Irene, the first hurricane of 2011, is pounding Puerto Rico today with heavy rain and winds as high as 80 miles per hour after leaving many residents on St. Thomas and St. Croix without power Sunday. Irene is expected to gain strength as the week goes on, threatening Florida and the southeast states as early as Thursday.
The American Red Cross opened shelters on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John and is working closely with government partners in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to coordinate any relief services that may be needed. The Red Cross has warehouses on the islands equipped with thousands of cots and blankets, kerosene lanterns and comfort and clean-up supplies.
Experts predict the storm will impact Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Tuesday. In Haiti, the Red Cross is busy preparing for the storm, working to help people in vulnerable camps prepare for the storm, and putting emergency disaster risk reduction teams on alert.
The American Red Cross has been working in Haiti’s camps for many months on such activities as emergency first aid courses, training in early warning systems (megaphones and whistles), projects such as digging ditches and sandbagging hillsides, preparing evacuation routes and teaching children about disaster preparedness.
Red Cross officials are preparing to respond along the East Coast if needed, and urge anyone in Irene’s projected path to get ready too. Trained disaster relief workers are on alert, along with Red Cross mobile feeding vehicles and trucks equipped with communications technology.
“Just because the U.S. has largely been spared from hurricanes over the past several years is no reason to believe Irene will change course and go out to sea,” said Charley Shimanski, senior vice president of Disaster Services for the Red Cross. “People who live in or who are vacationing in the areas that could be affected by this storm need to get ready now.”
It’s important to know what the hurricane warnings mean. A hurricane watch means hurricane conditions could threaten the area within 48 hours. People should stay informed and be ready to act if a warning is issued. A hurricane warning means hurricane conditions are expected within 36 hours. Those in the affected area should finish their storm preparations and leave the area if authorities ask them to do so.
The Red Cross has steps people can take this week as the storm approaches to help ensure their safety and the safety of their loved ones.
Before the hurricane:
- Check your emergency supplies and replace or restock as needed. Your disaster kit should contain items such as gallons of water, non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food and sanitation and personal hygiene items. More information about what you should include is available on the Red Cross web site.
- Create an evacuation plan with members of your household and practice it to cut down on any confusion.
- Plan routes to your community’s shelters, register family members with special needs as required.
- Make plans for your pets.
If a hurricane is predicted for your area:
- Bring items inside that can be picked up by the wind.
- Turn your refrigerator and freezer to the coldest settings and keep them closed as much as possible so food will last longer if the power goes out.
- Turn off any propane tanks and unplug your small appliances.
- Fill your vehicle’s gas tank.
- Close windows, doors and hurricane shutters. If you don’t have hurricane shutters, close and board up your windows and doors with plywood.
- Listen to local authorities and evacuate if advised to do so. Be careful to avoid flooded roads and washed out bridges.
After a hurricane:
- Return home only when officials say it is safe.
- Keep away from loose or dangling power lines and report them to the power company.
- Stay out of any building that has water around it.
- Avoid drinking or preparing food with tap water until you’re sure it’s not contaminated.
- Keep your animals under your direct control./li>
To learn more about how to remain safe should Hurricane Irene become a threat, visit www.redcross.org.