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Weather the Storm

Hurricane survival is about preparedness and common sense.

As Hurricane Earl spins menacingly on my TV set and ominous news updates flash across my social networks, I'm here to tell you one thing: Be prepared.

I'm from the Sunshine State, where hurricane warnings are a rite of summer. Government agencies and local TV weathermen turn into borderline fear mongers at the hint of a tropical system germinating off the west coast of Africa. It gets to the point where all the near misses create a false sense of security.

And then the big one hits, leaving a wake of destruction indistinguishable from an A-Bomb. I've seen it first hand. I survived Hurricane David in 1979. I survived Hurricane Elena in 1985. I survived Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

So as you watch the dreaded cone of uncertainty as it engulfs Long Island and the entire Northeast, don't simply hope for the best. Prepare for the worst and get your household in order.  Some lessons I learned growing up in the heart of hurricane country:

Seek Shelter

After plowing through the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and The Bahamas as a Category 5 storm, Hurricane David skirted the coast of South Florida with measured gusts of 95 MPH. I was 6 and living in Miami. This is the first storm I can remember.

The initial forecast called for a direct hit on Miami. My dad jumped into action, screwing plywood into the cinder block exterior of our home to cover all the windows and sliding glass doors. My mom wasn't satisfied. She worked the overnight shift at a local hospital and took me with her as David approached. Her reasoning was sound. She left me on the second floor, safe from flooding. The hospital was solidly built, well stocked and powered by a backup generator.

Turns out Hurricane David caused nothing more than localized flooding and downed tree limbs where I lived. But we secured our home and then found an even more protected building, where we rode out the storm unscathed. Don't hesitate to do the same now, whether it be a local school or your in-laws' house. This is especially true if you live in a flood zone.

Hunker Down

Weather is unpredictable. When Hurricane Elena threatened the Tampa Bay area, where I lived with my mom in 1985, we opted to shelter with her sister. Other family members cramped into the home too. We were unprepared for what happened next.

Elena stalled. With its highest reported winds in the Florida Panhandle at 125 MPH, this was a serious storm. While it never made landfall in Tampa, this hurricane caused plenty of damage. It camped off the coast three days over Labor Day weekend, whipping the Gulf Coast with strong winds. It also proved to be a real rainmaker, drenching the region.     

We had enough food and water to last. But when someone ran out of cigarettes, that someone decided to drive out and see what was open. Bad move. The wind and air pressure popped the windshield clean off someone's Porsche. The roads were flooded too. I don't believe a cigarette run could have gone much worse.

So remember the lesson provided by someone: Don't misjudge the situation. It may not look bad out, but trees and downed power lines may block your path. And hurricane-force winds are nothing to mess with. Stay put.

Stock Up

I was a college student at the University of Miami, preparing for the first day of my sophomore year when Hurricane Andrew ripped through South Florida on Aug. 24, 1992. Andrew was the third-most powerful storm to make landfall in the U.S. in the 20th century. The National Weather Center, located across the street from the UM campus, registered winds of 164 MPH before the radar was knocked off the roof and shattered in the parking lot.

I actually weathered the storm in Fort Lauderdale, which saw hurricane force winds. Then I stupidly drove south (see Hunker Down) to help a friend get back to his apartment the next day. Talk about total devastation. Windows blown out. Roofs sucked off. Some homes reduced to splinters. The power didn't get restored to many places in south Dade County for two months. To live in this war zone was to understand real depravity.

Here is my ultimate tip: Stock up now. The line to simply get into a grocery store in the days and weeks after Andrew hit Miami stretched around the block. Profiteers charged insane prices for a bottle of water. The gas pumps were dry. Provision yourself accordingly. You aren't going all Ted Kaczynski by grabbing a few extra bottles of water off the store shelves now or topping off your gas tank on Thursday. It's called hedging your bets.

Chances are Earl will do little more than put a crimp in our holiday weekend plans. The region hasn't suffered a major hit in recent memory. But don't shrug off Long Island's good fortune. Indifference is the worst act of all.   

Jason Molinet is Patch's Long Island regional editor for the North Shore. He's tuned to the Weather Channel and sheltering in Northport with enough water and canned goods to last a week.

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