The U.S. Gulf Coast is bracing itself for what is likely to become an extreme tropical storm, which may turn into a hurricane by the weekend. Nearby Louisiana has already declared a state of emergency, with the sort of weather you don’t want to mess around with. In Australia, we're lucky to rarely deal with extreme weather emergencies - but if you ever find yourself in one, it's essential that you prepare. These handy tips will help you plan how, when and to where you should evacuate, if it's ever necessary.
Map out your destination
If possible, have a few places in different directions that you could evacuate to. Hopefully that could be a family member or friend’s home in another town, but it could also be a hotel you’ve mapped out ahead of time. This gives you options in case certain roads or areas are closed down from the weather.
Also bring a copy of a physical map or write down directions before you leave; if mobile reception becomes an issue, you’ll still be able to find your way. Listen to a battery-powered radio to follow local evacuation instructions.
Consider your pets
Only service pets may be permitted in public shelters, so find pet-friendly hotel options (or family and friends who will welcome you and your animals). You can also try contacting local vets, animal hospitals or any available boarding facilities in the area you’ll be evacuating to for temporary shelter.
Make sure your pet’s vaccinations are current and bring any necessary paperwork along with you so you can get them boarded or medical care, if necessary, when you arrive.
Before you leave
As time allows, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends taking these steps before you evacuate - and while these tips come from the U.S., they remain relevant to any weather emergency:
Contact any family that's out of state and tell them where you’re going - this can help you reunite with your wider family in case of a separation.
Secure your home by closing and locking doors and windows.
Unplug electrical equipment such as radios, televisions and small appliances. Leave freezers and refrigerators plugged in unless there is a risk of flooding. If there is damage to your home and you are instructed to do so, shut off water, gas and electricity before leaving.
Leave a note telling others when you left and where you are going.
Wear sturdy shoes and clothing that provides some protection, such as long pants, long-sleeved shirts and a hat.
Check with neighbours who may need a ride.
What to keep in your car
A full tank of petrol is obviously best, but keep it as close to full as possible when severe weather is headed your way. Petrol stations may not be open or may be overcrowded in the event of an evacuation.
Make sure to stash these items in your car:
Torches, reflective triangles or other high-vis equipment
Car phone charger
Cat litter or sand for better tire traction
Do not drive through flooded areas (your car can float in as little as a foot of water), and beware of areas where floodwaters have receded, as roadways may have been weakened. If a power line falls on your vehicle, remain inside until a trained professional has removed it and you are safe from an electrical shock.
And do not take shortcuts - the recommended evacuation routes are your best options because other routes may be blocked.