2006-06-29 / Front Page

Red Cross urges residents to heed hurricane warnings

As storm season nears, residents should have evacuation plan, supplies

Staff Writer

Natural and unnatural disasters can strike any time and anywhere. But, with hurricane season fast approaching, and warnings that it could be a bad one, it would be wise to be prepared.

Hillary Cummons, director of public affairs for the Jersey Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross in Tinton Falls, echoes the comments of climatologists that the coming hurricane season, while not as active as last year, will be challenging.

"We're hearing that it's going to be another bad year. Some predictions are that one or two hurricanes may come up the Atlantic Coast, even as far up as the New England states," Cummons said, adding that while the today's technology is pretty sophisticated, hurricanes can be capricious.

He explained that contrary to what people think, the last hurricane that came up the coast was in 1903.

"People think that they have experienced hurricanes, when what they have seen were Nor'easters or big waves. They were the remnants of hurricanes," he said.

Cummons feels that it is vitally important for residents to heed warnings to evacuate and to have a disaster preparedness plan.

He said that since 9/11, the Red Cross has stepped up its community education program, and the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf states makes it even more important.

"We have really intensified our program over the past few years. It concerns us that people don't take preparedness seriously," he said. "There are many things that should be done ahead of time."

According to Cummons, the National Hurricane Center Survival Initiative reports that 13 percent of people surveyed said they would not evacuate even if they were asked to.

"We've seen in the past, where people on the barrier islands were told to evacuate and they said they were going to ride it out. That's how lives are lost. The power of the water is absolutely unreal," he said, adding that more lives are lost in hurricanes as a result of flooding than anything else.

"Surveys that we have done at Red Cross found that 60 percent of people don't have a family disaster plan, and 68 percent don't have a disaster supply kit," Cummons said.

He explained that people should prepare for a disaster by putting together a plan and talking to each other about that plan.

It is also important to have a disaster emergency contact list with work, home and cell phone numbers for every family member. But, he added, don't count on cell phones working in a storm.

"If a family is separated, it is important to be able to call someone who is not in the disaster area, and tell them where you are and if you are safe," Cummons said.

For instance, he said, he has family in Maine, and they have been told to call him if they have to evacuate.

He noted that everyone should be prepared, not just people along the coast. "Hurricane Gloria was scheduled for a direct hit along the coast, but it turned north and did a lot of damage inland," he noted.

Cummons said everyone should know their evacuation route and have a disaster supplies kit ready. He explained that there will be emergency management broadcasts well in advance of the arrival of a storm that will be aired on radio and television stations.

"We won't wait until the last minute and we don't want people to wait to the last minute to evacuate," he said.

Most roads going west, away from the coast, will be evacuation routes. Route 138, coming out of Belmar, will be closed eastbound so that all of the lanes will be going west.

As for people who can't drive, he said, "We as citizens should look after the elderly and disabled in our neighborhoods."

He urged residents who have access to a computer to look at www.redcross.org to see a list of needs for kits, but for those who don't have computer access, he explained that they should be prepared to be self-sustaining for three days with water, food, medications, supplies for babies, blankets, pillows, battery-powered or crank radio, gas in car, and money.

People should also have their important documents set aside in one fireproof case. If their homes are evacuated, they will need identification to get back into them. He cited the looting that occurred in the aftermath of the hurricane in New Orleans.

Cummons said the American Red Cross will open shelters at the discretion of the Office of Emergency Management.

"We have shelter agreements with a lot of the schools in Monmouth County. There will be cots, food and nurses at the sites," he said, adding that if residents are told to evacuate, the location of the shelters will be announced. Typically, we get a warning that will come a couple of days in advance," he said. "We'll have time."

He added that if it is known that an area is going to be hit, residents will be notified to turn off their gas, water and electric.

He said in the event of strong winds, people should rid their houses of anything that could be a projectile, like dead branches and outdoor furniture.

Cummons said, "We urge people to take heed, listen to emergency broadcasts and don't wait until the last minute."

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