WILMINGTON, N.C. — As a resident of this coastal city, I have become used to the ever-present threat of Atlantic hurricanes during the late summer and early fall months. Wilmington experiences one hurricane making landfall every 2.67 years.
I’m familiar with these storms and their aftermaths. Since I have owned my home in Wilmington, we have prepared for seven major hurricanes that made landfall in or near Wilmington: Diana in 1984, Bertha and Fran in 1996, Bonnie in 1998, Floyd in 1999, Charlie in 2004 and Ophelia in 2005. These seven hurricanes brought winds ranging from 75 mph (Charlie) to 115 miles per hour (Bonnie).
This morning, local weather reports are tracking Hurricane Earl, which is now rated a category four hurricane with sustained winds of 135 mph. Tracking places Earl following a course parallel to the Atlantic coast and within 50 miles of the Wilmington coast. Rain bands, storm surge and increasing winds are expected in the Wilmington area by late Thursday evening.
My home in Wilmington is a two-story townhouse with vinyl siding and asphalt shingled roof. It is located within one half mile of a tidal basin in a lovely copse of tall pine trees. My concern with every approaching hurricane is twofold: the rising tide from the storm surge and the vulnerability of the tall pines that surround my home. During past storms, waters rising from the wind-driven storm surge have come within two feet of my front door. Additionally, when storm winds reach hurricane status, the tall pines surrounding our home often snap under the pressure from excessive winds and when falling have caused significant damage to our home.
During the previous seven hurricanes I’ve lived through, Wilmington suffered from wide spread power outages, flooding and substantial wind-damage that resulted in downed trees and heavy beach erosion.
To prepare for the effects of the hurricane, I follow what has become a routine procedure:
* I first prepare the outside of my house by clearing the rain gutters of accumulated debris. If I fail to do this, the heavy rains soon overcome the ability of the gutters to channel the roof water away from the house and the overflow will be forced back up into the shingled area, causing roof leaks.
* I next tape all windows using two-inch-wide masking tape in rectangular patterns consisting of four-inch grids. I am not certain this will prevent breakage for the high winds, but should the window glass break the tape will prevent wind-blown glass fragments from entering the house.
* I move to the inside of my house all outside furniture and decorations, such as birdbaths, wind chimes and flower vases, as these may well become wind-blown missiles once 100-mph-plus winds arrive.
* I place my glass-fired propane grill in the outside storage room and check to be certain that the propane tank has sufficient fuel. It’s possible I’ll need it to prepare hot meals during a prolonged power outage.
Inside the house, I review the status of our ever-present emergency plan:
* Two flashlights for each level of the house ( four total) and one set of fresh batteries for each flashlight. These are a great comfort during a prolonged stay in complete darkness during and after the storm approach.
* We maintain one box containing six 10-inch candles for use as emergency lighting. One box of wooden matches to light candles.
* Prior to the storm’s arrival, I fill the bath tub with water. This water can be used to flush toilets in the event the storm surge overcomes the water treatment facility.
* One day prior to the storm’s arrival, I stock up on critical food and water supplies. These include two cases of Aquafina bottled water (48 bottles), two bags of ice (to maintain refrigerator temperatures during power failure), bread, milk, cold cuts, a variety of juices and a variety of canned soups that can be prepared in the absence of power. During prolonged power outages we cook hot meals using the propane grill.
I should mention that we always maintain a medical emergency treatment kit consisting of bandages, peroxide, gauze, tape, pain reliever and minor medical supplies.
As Earl approaches, residents of Wilmington take it all in stride working together to make preparations for what I see as “just one more storm.” It’s is a small price to pay for living on the beautiful North Carolina coast.