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I’ve Lived Through 25 Hurricanes — Here Are My 5 Must-Haves

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A survival guide from a seasoned hurricane survivor

I grew up in Boca Raton, Florida, a beautiful coastal town located north of Miami. The weather there is tropical and humid — an unfortunate reality of my sweaty adolescence but also what made my peninsula particularly prone to hurricanes. I’ve been through 25 of them, and have learned from my family, friends, and personal experience just what it’s like to make it through a tough storm.

With the series of storms that have ravaged American cities from San Juan to Houston just this season and the potential that global warming could continue to encourage more powerful hurricanes, I recommend you refresh your hurricane preparedness kit. Or, if you’re going through the storm season in the South for the first time, I recommend you get started on building one.

There’s a lot you can gather to prepare for a storm, ranging from hurricane shutters to bathtubs filled with water. But here are five of my family’s absolute must-haves for a storm.

Ice
Anything frozen is of course only useful for a relatively short amount of time, since ice melts. And in Florida, the weather is hot. Ice melts fast. But ice can be immensely useful for a few days at least.

Before a big storm, my mother would always fill the freezer with gallon-sized plastic bags of ice. When the lights flickered and the power shut down, she opened large coolers she had on hand from catering the snacks for many a soccer game and layered the bags of ice with all the meat, cheese, and other food left in our fridge. For at least a day or two after the storm, we could eat yogurt, turkey, and string cheeses to our hearts’ content. We reserved the non-perishables for later, just in case the power stayed out and we’d need them.

Flashlights
Weirdly enough, Palm Beach County had warnings and limitations on the number of candles you were allowed to light after a storm. Apparently there’s danger of a fire starting or something.

But without that source of light, we relied solely on flashlights to keep our home lit at night. Not just one flashlight for each person, either — we put flashlights in every room, propped up in corners and on tables to act as “lamps” in the absence of power. We stocked up on flashlights, batteries, and crank-up lights for desperate measures.

First-Aid Kit
News flash: Hurricanes are dangerous. And kids are clumsy. A first-aid kit is a must, especially in a household with children. You’re not going to have access to a store to buy Band-Aids, gauze, or other essentials if someone gets injured. Keep a fully-stocked first-aid kit at home in a safe place.

A Radio
Huddling around a crank radio with my family felt exhilaratingly like a scene from a zombie movie — the post-apocalyptic reality of living without any electricity or phone service was admittedly pretty fun for me as a child. But for my mom, it was nerve-wracking and stressful. She often had us sit with her to listen for news about when the power would flick back on, whether there was another storm coming, and what curfew hours were currently in place.

Non-Perishable Food
If the power stays off for more than a few days, all your ice is bound to melt. That’s when everyone in the neighborhood would pull out their grills and have a block party — to the detriment of everyone’s food supply. After that, we had to rely on non-perishables and dinners got way less delicious. We lived on canned, boxed, and snack foods.

Pasta, rice, and other grains were staples. Trail mix lasts forever. And for protein, we relied on cans. Canned tuna, beans, and Beefaroni — no joke, those cheap canned items saved my brothers and I from a week or so of protein-deficiency.

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I’m really grateful to my mom for thinking about our nutrition so far ahead. While Oreos and chips are delicious, I doubt we could have subsisted for long solely on America’s most unhealthy snack foods.