A Few Survival Strategies Hurricane Ike Taught Me

Not the radar picture any of us want to see
Not the radar picture any of us want to see

Growing up in Houston and the surrounding area, the threat of a hurricane hitting the coast was something we came to expect. Anyone living in the region knows it's not a matter of if, but when one of the big storms spins into Galveston, bringing a whole bunch of wind and water our way.

Those of us who have lived in the greater Houston area know the drill. Secure things that can blow around, put plywood over the windows, and be prepared to evacuate if you live in an area prone to flooding or other predictable storm hazards. Have your storm radio and enough non-perishable foods and water to last you and your family for a couple of weeks. Have a plan in place for your pets if you have any. Most of these things are common sense.

For some reason, even though hurricane season runs from June to November every year, a whole bunch of us seem to just forget to prepare until there's a huge storm bearing down upon the city. The mad scramble to get last minute supplies always seems to occur, and we would save ourselves a lot of headaches if we had our supplies stocked sooner.

The other predictable hurricane problem concerns evacuations. Sure, if someone lives particularly close to the coast, or lives in housing that is particularly at risk from wind damage or flooding, evacuating is the sensible thing to do. But a panicked, last minute mass exodus of Houstonians who live in sturdy homes is not a good idea.

Hurricane Ike was a good lesson for me, and for a lot of people living in the Houston area. I got off lucky. My electricity was only off for five days, and I knew people suffering without it for a lot longer than that. But living without electricity and a few other things in the days following Ike helped me develop a few good strategies for hurricane survival. 

Well... They are our neighbors...
Well... They are our neighbors...

4. Get to know your neighbors When a person lives in a big city it's easy to go about their days without ever really interacting with the people living nearby, but in a hurricane situation, it's a good idea to at least be on semi-friendly terms with your neighbors. They can watch your back, and you theirs, or someone might have a useful resource that's in short supply. Need a boat to get to Westheimer? That family next door with the weird Juggalo son have a John boat sitting in their driveway.

It's good to have allies in a crises.

3. Fill a bathtub with water.

For some reason this hurricane tip never made it to my ears before Ike, but it's a pretty good one. Yes, we should all have enough stored water to get by if the city water services are unavailable, but for that extra last minute supply, fill up a bathtub and use it for water storage.

This can be used for drinking if need be, but can also be used to fill up the back of a toilet so it will flush, or to wash dishes or anything else that needs cleaning. Most sources I looked at indicate that a standard sized bathtub has between a 30-44 gallon water holding capacity, and that's a useful supply in an emergency.

2. Keep books and boardgames around. Not nearly as many people read actual books as they used to, but even if a person doesn't belong to a family of bookworms, having something entertaining to read or do that doesn't require electricity is a very good thing if you're left without electricity in the aftermath of a hurricane. If books don't do it, then perhaps boardgames or puzzles will. I found that a few days without electricity sucked a lot less with something good to read. I suppose just staying drunk might work for some individuals too, but reading a Stephen King novel is probably the more responsible choice. 

'Ol Jim was fast, but he was delicious.
'Ol Jim was fast, but he was delicious.

1. Be a prepared to kill and eat your neighbors.

OK. That's a joke. And that was one thing that helped me get through some unpleasant patches after Ike. Keeping a sense of humor made the hot, humid days without electricity more bearable. It's a cliche that being able to laugh at adverse situations makes them seem less horrible, but I think it's probably true. Please don't really kill and eat anyone.

These are just a few strategies that Hurricane Ike taught me, and they seemed to work pretty well. There were also a few things I learned in the days after that storm hit Houston.

For one thing, a lot of newer homes don't seem to be built as sturdy as older ones. My place in the Heights was far from a palatial spread, but it was built in 1940, and was solid wood throughout. It experienced absolutely no storm related damage, and neither did any of the other older homes on my street. A bunch of the new luxury town homes that were only two or three years old experienced cracks in the exteriors, roof damage, and leaks. I'm not sure if the way the new homes and old homes weathered the storm proves anything, or was all coincidental and random, but it made me think.

Pine trees are not our friends in a storm! It seemed that the majority of trees that I saw crash down across someone's yard were all big pine trees. Sure, other trees came down, and there were branches everywhere, but the small root mass that pines have seems to bring them down a lot faster than many other varieties of tree. Something to consider when planting one close to a house.

Gas appliances rule. I sort of took my gas water heater and stove for granted until Ike knocked out my electricity for several days

Hurricanes can suck, but they suck a lot less when people are prepared for them. Houstonians tend to handle these things with class and style. I love that about this city.

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