Hurricane Michael edged closer to landfall on the Florida Panhandle Wednesday morning as a Category 4 storm with 145 mph winds ― the strongest hurricane in recorded history to ever threaten that stretch of coast.
More than 375,000 people have been warned to evacuate ahead of the “potentially catastrophic” storm set to inundate northern Florida, southeast Alabama and portions of southwest and central Georgia with up to 12 inches of rain in some areas, leading to “life-threatening” flash floods.
A roughly 100-mile stretch of coast between Panama City and the Aucilla River, southeast of Tallahassee, could see a storm surge of between 9 and 14 feet, the National Hurricane Center warned. More than 300 miles of coastline in total should expect some sort of impact:
“This is the worst storm that our Florida Panhandle has seen in a century,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned in a briefing Wednesday morning. “Hurricane Michael is upon us, and now is the time to seek refuge.”
FEMA Administrator Brock Long echoed that warning, labeling Michael a “hurricane of the worst kind” Wednesday that could still strengthen further, even as the time for most people in the storm’s path to evacuate has passed.
With those ominous words in mind, here’s some basic hurricane preparedness advice:
The government recommends that you have at least three days’ worth of food and water on hand (budget one gallon of water per person per day), plus medications, first aid supplies, a flashlight and batteries, and cash (ATMs may not work during or after a storm).
Don’t forget to account for others who rely on you, including pets. Do you have enough food, water and other supplies for them too?
For a more thorough list of recommended items ― like can openers, hand sanitizers, a wrench, etc. ― see the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s recommendations here.
Refill your prescriptions and your car’s gas tank. Charge your devices. Fill up your bathtub with clean water and crank your freezer to the coldest setting. If the power goes out, open your fridge only when necessary in order to preserve the temperature (and the food) for as long as possible.
Secure or store items that could become dangerous debris in high winds. Patio furniture, trash cans and pieces of wood traveling at speed can seriously injure you and damage your home.
Install exterior-grade or marine plywood that’s a minimum of 5/8-inch thick over your windows.
Learn how to turn off your house’s utilities (natural gas, water and electricity) and when it’s appropriate to do so. Read more on that here.
Is your insurance coverage adequate? There are big differences between hurricane insurance and flood insurance, and those both differ from the coverage needed for a tropical storm. You might need all three. More on that here.
Gather together important documents ― like passports, birth certificates, etc. ― in a portable, waterproof container you can take with you if you need to evacuate. Xavier University has a handy list of what documents you should consider for safekeeping.
Back up any important digital files to either the cloud or an external hard drive you can stash in a safe, waterproof spot. Make sure that spot is different than the place where you store the computer it’s backing up, lest you lose both to the same rising waters or leaking roof.
While you’re at it, move family heirlooms and other valuables you can’t take with you to a second floor, attic, etc.
Figure out ahead of time where to go ― and how to get there ― if you have to evacuate. A safe route should steer clear of potentially flooded areas, which you should never try to walk, swim or drive through.
Learn ahead of time how to receive emergency notifications. If you’re using a radio, figure out the station that’s broadcasting weather alerts (here’s a search tool to find the best station for you).
Tell family and friends about your plan, and coordinate ahead of time how to stay in touch during the storm if, say, you need to evacuate. Note that text messages may work even when phone calls do not.