Blogger Whitney Hess' compilation of stories about those who were killed — directly or indirectly — by Hurricane Sandy is not an easy read. She put the list together so that we could remember these individuals as people, not just statistics (which is easy to do). While saddened by these deaths, especially of the very young people who perished, I started noticing patterns as I read down the list.
I don't want to assign blame here. (Hey, we all make mistakes, miscalculations and bad choices all the time, and 99 percent of the time, those choices don't end up killing us.) But I noticed that many of the Sandy-related deaths on this list were entirely preventable. Of course some were not, and in any natural disaster, there are going to be some people who die from some horrific culmination of events. But if there's something to be learned in the passing of these folks, let's take it to heart (and head), so that maybe next time — and there will be a next time, maybe as early as this Wednesday — fewer lives will be lost.
1. If your local government tells you to evacuate, get the heck out.
At least one-third of people on the list died because they remained in evacuation zones, and when the weather got crazy, and they tried to get out at the last minute, they couldn't. Or they drowned in their own homes because they weren't expecting the storm to be as bad as it was. An especially egregious example was the father and his 13-year-old daughter who refused to evacuate "because their home was robbed during Hurricane Irene; father and daughter drowned when a massive wave came in and knocked their house off its foundation." Your life is worth more than your stuff, and spending a night away from home (even if a storm ends up being not-so-bad) is always the smartest choice. Hurricanes are just too hard to predict with pinpoint accuracy; better safe than sorry. Evacuate when advised to do so. When you don't, you not only put yourself in harm's way, but also the emergency personnel who will do their best to help you.
2. If you run a generator, you should have a carbon monoxide detector.
Several people died because they were powering their homes with generators that slowly poisoned them with carbon monoxide, which is tasteless, odorless and invisible. This kind of accidental death is entirely preventable, and the detectors cost all of $20-$25; so nobody should ever use a generator without a battery-powered detector in addition. In fact, you should be already have a carbon monoxide detector in your home (I do!), along with smoke detectors. (There are even combo units.)
3. Don't sleep or spend time in rooms susceptible to tree falls; be sure to remove dead or dying trees that threaten your home.
There is no way to prevent all deaths from falling trees unless we eliminate trees (and that's not a good idea because trees store CO2 and produce oxygen), but the next best thing is to be aware of dead or dying trees near your home. Have them or large dead limbs removed if possible; if not, take a look at where they could fall during a storm, and avoid those rooms. For instance, I work and sleep in the attic on the third floor of my house, which, considering the height of my home and the surrounding trees, is the only area that could be a safety hazard due to falling trees. When there's a storm, I sleep in my much-safer first-floor living room and work downstairs too.
4. Don't wander around outside.
Several people were squashed by trees, electrocuted by fallen wires, washed away, or had heart attacks while outside during the storm; it's safer to be inside during a hurricane. Honestly, my boyfriend and I took a walk on the evening of the Sandy's landfall, and almost walked under a huge flapping piece of metal flashing that was dangerous enough that the NYFD showed up later to pull it down; if our timing had been worse, we could easily have been hit by it.
5. Avoid your basement.
This one sounds a bit weird, but a high number of people were found in their basements post-hurricane, having drowned there. If your basement's filling with water, don't risk getting trapped down there or risking a slip and fall. And don't go down to the basement if the water is rising. This story is heartbreaking: "While evacuating, he and his wife Angela hurried into their basement to fetch their laptops when water quickly filled their basement, separating the couple and trapping Andrew behind a door, where he drowned."
Related disaster stories on MNN:
- How to include pets in your family emergency plan
- 10 ways to prepare for tornadoes, strong winds or hailstorms