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UF Experts Share Hurricane Advice As Frances Nears Florida

Carol Lehtola, 352-392-1864 ext. 223
Jim Selph 863-993-4846

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – As Hurricane Frances bears down the east coast of the U.S, University of Florida, disaster preparedness experts are spreading a simple message: get ready.

“If you’re in the path of a hurricane, you need to know that this is a serious, dangerous thing,” said Jim Selph, DeSoto County extension director for UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “If you’re told to get ready, you need to get ready. If you’re told to evacuate, you need to evacuate.”

Selph would know. As head of a UF/IFAS extension office located in Arcadia — a town ravaged by Hurricane Charley less than a month ago — he has seen the damage a major hurricane can do. And he has seen just how important pre-storm preparation can be.

“If you have plenty of water and ice stored, you’ll be glad you did,” he said. “You can’t have too many flashlight batteries. That’s the kind of advice people always give when a storm is coming — but when you go through one yourself, you see how important it is.”

Through its Disaster Information Program, UF/IFAS makes up-to-date disaster survival and recovery tips available to people around the state. The centerpiece of the program is The Disaster Handbook, a comprehensive, easy-to-read guide that is available online at

“We’re seeing a lot more interest in preparedness information this time around,” said Carol Lehtola, an associate professor of agricultural safety and health and the point person for the program. “After Charley, people have seen what a major storm can do, and they want to take every precaution.”

Among other tips, Lehtola is advising Florida residents not to leave their doors and windows open as the storm passes. Many people believe that opening doors will reduce the risk of storm damage by making the air pressure inside the house equal to the pressure outside the house.

“Opening doors and windows will actually decrease your house’s integrity in high winds, so it will increase your chances of damage,” she said.

It’s also a good idea to clear your yard of lawn furniture, tools, and any other objects, UF experts said. “I know someone in Charlotte County who saw a coconut fly into one of the windows of his house, Selph said. “If these winds can throw a coconut like a hand grenade, you can imagine what it can do with loose metal objects in your back yard.”

People in the storms path should consider trimming dead trees or overhanging limbs if they have time, Selph said. And if a falling tree or high winds cause damage to your roof, you’ll want to have a tarpaulin on hand, he said.

“If you’ve got a tarp, you can cover a damaged roof and possibly prevent some damage to your house,” he said. “After Charley, no one seemed to have enough tarps.”

Here’s a simple checklist you should complete as soon as possible if you live in the path of the storm.

  • Fill your car with gas. Make sure the battery is in good condition. Review county and state roadway maps.
  • Check your battery-powered equipment. A radio could be your only link to the outside world during and after a hurricane.
  • Lower or secure radio or TV antennas to prevent them from coming into contact with electrical wires. Remove all items from the yard and open patios. Board up windows. Close shutters, awnings, windows and drapes.
  • If you plan to stay home, check your supply of emergency food and water. Emergency food supplies should include: canned fish, chicken or meat; fruits (both fresh and dried); soups; juices; milk; (fresh or powdered), dry cereal; cookies and bread. Small families should purchase single-serving size containers.
  • Fill clean plastic containers, cooking pots, or clean bathtubs with drinking water. Do not store water in used milk containers.
  • Pack your valuables in waterproof containers. Valuables include jewelry, titles, deeds, insurance papers, licenses, stocks, bonds, inventory list, etc. Place valuables in a safety deposit box if you have one. Otherwise, keep your valuables with you. Keep important papers with you at all times.
  • Refill prescription drugs. Obtain an extra supply of special medication.
  • Make arrangements for the safety of your boats. Remember, if the situation warrants a mandatory evacuation, drawbridges will be closed to boat traffic.
  • Turn your refrigerator to the coldest setting. This preserves food as long as possible in the event of a power failure
  • Do not drain your swimming pool. Keep the swimming pool full to approximately 12 inches below the edge, to compensate for expected rainfall.
  • Wedge sliding glass doors to prevent them from being lifted from their tracks. Brace your garage door. Protect appliances and furniture. Elevate them above floor level and cover them with plastic.
  • Stay tuned to local radio and television stations for official weather statements or emergency instructions.
  • If county authorities order an evacuation for your area, leave immediately.
  • If you plan to go to an emergency public shelter, take the following items: drinking water in a plastic container, nonperishable food, medicine, blankets, a change of clothing, personal hygiene items, a flashlight with extra batteries and bulbs, quiet toys or games for children, eating and cooking utensils, a manual can opener and a portable radio with extra batteries.
  • If you leave your home, shut off gas and electricity at the main power source. Shut off water lines. Lock all doors and windows. Call friends and relatives to let them now you are leaving: this will reduce overloading of the phone system during and after the storm.
  • If you stay at home, avoid using electric appliances. Seek refuge in a small, interior area such as a closet, hallway or bathroom.
  • If your evacuation route is impassible and you become trapped on low ground, seek refuge in a third or fourth floor hallway of a high-rise building.
  • Be alert for tornado watches and warnings. Hurricanes often spawn tornadoes. If your area receives a tornado warning, seek inside shelter immediately. Stay away from windows.