Hurricane preparedness checklist
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Hurricane Evacuation ~ Traveling with Pets

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Living in South Florida, hurricane evacuations with your pets are a reality and you need to have a hurricane evacuation plan for you and your pets. During our first hurricane, we made so many mistakes. So we developed a strong hurricane evacuation plan to evacuate with our pets and children.

Evacuation shelters will not accept pets of any kind unless designated an “Evacuation Pet Shelter.” Finding pet-friendly lodging in Florida and throughout the United States is difficult because there are many people who have allergies and other issues that can not coexist with people’s pets. Do not wait until there is a threat to make your plan. You need to have the right supplies, even if you are evacuating.

Many folks get injured or even worse, die because they are unable to find the resources they need to evacuate with their pets. They end up trying to ride the storm out in an effort to save their pets.

Alternatively some will leave their pets behind. I don’t really understand this as I would rather sleep in my car with my pets before I would leave them alone during a hurricane but every year I watch stories on the news of owners who leave their pets inside their home or worse chained up outside.

When To Evacuate

The rule we follow in our home is if it is a Category 3 or higher we evacuate for the storm and we always take all of our pets. Hurricane Frances was to be a Cat 3. We made a plan to leave. You can reference the Florida Disaster Site for information. The time to come up with a plan is not when the storm is coming. You should have a general plan in place before the storm.

There can be some circumstances where you may need to leave in a lesser storm.

  • When you live in a Mobile or Manufactured Home or a frame structure.
  • You may have medical equipment that requires electricity.
  • If you live in a flood zone.
  • If you live on the beach or major waterway and storm surge is a concern.

The weather reports can be inaccurate as storms move or gather strength, the path can change. They have become more accurate over the years but the reality of living in the aftermath with no fuel, electricity or water is stressful.  In the case of Hurricane Andrew, many folks evacuated to Homestead based on weather predictions and ended up in the direct path of the storm when it moved off the predicted course.

In the past, we have had horses, dogs, cats, and our Blue and Gold Macaw, Chewy. Over the years we needed to have a plan in place to keep everyone safe.

You Need to Have a Safe Place to Take Your Pets

Service animals are permitted in Red Cross shelters. If you do not have a service animal then you will need to know if there are any pet-friendly shelters before the storm to be prepared. Many communities are developing pet-friendly shelter plans. Check to see if your local emergency shelter plan includes pets. Things may be different from the last time you checked.

  • Contact hotels and motels within two hours of driving time to check policies on accepting pets. Find out their restrictions on number, size, and species. Ask if “no pet” policies could be waived in an emergency. Keep a list of “pet-friendly” places, including phone numbers, with other disaster information.
  • Ask friends, relatives, or others outside the affected area whether they could shelter you and/or your animals.
  • Contact your local veterinarians and boarding facilities to find out who has an emergency facility for those in need before the storm.
  • Ask local animal shelters if they provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets in a disaster.

Once you have compiled your list then you will have the information you need when you are notified of a storm. Once you are notified of a storm then call early. Things fill up quickly so you will want to act fast.

Our Original Poorly Planned Evacuation

I am only telling you this part of the story so you know how important it is to be prepared ahead of time. The area we live in had never been threatened with a major storm.

I called everywhere to see who would take us with 2 kids, 2 dogs,  2 cats, and a bird. It was slim pickings for sure. Not even slim pickings. There was nothing available. I looked further north in the Georgia Mountains, thinking I would have better luck. I called one place, Sunburst Stables, that had cabins on a horse farm and it was pet-friendly. What did we do before the internet?

They had a loft cabin that slept 4 and they allowed pets and the price was right. We could be there for over a week. They were nervous accepting us because we had a Rottweiler and German Shepherd and the owners questioned us about safety. We assured them our pets were friendly. They agreed to rent to us. Thank you, Lord!

The Pets

Chewy the Blue and Gold Macaw
Dakota the Rottweiler
Maggie the GSD

We decided to leave and make the 12-hour drive to the Northeast Georgia Mountains and Clarkesville, GA. Now to get everything ready.

Preparing For a Hurricane Is Exhausting

Our home was the last of the houses to be boarded up. Most of our houses were older and we did not have shutters so we had to make them from plywood and we were starting from scratch.

This meant waiting in line at Home Depot for wood deliveries. We could not find water, wood, generators or supplies that we would need if we were going to stay. This is why it is so important to be prepared before the storm hits.

We were exhausted just from all of the work of boarding up 11 houses and now we still had to drive for many hours. After packing the cars we ended up leaving at 6 PM. We had not eaten and figured we would get food on the road. Big mistake.

Hitting the Road

Well, it took a lot longer than 12 hours to get there. As we headed up I-95 there were cars on the side of the road and in gas station parking lots, who ran out of gas.

Usually, Orlando is two hours from us. It took three hours to get to Orlando, where we finally found a McDonald’s that was open in the downtown area. We also found some fuel. This is important to note. Going to the downtown area of Orlando was a stroke of luck. There was food and fuel wherever we looked.

In 11 hours we finally made it to Valdosta, our halfway point. It would normally take 6 to get there. The traffic from South Florida started to bottleneck in Central and North Florida and even on the back roads, there was very little fuel and most places were already closed.

There were no hotels available along the way but we were finally able to get fuel in Georgia. We ended up sleeping in our cars for a couple of hours at a truck stop in Valdosta before the sun rose.

My son went missing.

I woke up to the sun piercing me through my eyelids and baking me in my car. When I looked over at the passenger side, my 9-year-old son was missing from my vehicle. I went to see if he was in the other vehicles and I found everyone asleep but no Zach. He was nowhere to be found.

The truck stop was packed with vehicles and people who were evacuating. I was panicking that someone took him from this massive truck stop. I told my daughter to stay with the vehicles in case he came back.

My husband and I spread out to look for him. We checked the store, the bathrooms, even where the trucks fuel up. I went back into the store to look again. I finally found him in the store looking around. He had to go to the bathroom and did not want to wake us up and was looking around to see what he wanted for breakfast. How we missed him on the first search, I will never know, but thank God we found him.

On to Atlanta.

The next obstacle was Atlanta. My teenage daughter was driving one of the cars and was a newly licensed driver. She cried the whole way driving through Atlanta. Atlanta traffic will make an experienced driver cry so I felt really bad for her. Atlanta is not the place to learn how to drive on the interstate. It was “do or die” at this point. Once we got through Atlanta we were home free.

Our arrival at Sunburst Stables.

We pull in with 3 cars packed with animal crates, my office supplies and documents. We owned 11 rental properties and at the time I worked for a national builder running their local mortgage company. I had all of my client’s files, laptop and our home computer just in case our house got pummeled. I had everything I needed to work plus all of our personal files for all the rentals and our home.

The best feature about Sunburst, unbeknownst to me at the time, was no cell service, TV or internet in the cabins!  So much for being able to work. We had to drive about a mile down the road to make calls but at least the files were in tow and protected from any potential wind or water damage.

After two weeks of staying with, who we now consider friends, the folks at Sunburst we were ready to head home. Two long weeks in a strange place and on the day before we leave one of the cats escapes. We never found little Shadow. We even stayed an additional day combing the woods looking for the shyest cat I have ever met.

The Reality of Evacuating for a Hurricane with Pets

We ended up staying in Georgia for 2 weeks and it was great for the kids hard on us. Government officials advised anyone who evacuated to stay away. The National Guard had been deployed and they were not allowing people to come back to the hardest-hit areas. Resources were scarce and they would be drained if everyone returned. Vero and the Treasure Coast suffered major devastation from the storms in 2004.

Hurricane Evacuation with pets

There was little food, water or ice. Many residents had to get MRE’s from the National Guard. When we returned, it looked like a bomb had hit our little town. So many trees were gone and what was left had no leaves. Many of the homes had blue tarps on their roofs. After 2 weeks of being away, the traffic lights were still not operational. Everyone looked shell shocked and exhausted.

But like with everything in life, there were lessons. Like not having any fuel to get out. Almost losing my son. Losing the cat. Bringing most of our office along. All of these situations helped is to prepare us for future evacuations. Before 2004, our area had only seen a Category 1 in 1979 and a few tropical storms. Now they are pretty much a regular part of life.

Things You Need To Do When Evacuating

  • Fuel – people make a run on fuel and start hoarding. We keep 20 regular gas cans and 10 diesel cans if you have a need for diesel. You can take some with you because finding gas on the road can be difficult both before you leave and even after when you are returning. You will need it for your generator when you return home.
  • Take Your Food with You – Many people who evacuated did not take their food. Guess what they came home to? Ruined refrigerators full of rotting food. Make sure you are in a place that either has refrigeration or get highquality coolers. I now tend to keep less food during hurricane season in my freezer just for this reason because I do not want to have to haul it. We leave dry goods behind because we can buy it when we arrive.
  • Insurance Documents and Important Files – As we watched the destruction on the news we knew we there would be damage. We had older homes so before the storm was over I reached out to FEMA to register for emergency services. Once I saw the destruction after the storm I called our insurance companies and put in claims. We could not reach our tenants who did not have landlines so I was not positive there was an issue but I was glad I did this when we returned. We were first on the list for an inspection to get the money we needed to repair the damage.
  • Neighbors Contact Info – Give your trusted neighbors your contact information and get theirs. We owned rental property on a street where a friend of ours lived and he was also a contractor. He was able to check on all of our houses and tarp the ones that needed it to protect them from further damage while we’re up there.
  • Medications –  It is important that you get enough medications for at least a month for both you and your pets. It is not that you will be gone for that long but they may not be able to restock at your local pharmacy.

Prepare Your Home

  • Turn off the main breaker when you leave. This way if you stay away longer your power can be turned back on.
  • Unplug electronics to protect them from lightning.
  • Make sure all yard items are secure in the house or garage. Putting stuff up against an outside wall of the house will not work, it must be inside.
  • Clean out the fridge, and store water for when you return. We have five 5 gallon water containers we leave here stored in the bathtub filled with water in case we need them upon returning.
  • Get shutters before you need them. Supplies go quickly. If you are in a flood area you will need sandbags.
  • Get a generator that is large enough to run your refrigerator. Test it and make sure it works long before the hurricane is coming. Make sure you have enough cords to run what you need and it must reach from outside to the inside of the house so you will want cords that are longer as well. I recommend two of each cord at a minimum. You will need a chain to secure it to a vehicle or something else because of looters.
  • Do all of your laundry while you have power and make sure you have laundry supplies for when you get home.
  • Make sure you have toilet paper, paper plates, cups, etc since you can not do dishes. These items will be out of stock in the store if it is bad enough.
  • Get extra cell phone power chargers. You may have a cell for everyone in your family. Do you really want arguments over the last open outlet on the generator? Get two!
  • My husband loves DeWalt tools because of the batteries. He has an array of flashlights, a portable radio, fans and their batteries are all interchangeable with his tools. Make sure everything is charged. You need a good supply of portable chargers. You have no idea if you will be arriving home in the dark because of accidents or washed out roads delaying your trip home.

Evacuation List For Your Pets

  • Sturdy leashes, harnesses, and/or carriers to transport pets safely and ensure that your animals cannot escape.
  • Photo of you and your pet(s) – in the event you are separated from your pet, having an updated photo with your pet will help validate pet ownership.
  • Food, potable water, bowls, cat litter/pan, and can opener.
  • Information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to foster or board your pets.

Come Home Prepared

When we returned home in two weeks we were still without power for another week. Services come back in order of necessity so you can be without power for hours or weeks depending on where you live. Fortunately, we were able to buy a generator, gas cans and other supplies in Georgia before we came home.

Plan for the worst and you will be comfortable. Don’t plan and you will find yourself waiting in some pretty long lines only to find out what you need is out of stock.

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Tricia worked in the financial services industry for over 20 years before deciding to divorce the corporate world in 2018. Tricia retired early so she could travel with her husband Jack (the Boomer) and Bo, their German Shepherd. They enjoy finding new experiences together and spending time with their family.

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