How To Prepare Your Homestead For A Hurricane, If You Decide To Stay

Hurricane season, considered to be June through November, is fast approaching. Let me start this article by making it very clear that I am no hurricane preparedness expert. In fact, I have made very large mistakes when it comes to preparing for a hurricane in the past. That is what has lead me to write this today. [ 10 minute read ]

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Background

Little, ol’ Savannah, Georgia was affected by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017. Fingers crossed 2018 does not bring us another unwelcomed guest. Savannah is in a tiny nook on the Georgia coastline, and due to currents and wind patterns, Savannah is rarely in a hurricane’s path and hadn’t been directly hit in almost 100 years. To say, we shrugged off Matthew as it was approaching would be an understatement. We don’t own a horse trailer, and in October 2016, we were in the middle of a house renovation so we definitely didn’t have the money at the time for a horse transporter. We also thought Matthew would most likely turn away from us like the countless storms had before it. It didn’t. Our “plan” to bunker down turned into a very real bunker down and pray situation. The winds were terrifying, and enormous trees snapped like twigs. The sheer force of the storm was something to behold. So, when Irma looked like it was going to come on our side of Florida in 2017, our plan was to get the hell out of dodge. Well, my plan. Husband would have liked to wait a couple more days to see if it was actually going to hit. Been there. Done that! Luckily, Savannah did not get the massive winds like the previous year, but unlike Matthew, Irma brought with it a tidal surge that Savannah had not seen the likes of in quite some time. We live about 3/4 mile from the river, and the water was almost halfway to our house.

So, you see, in the past two years, we have gone both routes:
1. Bunker the homestead down.
2. Evacuate everyone and everything from the homestead.

Here’s what we’ve learned from #1. ( #2 has its own separate article here. )

If You Do Decide To Stay During A Mandatory Evacuation… Make sure you have:

Weather Radio

When our cell service went out during the storm, I felt very small. We literally had no connection to the outside world. We couldn’t check the Weather Channel App to see where the storm was or how long it would be lingering. It was a very helpless feeling. 

Access To Clean Drinking Water

Enough for you & your animals even when the power is out. Horses drink about 10 gallons a day each. We filled up plastic trash cans with clean water a day before the storm and put a top on them to keep debris out. These lasted about two days after the storm, and if we hadn’t scrambled to get a generator & an electrician to hook it up to our well, we would have been screwed. And, don’t be those people that go to the grocery store and buy out all the water bottles… That’s unnecessary when you have a tap in your house and can fill up as many tupperwares, bowls, containers as you can prior to the storm hitting. 

Generator & A Way To Connect It To Your Well/Home/Barn

In most cases, you can’t just plug a generator into your house and have instant power. It needs its own power access plug. That’s about the extent of my knowledge on the generator, so definitely look more into how to properly connect your well or home to it. All I know is that we wouldn’t have survived the six days it took to get our power back on without a generator to provide our animals water which was ironic considering Matthew dropped 18 inches of rain onto us in a matter of six hours.  

Gas

You’ll need this for your generator, farm vehicles (for cleaning up if necessary) and cars. Make sure you have extra in holding tanks too. You won’t know how long it will take to get gasoline back into your area. It’s best to fill the holding tanks up in the beginning of hurricane season so you’re not one of the thousands making a mad dash to the pump the week of a storm. 

Food To Last At Least A Week For You, Your Family & ALL Of Your Animals

Did you know that hurricanes are actually extremely slow-moving storms? I thought I knew until I was huddled on my hallway floor with my husband, our four dogs & three cats (sporadically), my mother-in-law and her dog & cat for FIVE HOURS. Once the storm finally blows through, you walk out and assess the damage and get to cleaning up. Clean up takes a lot of energy. Not only that but the damage to the power grid can be extensive, and extensive damage isn’t fixed in a day. It took the power company about six days to get our power restored, and we were lucky. It took others much longer. You absolutely 100% need to have enough water and food on hand for yourself, your family and every single critter you own to last you AT LEAST a week. You will be burning through more calories than you realize during the hours of clean up. Our stove runs on natural gas, so we were able to cook indoors. If yours does not, you may want to make sure you have charcoal or a full propane tank if you will have to use your grill to make meals. We saw the week of Hurricane Matthew as an opportunity to clear out the freezer. 

A Ladder & A Chainsaw

My dad had gone into Hurricane Katrina damage shortly after it hit in 2005 to help a family member and provide some relief. He thought I was a complete idiot for putting myself in danger and staying for Matthew. When he finally realized that there was nothing he could do about our decision, he harped over and over again about the importance of a ladder and a chainsaw in the house. It just so happened that the ladder and chainsaw were living on our sunroom at the time because we were still in the middle of a renovation, so we were good. But, his point was that if there ended up being a huge storm surge, we would have to get to the rooftop for safety. I kind of laughed it off. Surely that wouldn’t happen, but after spending those early morning hours listening to our house’s wall creak under the wind pressure and whole trees snapping in half and after watching the horror of Hurricane Harvey on the television, I now wholeheartedly respect the magnitude of hurricanes and their capabilities. I should have already. I remember seeing Katrina on the news. Both a chainsaw and a ladder are also super handy for clean up after the storm.  

First Aid Kit

Make sure it’s hefty. Are you thinking duh? Well, you just never know. A tornado ripped through our neighborhood. (Oh yeah, FYI, tornados pop up in hurricanes. Who knew! Not this girl.) If it had made it to our house or if one of the gargantuan trees next to our house had fallen on it with us inside, we would have needed some serious medical supplies. Because guess what? In a mandatory evacuation, there is no 911 to help you. First responders are in their safety headquarters waiting for the storm to pass too. It’s not fair of you to expect them to risk their lives to come save yours in the middle of a hurricane, so keep that in mind before you decide to stay during a mandatory evacuation. You will also need a first aid kit for your animals. We were SO lucky. Only one of our horses had a small gash after Matthew, and we had the supplies to treat him right away. I also suggest putting some Tums or Rolaids into your kit because if you’re anything like me, extreme stress makes my stomach churn. 

Flashlight, Batteries, Candles, Matches/Lighter

Pretty self-explanatory. 

Spray Paint/ Livestock Paint

Huh? The amount of trees that came down on our 4 acre property was astounding. Thankfully, none of them landed on our perimeter fencing or on the coops. If it had, our horses, chickens and ducks would have been free to roam Savannah. I absolutely hated doing it (I actually cried while I did), but I spray painted one of our phone numbers onto both sides of each one of our horses. I also had dog tags made with their and our information and braided them into their manes. I didn’t think to spray paint the birds, but I probably should have, at least with a dot or something for identification.  I couldn’t find livestock paint, so I used regular spray paint in whatever color would show up on their wet coats (wet from all the rain). I figured I get that stuff on me all the time and live to tell the tale so they would be fine. They were though it took weeks to finally go away. 

Gun(s)

If you are comfortable with guns, I would suggest that you have one, for shortly before and after the storm. It was a very eerie thing to watch what happened when a city shuts down. Looters started picking off their targets as soon as people evacuated their homes two days before the storm. When you decide to stay in a mandatory evacuation, odds are, you’ll be very alone. There wasn’t a single soul that stayed on our entire street (a few miles long) or the neighborhoods running off of it. It was just us. Staying is a clear indicator that you are fully prepared for whatever is coming or has come. It means you must have plenty of food, water, supplies in addition to items in your home that may be of value. We sat a few nights in a row in complete darkness so that no one would know we were home, just in case. The National Guard patrolled the streets, and there was a mandatory curfew. We couldn’t even be in our yards after 6:00 pm. But, there was ample opportunity for us to become victims. Having a gun made me feel a little safer. 

Rosary

I have to include this because when Husband and my mother-in-law fell asleep during the storm from pure exhaustion, I was alone. I clung to my rosary and prayed my little heart out. I was very certain we might die that night. I even texted my parents goodbye before we lost cell service. My rosary beads were imprinted into my hand when the storm finally left us. I prayed for us. I prayed for our horses and birds who I thought I would find dead at daybreak. I prayed and prayed and just hoped that I had lived a life that was pleasing to God thus far. Obviously not everyone is Catholic and not everyone believes in the rosary, but if you are Christian, I suggest having some sort of tangible item with spiritual connection. It brought me great comfort in the few hours that I honestly did think I was going to die. 

Alcohol

Hey! I said I was Catholic! 🙂 If you drink, even sporadically, I suggest stocking up on some alcohol. After all the preparations were made to ride out the storm, we had hours to await its arrival. We drank, made appetizers and made a party out of it. Were we stressed and anxious? Uh, yeah. But, we knew it was our decision to risk our lives (& our animals’) and were going to make the best of it. A couple of drinks and a good book helped pass the quiet nights without power after the storm too. 

A couple other quick tips:

  • DO NOT confine your livestock to a barn. They are better off free to do what they instinctually think is best. We took all the gates off of the horses’ paddock but left the perimeter gates up. We did leave the birds in the coops, and thankfully they were okay.
  • Board up your windows & sandbag your doors (house & barn) if you can. We chose not to purely because of cost. We thankfully only had one window crack from the wind.
  • If you can, take down any trees that could be an imminent threat to your home/barn/well BEFORE hurricane season. We made sure to do this after our first hurricane experience. It was sad to cut down such large trees but easy to do so after I thought they would kill us for five hours.
  • Do clean up all items outside that could be projectiles. Hurricane winds are a serious matter, and you’d be surprised at the weight of things they can move.
  • Remember that wild animals are also displaced in a hurricane. In our area, the threat of snakes and alligators was very real.
  • Do not walk in floodwaters if you can help it. Electrical charges from downed power lines can flow through water and are deadly.
  • Do provide a kind gesture for the power company’s line guys. They are trucked in from all over to help your area. They work long hours, are away from their families, sleep on cots in makeshift tents and risk their lives every minute they’re working. Take them a plate of cookies or a sandwich or something to show your appreciation.

To sum it all up, I DO NOT RECOMMEND staying for a hurricane. I will NEVER endanger my animals’ or our lives again by staying when a mandatory evacuation order has been submitted. However, I know there are circumstances when you have no choice but to stay. If you do, I hope this list is helpful to you, and I sincerely wish you and your homestead the best. Godspeed.

Longest article ever. Sorry about that. There’s actually more to the story, so if you’d like to hear the story about how two days after Matthew we were accused (on my birthday no less) of abandoning our horses to survive the hurricane on their own and were featured in the Savannah Morning News, just let me know in the comments or message me, and I’d be happy to share. You can’t make this stuff up.

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