) and the damage it might cause overnight. I was walking around thinking the worse and even taking a long last look at my apartment complex with my neighbor’s friend!

It started getting windy around 6 pm (winds around 40 mph) and we got scared and ran home. Twigs from the 100 foot pine trees started to break off and leaves were flying everywhere. My mom and I were walking to Pops Supermarket to get some last minute things and the checkout line was long. When we were finally done, the winds blew open the door and everybody went silent.

We went home quickly. Dad was in the bedroom with his hardhat on playing with the flashlight as he watched the news. There was a phone bank with citizens asking questions to Dr. Neil on Channel 11 about what kind of damage they could expect. I ran outside at 10 pm and the winds were still at 40mph but they started to gust past 50 and I was on my porch watching the palm tree near me sway in the wind. The tall pine trees were bending slightly as I heard them rustle in the wind. More leaves and trash were airborne now.

I couldn't stand against wind as I tried to go downstairs and the wind kept pushing me back. I gave up and went back upstairs once my folks told me it's no longer safe to be wandering. The wind was howling at the back window. My dad managed to use an old bed to cover the window and it was reinforced with the couch in his bedroom. I tried to fall asleep but the wind was howling constantly and gusts started to become a little more frequent. At around 11:30 pm, it was getting blustery outside and my dad tried to microwave a burrito (worst time for a snack!) and the lights started to flicker. We ran to the closet but we started to fuss when my mom didn't want to get in. She was terrified and we tried to calm her down but another loud gust blew in and the carport downstairs started rumbling.

The wind was starting to make squealing and screeching noises. We were silent for a couple minutes staring at the back window. I could see an outline of the trees whipping in the wind from the street light. Dad and I went inside and mom slept in the living room. For another 30 minutes the lights would flicker as we listened to Paul and Tom on the radio. I lay down on the floor and dad sat on his big tool box playing with the flashlight. Around 12:30 am, we lost power and he winds got louder. It sounded like a train one minute and a wolf howling the next second. The winds were probably between 70 and 80 by that time. My dad went out to get my mom but I remember my mom opening the door to look outside to get a peek. It was terrifying. In the sea of darkness the palm tree was bending back and forth violently. Water was falling from the roofs like Niagara Falls. The giant pine trees were bending at 45 degree angles with branches snapping off.

Mom closed the door and finally took refuge in the closet. She was crying at one point and we told her we were going to make it out. At 1:30 am the back window shattered and glass and rain started to come in. I flashed a light to help dad see and he had to get some trash bags to cover the TV and computer in his room and push the couch to push the beds that were covering the broken window back up but the wind kept pushing them down.

Around 2:00 am, the radio said Ike made landfall at Galveston and Houston and the surrounding area was being battered by high winds and heavy surge flooding. Dad took note of the sky looking orange when we opened the closet door to let some cool air in since it was hot inside the closet! I heard debris hitting the building and the wind was deafening. The winds were above 75mph around that time. All night the wind was screaming. We spent 10 to 12 hours in the closet until noon Saturday.

It was a mess outside. Shingles littered the floor and tree branches and twigs were everywhere. My dad’s old pair of shoes were still next to the door! The courtyard was even worse. Pine trees were snapped in half and entire trees were down on the ground. I helped our neighbors clean up the debris and clear the pathways. Dad went to get more food and water. We ate what we could and had to walk around to find some food and hot water. Mom and dad were upset but glad we made it out unscathed. We walked around the neighborhood seeing the damage. A lot of tree damage and some leaning power lines. I couldn't sleep that Saturday night with all the humidity. My mom and I were listening to updates from the mayor and city officials.

We were both scared out of wits and I cried but my mom reassured me that we made it and we are OK. By Sunday afternoon the power was restored and we started to learn about the true devastation Ike did to the state. I was thankful that we didn't lost our home or lives for that manner. Some areas along the coast were wrecked or wiped out from the storm surge. I remember the reporter on 13 trying to get a grip on his emotions as he went through the damage and ruins at Bolivar Peninsula. Watching the wreckage, it ran a chill down my spine but but it showed me the true power of these cyclones. Ike would cause me to take preparations more seriously and now I stock more supplies to prepare for every season. I know it's not much of a story but tropical cyclones are nothing to mess with. The story I will tell my kids one day!

Bruce, Tampa Bay area, FL

I am a retired man who lives in Tampa Bay area and lost power for 73 hours as a result of Hurricane Irma. I slept like a baby for three nights and did not lose any food to spoilage. I took some common-sense steps to achieve those results.

  • I froze TAP water in several 2-liter bottles. I also froze bottles of bottled water (16-20 oz size preferred).
  • I assumed I would lose power, so I turned AC down from usual 76 to 71 so when power went off my walls, ceilings and floors would be at 71 instead of 76, keeping me cooler longer.
  • I never opened up any windows. Better to have 80-degree air in my condo without humidity, then 85-90 degree outside air with humidity. (Condo temp reached a high of 80 after 3 days).
  • When I went to bed the second and third night, I took two frozen bottles of water and put each in a zip lock bag (to collect condensation) and put each bottle in a sock. Then I placed a bottle on each side of me to help keep my body temp down. When I woke up the ice was water and I now had more water to drink.
  • The last day I did the same as #4 above, but placed bottles on each side of me while sitting in my chair. Cool as a cucumber! No reason old people should be dying of heat stroke. Also poured cold water onto a towel and wrapped it around my neck. Wring out and repeat.
  • When power went out I took all my frozen food and bottles of water and packed it into coolers (bought at Walmart) and put the coolers INTO THE FREEZER and REFRIGERATOR. My food was still frozen when the power was restored 73 hours later. I took shelves out of refrigerator section and put all my refrigerated food, beverages and condiments into coolers along with the frozen 2-liter bottles of water. Food was in perfect condition 73 hours after losing power. Pack remaining space around outside of coolers with as many frozen bottles of water as you can fit. I believe that these tips will keep food cold 5-7 days and provide plenty of cooling water.
  • Neal, Hurricane Sandy,  2012

    As Member of Bellevue Hospital Medical center medical staff, I helped evacuate the Hospital during Huricane Sandy . I am a registered nurse , and with the help of all the staff and many city and governmental agency staff members, we evacuated 520 patients to area hospitals . When I say all the staff , that meant people from accounting , chaplains, medical residents , and even two brand new nurses. I was assigned to the 14th floor. I was instructed, because of my seniority, to guide the two new nurses during the huricane. Talk about trial by fire! We lost power the 2nd day, while the storm was raging. We ended up having to carry patients down from as high as the 22nd floor.

    When I say all governmental agencies, we had Oklahoma city fire, Homeland Security  and the US Army helping. I have to say everyone pitched in. There was an unbelievable sense of comradery . When New York City needed help in its most desperate hour, the Bellevue staff, and especially the nursing staff , answered the call for help and came to the hospital . We evacuated 520 patients with 1 birth , and 1 cardiac bypass, along the way . Everyone was safely evacuated.

  • Sally, Jacksonville, FL, 2017

    Hi, we are Flood Victims from Hurricane Irma. We live in Jacksonville, Fl. Hurricane Irma hit us on September 11, 2017. Thank God we had some friends we were able to stay with who lived on higher ground. Thank God we got out of there and moved our van. I believe they said the Hurricane was a Category 5.

    When we were allowed back in, we were told we had to move out within 7-10 days and that we needed to throw everything out. The river water was very dirty and it came up 2 feet. They brought great big dumpsters in and all of us on ground floor filled them with our furniture. It was the most devastated situation i have ever been in. I thought i was going to have a nervous breakdown. It was horrible! I wasn’t worried about our belongings but we came very close to being homeless. I am 69 years old and I take care of my 82 year old uncle. When we get older we don’t cope with things as well as when we were younger. Most of our family has passed away and the ones who haven’t are old and not able to help us. Most of our friends have passed away also, so we came very close to being homeless!

    We moved two times and are moving again. This has been a nightmare!!! There is so much to tell but this kind of sums it up! Thank god we received some help from FEMA and from the country western singers who put on a concert to collect money. Truly we appreciate all the prayers, love and concern people have shown us! By the way they have a tentative date to move back in on July 20, 2018. We have a lot of work that has to be done as soon as we can get back in. No bodily harm and no lives were lost and we now can see light at the end of the tunnel!

  • Jennifer Lowry, Austin, TX, Hurricane Odile, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, September 2014

    I had never witnessed that level of destruction or devastation before. The eye of the storm hit around 10:30pm, so most of the guests (including myself) were sheltered in the hotel ballroom. What made this storm unique (and the reason it caught the Southern Baja Peninsula so off guard) was the fact that it rapidly intensified and changed course. It was originally forecast to head West and weaken as it went out to sea, but instead it made an almost 90 degree turn and headed directly for Cabo San Lucas as a Category 4. It was a Category 3 when it actually made landfall, but the millibars of pressure in the eye were extremely low for a Category 3, and the hurricane slowed and caused massive destruction.

    Because of the initial forecast, people were not being encouraged to evacuate. Our hotel was prepared as possible and technically designated as a hurricane shelter with the ability of a Cat 3 storm, and had excellent safety procedures in place. But no one expected the storm to be as bad as it was.  The hotel had a shelter set up in the hotel ballroom, but also told guests that if they felt more comfortable staying in their rooms then they were more than welcome to do so, so long as they kept the windows and doors completely shut and did not venture outside. (At the point of their original instruction, the hurricane was still not expected to be such a massive threat.)

    My friends and I originally thought we would "ride it out" in our hotel room, and were almost poking fun at the evacuation room that was set up. We figured we would hole up in our room with food and wine and watch movies until the government formally shut down the power grid, as planned and mentioned in the bulletins they were sending us. Everything was going "as planned" for us until about 8:30pm. The sliding glass doors were shaking violently, and then all of a sudden a large portion of a palm tree snapped off and hit our window. It didn't shatter, fortunately, but the scare was enough for us to put all of our things in the bathroom, grab our passports and wallets, and make a beeline for the hotel ballroom.  At that point in our room, there was water already starting to gurgle get sucked out of the toilet, and the shower was making a howling noise. It also took 3 of us to pull the hotel door open because of the low pressure suction. (The hotel hallways were partially outside and exposed to the elements.)

    By the time we (safely... thankfully) made it to the hotel ballroom, the hotel staff were already running rescue operations to retrieve people from their rooms. They were taking attendance on the hotel room roster, and rescuing accordingly. There was an elderly couple being carried in with blood all over them from being cut by glass, and some other injuries. (None of them major, thanks to the incredible care and rescue effort of the hotel staff.)

    The pictures on link below will tell the story of the destruction, but the main reason I felt that this was an important story to share is because Odile was a storm that took everyone by surprise... We were incredibly lucky to be in the care of the hotel workers who slaved away all night to keep us safe, but a lot of people were not so lucky and the widespread destruction over the Baja Peninsula was immense. So for anyone else who doubts the power of Mother Nature and doesn't take weather warnings seriously, just take some advice from anyone who experienced Odile. Weather forecasts can change in a heartbeat, so always err on the side of caution.

    We were stranded in Cabo for an extra week because the airport was completely destroyed, there was no phone service, internet, or any other form of communication. Our friends and family feared the worst after they didn't hear from us for several days. Food and water had to be rationed. The Mexican military had to perform food drops for the local residents because all of the roads were washed out.

    I could write a book about all of the experiences of that week, but I will let my photos do the talking. Needless to say, I made some lifelong friends during that week, and saw things that I couldn't imagine even in my wildest dreams. Mother Nature is beautiful and amazing, but give her respect before it's too late and she demands it from you.  You can see my hurricane photos.

    Isabel Ramos Quinones, South Dade County, FL, 1992 (submitted 2017)

    I have experienced many hurricanes in my life (Betty, Dona, in the 60s a few, plus many more). The worst one was Andrew in 1992. I live in south Dade County at the time. I was in the northern portion of the eye wall of the storm when it passed by me. I was ready for Andrew, I had my supplies, we were boarded up. We did not have cell phones or any digital means of communications in those days. We had a radio and that was about it. It started with a small grouping of clouds off the Bahamas that did not appear to look very organized. My dad had died the week before Andrew hit. Even though I was ready for a storm, nothing could have or would have helped us. I really didn’t expect this to be any different than other storms I had experienced. Little did I know I was in for the ride of my life!

    The days before were the most beautiful days. I was mourning my father’s death. Then that Friday, on the news, we saw Brian Norcross telling us about a small grouping of clouds over the Bahamas. As I drove down the turnpike to get off at 152 St. I got this strange feeling inside of me. Somehow, I knew that things were about to change and nothing would be as they were. Everything was going well. it was dinner time and I fed my dogs and cats. It was time for a cocktail and watch the news and see how the storm was doing. By 11 pm the wind was picking up and I took my dogs out again not knowing when or if I would be able to take them out again. It was windy but mostly dry not too much rain involved. The storm was predicted to make landfall north of the Metro zoo area in the City of Miami area. I stayed up as long as I could before I feel asleep. 

    At 2-3 am, I was woken by the cries of my cat. My dogs were all around me. I woke up or my cat Boostie woke me up just in time. The power was gone but I had a flashlight so I went to look outside to see what was happening. As I went to look out of one of the windows that weren't  boarded up, I noticed the glass bowing and load noises like crashing and breaking. A bedroom window had blown out. Then I heard another loud noise and a crashing sound. The master bedroom window was now gone too. All we could do was try and keep the door closed. (Little did I know that my cat Boostie, my cat, was still in the room). We lit some candles, listened and waited for the storm to go over us. As I sat on the couch in the living room I heard what sounded like a machine gun firing rapping rounds of bullets at the plywood. The rat, tat, tat went on for a very long time. The bullet sound was river rocks from the landscaping from my neighbor’s yard. Then I looked out in the dark through the uncovered window and saw a rail road tie wood flying in the sky, also part of a neighbor’s landscaping. I saw the pieces of wood fence flying in the air. The rain was blowing down horizontally. I had a cup of wine in my hand to try and calm down. I began to pick up my cats and put them in the closets to keep them safe.

    I had 7 dogs in the house with me that night. The house was falling apart piece by piece. I sat on the couch 3 of my dogs are under a table and only one was lying on my lap. As I sat in the candle lit room while the wild wind blew the house apart howling like a banshee, I saw the candle start to shake. Then the house started to shake; the rumbling noise was unbelievable. Why was the house shaking? It sounded like a freight train was heading towards us. The rumbling noises the crashing smashing and wind howling like a sick animal. It was enough to have you petrified.

    I got up to look out the window but my pets asked me to sit down. It wasn’t safe. Then I sat down and the house exploded. The trusses came down into the living room just were I stood moments before. The ceiling and insulation landed on top of me. I had no shoes to ware. I had a tank top and shorts on that all. I was covered in plaster from head to toe, stuck under 6 to 7 inches of ceiling and roofing materials that were wet and hard to move while trying to get my dogs to get out for under the same debris. The house was hit by a tornado spawned by the storm. It was dark, the candle was lost and gone. We all scrambled to the garage of the house which was the only part of the house that still had a roof over it. While my companions held the door to the garage shut we continued to here crashing and creaking noises and howling winds. 

    I sat under the scuttle hole of the roof holding the dogs while everything came down around us. All you can do is pray. I had promised my dad that I would take care of my mom and for him to die in peace and not worry about her that she would be cared for. Now here I am knocking on deaths door in this incredible horrific storm. Not sure if I was going to make it through myself. It felt like an eternity before this would be over. Minutes seemed like hours. Hours seemed like days. Then finally it seemed to be subsiding. The sun was rising in the sky and it seemed to be OK to come out of the only safe place left standing.

    The house was in ruins and the cats were ok. I found Boostie buried under the mattress in the master bed room. It took 20 minutes to remove the debris and dig her out. The sight of the surrounding area was unbelievable. The houses were leveled all around. Surely there must be people dead or trapped in homes. Neighbors check on each other and tried to pick up the pieces of our broken homes. We were shell shocked, like zombies moving but not knowing where to go or what to do. We went looking for help but there was none. We saw an FHP unit but he couldn’t help us! 

    A few of the neighbors gathered and we were able to free the cars so we could drive out. All I knew is that I had to get my pets out and get to my mother as soon as I could I got all my dogs put them and the cats in the car we headed to Miami. The phones were down and there was no way for me to get word to my family that I had made it out OK. The news helicopters were flying overhead and traffic from sightseers was horrible. We had just lost our homes and people came to sightsee? I had strangers walking through the ruins of my home. No respect for boundaries or privacy. It was unreal! How could so many people come a gawk at so many people’s miseries.

    We made our way through the debris strewed streets, wires, traffic single devises, building materials, light poles, trees etc. Some streets were impassable. By the time we made it up to Miami it was headline news. n Andrew kept on going I never saw the end of that storm but it was surreal. There was just nothing left I had no shoes, no clothing and if anything was left, the looters would take in the following days. I was lucky I had my mom and a home to go to, others were not as lucky. People started migrating to Broward County. I stood in line for hours to get ice every day for weeks. I slept on the floor of my Mom's place for months. I was even going to school during all this. I really don’t know how I got through this. I will never forget or under estimate a hurricane again. When I talk to people after I had lost everything you work so hard for, and your house crumbles down on top of you! Someone says “Oh, I lost a tree in my yard.” Well I lost everything! That’s what I didn’t understand, the significance of losing a tree over losing your home and life as you knew it.

    The 2005 storm brought back memories. Yes, I was scared, kind of like traumatic stress syndrome returns you to that trauma that you suffered in 1992. It will be 25 years and I still can’t look back without crying the emotions that run inside you. After Andrew, I was ready for each storm. I know that the best defense is your next-door neighbor. There may be no help coming right away. It may take days for emergency crews to get to you. You have to learn to survive on your own. During the 2005 storms, Katrina, Rita and Wilma, we lost power and had a 100 roof tiles blown off. It was easy to fix, but you can’t fix the fear that Andrew put in me. Always have respect for Mother Nature and never underestimate the power of a storm. As I am sure those who survived Katrina in New Orleans now have a deep respect for the power of a storm.

    I just had impact windows and doors put in the house so I know that I am ready for 2017 season. I will never forget Andrew. I will carry that with me until the day I die. I will still fear each storm that comes close by or hits us. Lesson in Andrew is to have a good network in your neighborhood they will be the only ones who can help. Your neighbors are your first responders. Each of us have a unique ability and each us can bring a trade or quality to assist in the first hours after a storm.

    Kevin, Galveston, TX, submitted 2016

    I lost my home in Galveston from Hurricane Ike. It was a nightmare and I was on the verge of not evacuating and staying. I'm so thankful to have evacuated and so immature to think I could stay. I don't know whether I could have survived on the island during or in the days or weeks following. I remember walking to the seawall the short distance of a block from the home I rented the morning we evacuated. I had never seen the ocean so violent - the beach had disappeared along with the dunes. It was my rude awakening to the seriousness of the situation which was only about to become so much worse. I understand the urge that people feel  to stay with their home, hoping against odds that it won't be as bad as they say. The hurricane changed my life absolutely but the warnings and precautions likely saved it.