Even when hurricanes strike other areas of the country, they can still cause significant damage and loss of life in Virginia. In fact, some of the worst storms in Virginia's history were from hurricanes that made landfall in other states. In 1969, Hurricane Camille made landfall in Mississippi, but killed 153 people in Virginia, making it the Commonwealth's deadliest hurricane on record. Two years ago, Hurricane Isabel made landfall in North Carolina, but caused 36 deaths and over $1.9 billion in damages in Virginia.
"It's important to stay tuned to weather reports even if it seems a hurricane will make landfall somewhere else," said Michael Cline, state coordinator for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. "Be prepared to evacuate, especially if you live in an area prone to flooding."
Cline adds that tropical storms or depressions can be just as damaging or deadly as a hurricane. Last year, Hurricane Gaston had weakened to a tropical depression when it entered central Virginia. However, heavy rain caused record flooding in the region, resulting in nine deaths and major damage to homes and businesses. Hurricane Isabel was a tropical storm when she entered Virginia, but caused damage to 75% of the state, making it one of the costliest disasters in Virginia's history.
The Virginia Department of Emergency Management, in cooperation with the National Weather Service and local emergency management officials, offers these safety tips to protect lives and reduce property damage:
Before the Storm:
* Know your risk. Consult your local emergency management office to find out if your area is flood-prone or for local preparedness information.
* If you live in a flood-prone area, identify where to go if you are told to evacuate and the safest route to get there. If there is a flood, you may only have minutes to get to safety. Choose several places - a friend's home in another town, a motel or a shelter. Remember, public shelters and many motels don't allow pets in their facilities.
* Get ready for a possible power outage by gathering a minimum one-week supply of foods that don't require refrigeration or cooking, such as canned goods, as well as bottled water, flashlights with extra batteries, a first-aid kit and battery-powered radio. If you need to evacuate, make sure you can consolidate these items into a portable "go" kit, like a backpack or duffel bag.
* Purchase a NOAA Weather Radio for National Weather Service reports and severe weather warnings.
* Cut dead trees and limbs that could fall on your home.
* If your home or business is in a flood-prone area, make sure you have a current flood insurance policy (not typically part of a standard insurance policy). A 30-day waiting period is generally required to purchase flood insurance, so take time now to visit your insurance agent to learn more.
* Take pictures of your property before the storm to help validate your claim and remember to take your policies with you if you need to evacuate.
When a Hurricane is Approaching:
* Listen to your local radio and TV stations for updated storm information. A hurricane or flood watch means possible danger. If the danger increases, a hurricane or flood warning will be issued.
* If you have space in your refrigerator or freezer, consider filling plastic containers with water, leaving about an inch of space inside each one. (Remember, water expands as it freezes, so it is important to leave room in the container for the expanded water.) Place the containers in the refrigerator and freezer. This chilled or frozen water will help keep food cold for several hours if the power goes out.
* Fill your bathtub with water to use for toilet flushing in case water services are unavailable following the storm.
* Bring in garbage cans, lawn furniture and other items that could blow away.
* Fill your car's gas tank. Functional gas stations will be in short supply in a power outage.
If Heavy Rains Occur:
* Be aware that floods are deceptive. Avoid already-flooded areas. Floodwaters that are above your knees are dangerous. Turn around and go back to higher ground.
* If you find floodwaters on the road while driving, turn around and find an alternate route. The road could be washed out and rapidly rising water could lift your car and carry it away.
After the Storm:
* Listen to your local radio stations for official disaster relief information and instructions.
* Prepare to be without power, telephone or any outside services for a week or more.
* Watch out for downed power lines, weakened structures, rodents and snakes, and avoid standing water.
* Avoid drinking tap water unless officials say it is safe to do so. Eat only foods you are absolutely sure are safe.
* Be extra careful when handling power tools, gas lanterns and matches.
* Operate generators outdoors only in a well-ventilated, dry area, away from air intakes to the home. Never use a generator indoors or in attached garages. Poor ventilation can result in carbon monoxide poisoning or death.
* Avoid using candles as a light source. Deadly fires can result.