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Florida's Storm Warning: Get Ready for Hurricanes

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After surviving Hurricane Michael nearly three years ago, Nelson Mongiovi, of Port St. Joe, has some advice for other Floridians: Get ready for hurricane season now. And don’t ignore evacuation orders.

“Just get out,” he said. “Don’t think that you are going to be the one to be OK.”

Mongiovi, a 61-year-old retired marketing executive, evacuated to Tallahassee during Michael and returned two days later to find half his roof and some fencing gone. But it could have been much worse, he said.

“There are other people whose homes were literally washed away,” he said. “All around us was just total devastation.”

Although the area has recovered quite a bit, some homes have not been rebuilt, others still have blue tarps on roofs, and some businesses remain shuttered. That’s another lesson he learned: Recovery can take years, not weeks, or even months.

Hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. Though Hurricane Michael was a devastating Category 5 storm, no hurricanes hit Florida last year. Emergency planners are expecting a busy season this year and stress to residents that it’s important not to get complacent.

“You can’t let your guard down,” said Victoria Funes, associate state director for AARP.

That’s especially true during the coronavirus pandemic. “So much has happened over the last year that it’s easy to lose focus on the importance of preparing for hurricane season,” said Jeff Johnson, AARP state director. “Fortunately, unlike so many other disasters, we know what we need to do to prepare for a hurricane. We just need to make ourselves actually do it.”

Store basic supplies

An essential part of storm preparation is to gather supplies to last three days, whether or not you evacuate. These include nonperishable food (canned meats, fruits, vegetables) and a gallon of water per person per day.

Your hurricane kit should also contain flashlights, batteries, prescription drugs and a basic first aid kit. Get cash before the storm because ATMs might not work after it hits.

The pandemic complicates planning. Capacity at emergency shelters may be less than usual because of health concerns, said Funes, adding that you should have masks and hand sanitizer.

She also noted that if your home is not in an evacuation zone, staying put might be the best solution. If you wait too long to leave, you could face traffic jams and gas shortages and get caught in bad weather. Make an evacuation plan ahead of the storm, and let family and friends know what it is.

Shelters can be crowded and noisy and should be considered a last resort. If you have friends or family outside the evacuation area, Funes said, see if they can put you up.

And get to know neighbors before a storm hits. Mongiovi, who about a month before Hurricane Michael opened Doctor Sprocket, a mobile bicycle-repair business, said he was impressed by how those in his community rallied.

One man used his grill to feed neighbors. A woman washed others’ clothes, and residents helped one another repair roofs when contractors were scarce.

“The people who seem to have recovered the quickest and best are those who helped other people,” he said. “Get to know people, because at some point you may find you need to lean on each other.”

For more information, go to aarp.org/fldisasterhelp.

Tom Scherberger is a writer living in Tampa.

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The AARP Minute: September 6, 2019

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