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Expat Safety Tips: What To Do When a Hurricane Hits

Hurricanes often start life as tropical cyclones. These low-pressure weather phenomena usually have surface winds of around 39 mph and are accompanied by pouring rain. It is when this downpour stops, and winds reach over 74 mph, that they are classed as hurricanes.

Not all hurricanes are deadly, however, recent years have seen some of the most catastrophic to hit the globe. Hurricane Katrina tore New Orleans and Haiti apart in 2005 and caused devastation down the Louisiana and Mississippi coastlines. In 2013 Typhoon Haiyan (the name by which hurricanes can be referred to in Asia) tore across the central Philippines, killing over 6,000. And, just last year, Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc upon pats of the Caribbean and Florida and was a category 5 hurricane.

Hurricanes are classified using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Categories 1 through to 5 are based on a hurricane’s sustained wind speed, with a category 5 being the deadliest.

Category Sustained Winds
1 74-95 mph
2 96-110 mph
3 (major) 111-129 mph
4 (major) 130-156 mph
5 (major) <157 mph

Moving to a Hurricane Prone Country

If you are moving abroad to a hot or humid country, it is best to check the state of play when it comes to hurricanes and all other natural disasters. In Asia, hurricanes may be referred to as cyclones or typhoons, so keep an eye out for these words too.

It is widely accepted that the Caribbean islands and the Gulf of Mexico are more vulnerable to hurricanes than other locations. Check out the top 10 countries, U.S. cities, and Caribbean islands that have been struck by hurricanes the most over the past 150 years. Please note, these lists are not exhaustive.

Caribbean Islands U.S. Cities Countries
Abaco, Bahamas Cape Hattaras, North Carolina China
Saba, Netherland Antilles Delray Beach, Florida Philippines
Grand Bahama, Bahama Hollywood, Florida Japan
Key West, USA Deerfield Beach, Florida Mexico
St Eustatius, Netherland Antilles Boca Raton, Florida United States
Bimini, Bahamas Florida City, Florida Australia
Nassau, Bahamas Grand Isle, Louisiana Taiwan
Nevis, West Indies Ft. Pierce, Florida Vietnam
Habana, Cuba Miami, Florida Madagascar
St. Marteen/ St. Martin Ft. Lauderdale, Florida Cuba

If you are moving or currently living in one of these countries it is best to keep a supply of basic necessities handy in a rucksack or similar vessel than can be easily accessed. Basics include torches, batteries, medicines and baby essentials such as formula and nappies if you have a little one. A thorough first aid kit is also essential so that you can treat any minor injuries at home when getting to a hospital or doctor isn’t achievable.

Make sure you also have a stock of non-perishable foods and bottles of water stored away from you day to day supplies. If possible, purchase a small camping stove and battery powered lanterns. Sometimes, during hurricanes, power can be down for days at a time and it will be less daunting if you have light and can boil water or heat soup. Often it is the little things that provide the biggest comfort.

Expats living in hurricane prone countries should always invest in comprehensive healthcare insurance.

What to Do in the Run Up to Hurricane Season

When you move to a country that is prone to hurricanes you will recognise that they have a hurricane season. These vary from region to region and it best to find out how your new country of residence could be affected so that you can be prepared for the season.

Countries Hurricane Season
Atlantic Hurricane Season June – November
Eastern Pacific Hurricane Season May – November
Northwest Pacific Typhoon Season All year
North Indian Cyclone Season April – December
Southwest Indian Cyclone Season October – May
Australian/Southeast Indian Cyclone Season October – May
Australian/Southwest Pacific Cyclone Season November – April

You will need to be aware of any local evacuation routines and ask neighbours if phone lines and mobile coverage is effected so that you can warn you family you may be unreachable. It Is also best to find out how your workplace or children’s school operates during the hurricane season and any evacuation procedures. Also remember to check your hurricane supplies so that you are prepared.

What to Do if You Receive a Hurricane Warning

Most countries that are regularly affected by hurricanes give good notice if a bad weather front is on its way. The majority start at sea, giving weather experts ample time to let the mainland know that it’s best to be prepared. Your local weather channel and radio station, along with the National Hurricane Centre.

Many will carry out the following actions following a hurricane warning:

  • Ensure their car is filled with a full tank of petrol in case of evacuation
  • Ensure you have a battery powered radio
  • Put your car somewhere safe and undercover if possible
  • Stock up on extra food and water
  • Board up your windows within 24 hours of the notice (these will be available to buy)
  • Move outside furniture into the house
  • Move all furniture into the centre of rooms and pile high if a risk of flooding
  • Collect all important paperwork together, including passports
  • Ensure your pets are safe in the house, crated if needed
  • Pack a bag for every family member (including pets) in case of evacuation
  • Keep valuables with you in case of looting
  • Have the radio or television on constantly for updates
  • Set up a safe room in an area of the house with the fewest windows (usually the bathroom)
    • Stock the room with pillows, games, books and food
    • Fill the bath and sink with water

What to Do When a Hurricane Hits

Unless you are told to evacuate stay in your home. Don’t go near any windows and do not attempt to fix anything outside your property. Stay in the safety of your windowless room if the hurricane becomes very strong and listen to all broadcast for actions and follow any instructions given.

If the wind dies down do not exit your home unless told it is safe to via a broadcast. This may be the eye of the storm and they are very calm before the hurricane picks up again.

What to Do After a Hurricane

Once you have been informed that it is safe to exit your home, do so with caution as there is likely to be debris. If it is your first hurricane prepare yourself mentally for the chaos that you could see when you venture outside, it could be very upsetting.

Assess the damage inflicted on your property and check on neighbours, particularly those who are elderly, disabled, or have small children. If you have lost power it may take a few days to restore but this will be a priority for your local authority. It will take days, weeks or months for life to return to normal depending on the severity of the hurricane. If you have been relatively unscathed check if local staff need assistance with the clean up operation.

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