- REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
- Hurricane Dorian battered the Bahamas and the southeastern US this month, killing at least 50 people in the Bahamas and leaving 76,000 homeless.
- Dorian was the fourth named storm in this Atlantic hurricane season, which is expected to have above-average storm activity.
- More than half of Americans said they were unprepared for a disaster in a survey conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
- Here are some life-saving tips for surviving a natural disaster.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Hurricane Dorian left a trail of destruction and death in the Bahamas this month before wreaking havoc on the southeastern US coast.
The storm hit the Bahamas as a record-breaking Category 5 hurricane with 185-mph winds. It hovered over the country’s northwestern islands for nearly two days, leveling towns and bringing a wall of water up to 23 feet high. Bahamas officials confirmed that at least 50 people died as a result of the storm, and the United Nations estimates that 76,000 are homeless in its aftermath.
Dorian also brought powerful winds to Florida and Georgia, caused flooding in North Carolina that stranded 800 people, and even damaged buildings in Canada. The storm caused five deaths in the US.
This year’s Atlantic hurricane season has a 45% chance of above-average storm activity, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Last year’s hurricane season was above average as well. On the opposite coast, meanwhile, California experienced its deadliest and most destructive wildfire season ever in 2018.
Experts link these extreme weather events to climate change and expect them to keep getting worse. However, only 42% of Americans said they had been prepared for a disaster for at least one year, according to a 2017 survey by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Here are some tips for staying safe during a natural disaster.
Avoid using contaminated water for drinking or personal hygiene.
- Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Drinking water may not be available or safe to use, particularly after floods, which can contaminate well water with chemicals, human sewage, and livestock waste.
You should only use bottled, boiled, or treated water for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene.
The best way to make water safer is by boiling it, which will kill disease-causing bacteria and parasites. If boiling isn’t possible, you can use a disinfectant like unscented household chlorine bleach, iodine, or chlorine-dioxide tablets.
Keep in mind that water contaminated with toxic chemicals won’t ever become safe to use through boiling or the application of disinfectants.
Minimize sweating if you’re low on water.
If you are running out of water, take steps to minimize how much you sweat. In an interview with National Geographic, Weather Underground co-founder Jeff Masters recommended reducing activity and sheltering from the sun.
Masters said people should also cover their skin with loose, lightweight clothing that can slow evaporation and loss of water. Wearing a hat, sunglasses, and gloves helps as well.
Keep enough non-perishable food for at least three days.
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Power outages could last for several days following a disaster, so make sure you have a stock of canned foods and dry mixes that don’t require refrigeration. Food kept in fridges or freezers can become unsafe without electricity, as bacteria grow quickly between 40 and 140 degrees.
FEMA recommends that you store enough non-perishable food for at least three days. Suggested items include ready-to-eat canned meats and vegetables, protein bars, dry cereal, peanut butter, and dried fruit.
You shouldn’t eat anything from cans that have been dented, swollen, or corroded, according to FEMA. Throw away any food that has touched contaminated water, and don’t eat anything that has been sitting at room temperature for over two hours.
If cell towers go down, a radio can help you get important information.
FEMA’s list of items to include in a disaster kit notes that a battery-powered weather radio can provide lifesaving information, including evacuation orders and shelter-in-place directions.
In an interview with National Geographic, survival expert Tim MacWelch also recommended keeping a weather radio at the ready, since local weather radio bands can disseminate reliable emergency updates.
If you’re in cold or wet conditions, take steps to insulate your clothing.
- Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
MacWelch said stuffing your clothes with insulating material is the best way to stay warm. A variety of items can be used – crumpled paper, leaves, or even bubble wrap.
If you have access to a stone that has been near a fire or a hot water bottle, hold the object between layers of your clothes. That’s also a safe way to help hypothermia victims, MacWelch said.
Sharing body heat is another way to maintain warmth if you’re trapped in wet or cold conditions.
Avoid stepping into deep water.
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Storm surge and flooding can lead water to get contaminated with bacteria and chemicals. If you have any cuts or get injured during a disaster, find clean water or alcohol to flush out the cut.
If you’re outside and can’t see the bottom of the water, avoid stepping into it. There could be a nail or sharp object hidden from view, and puncture wounds can lead to tetanus or other infections.
Know how to shut off your home’s natural gas.
- Gary Cameron/Reuters
Natural gas leaks can cause fires, so make sure you know how to shut off your home’s gas line.
FEMA recommends that you reach out to your local gas company whenever you move into a new home for instructions on shutting off gas service and appliances.
If you smell gas or hear a hissing noise during a disaster, open a window and leave immediately. If possible, use the outside main valve to turn off the gas. Don’t try to turn the gas back on yourself afterward.
Don’t tie your pets inside your home.
- Scott Olson/Getty Images
Warren Faidley, a survival expert and extreme weather photographer, told National Geographic that people shouldn’t tie their pets inside or outside their house.
If you can’t find a shelter for your pet, let them loose. It’s a last resort, but Faidley said a free animal has a much higher chance of surviving a natural disaster since they can swim or climb to safety.
A chained pet would also be unable to get out of falling debris or escape exposure to other elements.
You may need to leave your home and seek shelter elsewhere.
- Chris Graythen/Getty Images
If you don’t think you will survive where you are, you’ll need to find a new place with water and shelter.
If you can’t get to an official emergency shelter, Faidley recommends seeking out airports and hospitals, since supplies are likely to be coming in there.
Keep emergency supplies in multiple locations.
- Scott Eisen/Getty Images
You may not know where you will be when a natural disaster hits, so make sure you can access emergency supplies at home, at work, and in your vehicle.
An emergency kit in your car could save your life if you end up stranded, and the kit at home should be ready to grab in case you need to leave on short notice.
Kits kept at work should have food, water, first aid supplies, local maps, manual can openers, dust masks, moist towelettes, battery-powered radios, flashlights, and prescription medicines.