The 2004 hurricane season inflicted a staggering toll of death and destruction all across the North Atlantic.
These storms were directly responsible for more than 3,000 deaths and caused more than $42 billion in property damage in the United States, making 2004 the costliest hurricane season on record.
Seventeen Georgians lost their lives during Hurricanes Frances and Ivan due to hurricane-spawned tornadoes, floods, vehicle accidents, trees falling on vehicles, power line electrocutions, lightning strikes and fires started by candles during power outages.
Columbia County was spared, but braced strongly as three of these hurricanes threatened our area, prompting numerous flood, tornado and high-wind warnings.
Our community has experienced all types of severe weather events through the years, including floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, severe thunderstorms and severe winter storms. Research shows that disasters are becoming more frequent and cause more destruction due to urbanization and population growth.
Just since the year 2000, we have had four severe winter storms, 12 flood events, two tropical storms, an F-2 tornado and 23 severe thunderstorms that involved hailstorms, wind damage, downed trees and power outages.
Does your family know what to do when severe weather threatens? If not, now is the time to get prepared and know what to do when severe weather occurs.
Gov. Sonny Perdue has proclaimed the week of Feb. 20-26, 2005 as Severe Weather Awareness Week in Georgia in an effort to educate Georgians about safety, preparedness and response procedures for all types of severe weather events.
Monday is Family Protection Day. That's the time for everyone to develop plans, assemble supplies and rehearse what they would do during the first 72 hours of any severe weather-related event or disaster.
During some situations, such as winter storms, hurricanes, floods or tornadoes, it may take emergency crews 72 hours or more to reach certain areas in order to open roadways and restore utilities. The benefit of being self-sufficient for 72 hours, or longer, is that you and your family can survive circumstances that might be fatal if you were not prepared.
Another major activity during Severe Weather Awareness Week will be a Statewide Tornado Drill, which will be conducted by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service on Wednesday during the morning hours.
All government offices, public and private schools, day-care centers, businesses, industries, medical facilities and citizens are requested to participate by practicing your tornado safety plans when the National Weather Service initiates the drill, whether at work, home, school or in a vehicle.
Here are some basic tips on how you and your family can be prepared for severe weather emergencies:
Locate the safest room in your home for your family to seek shelter during tornado warnings. Rule of thumb: put as many walls between you and the outside as possible. A small, windowless room or closet on the lowest level is recommended.
Purchase a NOAA Alert Radio so that you can be alerted to severe weather warnings night or day.
If someone in your family relies on electrical medical equipment, be sure to have enough back-up battery support for three days without power. Also, have a secondary heating source that does not require electricity, such as a portable kerosene heater.
When building a new home, consider adding a protected safe room that will withstand wind speeds up to 250 mph. Or, consider retrofitting your existing home with a protected safe room. Plans for either of these options can be obtained from the Emergency Services office or downloaded at http://www.fema.gov/fima/tsfs02.shtm.
Keep enough food and water in your home to last your family for up to three days. Rule of thumb: store at least 1 gallon of water per person, per day, for a three-day period, and don't forget your pets. Also remember to replace your food and water every six months.
Have a battery-operated radio and flashlights with extra batteries on hand at all times.
Pick two meeting places for your family -- a spot right outside your home for an emergency such as a fire, and a place away from your neighborhood in case you cannot return home.
Learn disaster safety rules.
Detailed preparedness information, including safety rules, how to prepare a disaster supply kit, emergency planning for people with disabilities and contingency planning for family pets can be downloaded at www.fema.gov/areyouready/.
For more information, please contact the Columbia County Emergency Services office at 868-3303 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Pam Tucker is director of the Columbia County Emergency Services Division.)
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