When Hurricane Harvey left its path of devastation across Texas and the neighboring states, one of the lesser known side effects was all of the cars that were left behind. An estimated 1 million cars were completely destroyed in the 2017 disaster — more than in any other weather event in American history. While Harvey was indeed a “100-year storm”, it highlighted the power and dangers of storm-related flooding that can happen anywhere.
If you are a driver, knowing what to do when a disaster is looming is critical. Your vehicle could be an invaluable tool to get you to safety before the disaster strikes — or it could turn into a violent projectile. You need to know how to protect your car and how to get proper payment for any damages that occurred.
In addition to understanding your insurance rights, you need to understand what to do to stay safe in your vehicle as you either evacuate the disaster zone or prepare to ride out the emergency. After a serious natural disaster, the roadways in your area may be completely destroyed, traffic signs downed, and emergency personnel stretched thin. There are a significant number of risks, even after the worst of the event has passed.
This guide is intended to help you understand how to stay safe when a hurricane or other natural disaster hits, especially when it comes to cars and drivers. You will find tips on safe driving, what to do in a storm, how to prepare, and what to do afterward.
Hurricane Hacks #1: Tips as a Driver
While many tips are specific to hurricanes, there are tips that apply to all types of natural disasters. Here are some things to keep in mind.
If You’re Driving When a Natural Disaster Strikes
Some natural disasters hit without warning or hit an area they were not projected to strike. Unfortunately, one of the worst places to be during a disaster is inside a car, as 1.3 million of the 5.8 million accidents that occur in the U.S. each year are connected to weather. That said, there are going to be times when you get caught unexpectedly in a storm or earthquake. Here are some tips to help you stay as safe as possible if that happens.
- If you notice flooding, do not drive through it. Flooded roads are often much deeper than they appear, and flood waters can wash away the actual road in moments. Remember, 32% of all flood-related deaths occur in vehicles. It takes just 30 cm of flowing water to move your car.
- If you are caught unexpectedly in your car during an earthquake, try to move to an open area away from trees and buildings. Then, pull over and stay inside your car. Wait at least 15 minutes after the earthquake to ensure the aftershock risk is over.
- Watch for cracks in the pavement and other risks. After an earthquake, tornado, hurricane or other serious storm, heading back out requires precautions. Watch out for cracked pavement, damaged bridges, downed power lines, and other potential risks.
- For high winds and tornadoes, do not stay inside your car. Find shelter as quickly as possible and move far away from your car if you are at risk for a tornado. A ditch or depression in the ground is the best place to hide if you are not near any buildings. Cover your head with your hands and wait.
Driving After a Natural Disaster
If you are driving after a natural disaster is over, you still need to take precautions. These events are called “disasters” for a good reason, and you need to understand that there are still many risks that you face on the roads, even after a natural disaster is over. Here are some tips to help you stay safe.
- Know the road risks and watch out for them. Slippery wet roads, crumbling infrastructure, washouts and more are all possible after a natural disaster. Know the risks specific to the type of disaster your area faced, and watch out for them.
- Always follow posted signs. If there are temporary signs warning you of a danger ahead on the road, follow the instructions. Do not assume that because you are a good driver or have a powerful truck or SUV, you will be fine. If the authorities are warning about dangerous conditions, take note.
- Keep your gas tank full. After a natural disaster, finding gasoline is not always easy. Gas stations may be damaged or closed. Try to find a source of gas, then keep your gas tank at least ½ full at all times. You don’t want to end up stranded because you ran out of gas.
- Prepare for traffic jams. Once a disaster has ended, people are going to need to get out of the area, and this can cause a significant amount of traffic on the road. Be cautious as you head out into traffic, and be prepared for your trip to take much longer than normal.
- Bring food in the car with you. If you are stuck on the road for hours, you may need food and water. Pack some before you head out.
- Before heading out, check your car for damage. If it was submerged in water or otherwise damaged in the disaster, take care of the damage before you start driving if at all possible. It takes just a cup full of water in the wrong place to create significant damage to your car’s engine.
- Remember that other drivers are stressed too. After a natural disaster, people are scared and stressed. They may drive erratically and fail to follow traffic rules. Be prepared for this.
- Watch out for drunk drivers. Sadly, natural disasters cause an increase in substance abuse problems, and this can lead to more drunk drivers on the road.
- Always use your seat belt and properly place children in safety seats. Should an unexpected hazard come your way, your seat belt could save your life. The CDC estimates that over 3,000 lives could be saved every year if people used seat belts properly.
- Recognize that traffic lights and traffic signs may be gone or damaged. Practice safe driving even without signs, such as treating intersections as a four-way stop if the traffic light is out.
- Watch for trash. Trash in the roadway or falling from vehicles that are hauling out debris from the disaster zone is another risk to watch for.
- Stop when you need rest. Natural disasters are exhausting. Take the time to rest, even if it just means pulling to the side of the road for a quick nap, especially when you are exhausted.
- Put paper maps in the car. If your GPS doesn’t work properly and your planned route is impassable, you need a paper map to ensure you can get to your destination.
Pack an Emergency Supply Kit
Finally, before you head out after a natural disaster, make sure you have the supplies you need. Here are some tips for packing an emergency supply bag.
- Pack food and medication. You may take longer to get to your destination than you think, and restaurants or stores may not be open after a disaster, so pack what you need. Make sure you have enough for your family up to 72 hours
- Add some flares. If you have a breakdown along the way, make sure you have a way to tell other motorists of your problem so they can watch out for you.
- Take your most important documents. Social security cards, credit card information and passports should not be left behind. Take these with you when you head out after a disaster.
- Have a stocked first aid kit. If you or one of your family members are injured, having a first aid kit will be important.
- Pack some basic car repair tools. If your car has a problem, there aren’t going to be emergency professionals available to help you. You need to know that you can change a flat or replace a headlight bulb on your own, so pack the tools you might need.
- Toss in a blanket. Even if the weather is warm, you may be stranded overnight. Make sure you have a blanket, just in case.
- Include a flashlight. Flashlights are essential when power outages are likely, so stash one in your emergency supply bag. Don’t forget the extra batteries.
- Toss in a rain poncho. No need to get soaked if you need to step out of the vehicle to deal with something. In a storm, it will likely be raining.
The following resources have more information about driving after a natural disaster:
- Popular Mechanics: Ultimate Disaster Preparedness Kit for Your Car
- TripSavvy: What to Do if You’re Driving When a Tornado Forms
- Queensland Government: Road Repairs in Natural Disasters
- My Drivers Licenses: How to Protect Your vehicle from Natural Disasters
For more information: https://www.thezebra.com/insurance-news/5685/hurricane-hacks-natural-disaster/