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A Few Life Saving Tips for Those Who Brave Hurricane Irma

Please do not play with the power of a hurricane.

These experiences cannot be compared to a person running from the bulls like Ernest Hemingway in Pamplona, Spain.  Hurricanes are fierce by definition.  I won’t take this opportunity to go on a scientific rant, but please review this link: http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/energy/energy-hurricane-volcano-earthquake1.htm).  When you measure the energy and force generated by hurricanes, it is by nuclear, not conventional, explosives.  When people say things like, “It’s only a Category 3,” you are saying, “only 3 nuclear bombs were dropped on Florida, not 4,” as if the mere presence of a nuclear exchange is not enough.  The same can be said for hurricanes.

In 2004, I went to Punta Gorda, Florida a mere 36 hours after Hurricane Charley – a Category 4 storm that the National Hurricane Center described as “ferocious” – slammed into the area.  The only way to truly appreciate the devastation is to see it all in context.  I have seen photographs of homes and I have personally handled insurance disputes for every form of devastation to a physical structure ever recorded. But to see an entire community impacted with not so much as a mailbox standing is remarkable. Buildings were marked with blue spray paint for their address and their owner, like toe tags of the fallen following a battle with unidentifiable casualties.

I am writing today to give you the benefit of having stood in the footsteps of one of these storms.  If you find yourself in an ambiguous situation, I offer you a few observations about things to expect, regarding personal safety and reducing your risk for serious injury or death.  Each situation requires an independent assessment of risk, but here are a few truths, in my experience:

It’s dangerous due to both water and wind.  You need to understand how to deal with wind separately from dealing with water, as the threats are different.

If you are in a building and the water comes, you need to find higher ground in the building or elsewhere.  Never enter rushing water, either as a pedestrian or in an automobile, as you lack the ability to assess current or what may be in the water itself.

Buildings collapse like this in a hurricane: (1) debris hits window, breaching it; (2) air rushes into the structure, creative negative lift; and (3) the roof comes off from the pressure, exposing its inhabitants and contents to the elements.  The reason people put plywood on their windows are so that the debris will not damage the window, and will prevent the negative uplift into the ceiling.  The biggest risk of injury to you is flying debris when you leave your shelter to seek other environments.  Most of the reported deaths associated with the hurricanes, in my experience, involve flying debris.  Perhaps context can explain this:  ask someone to sit on home plate in a baseball diamond.  Then, ask a Major League Baseball pitcher to throw a fastball at your forehead except instead of throwing a ball, he throws an air condition unit.

Say goodbye to your cell phone coverage, at least if a cell tower is involved.  The towers will not likely escape the storm, making cell tower coverage unreliable.  You may then rely upon Wi-Fi or voice-over IP solutions.

It’s time to talk to your neighbors.  Your homes are placed in different directions and by different contractors.  Each home may respond differently to wind and water, so it’s a good idea for you all to know who stayed behind and who did not in the event bad things happen.  If you are aware of older members of your community, it is imperative that you reach out to them.

You must have a radio of some kind, so that you can understand the nature of available resources after the storm.   

Hurricanes invite other, significant weather phenomenon.  During Hurricane Charley, I recall reports and damage caused by tornadoes that developed in the bands of the storm. These catastrophic storms leave destruction in their wake.

I am blessed to have been able to get my family out of Tampa, Florida and seek shelter in Chicago for the weekend, and therefore out of Irma’s path.  Be safe out there.  If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact Corless Barfield.