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Evacuating your family before a hurricane? Advice from women who’ve been there

Claire Zulkey wonders when she'll ever get used to the idea that she has two boys. She is the author of two books for young people, An Off Year and Best Frenemies. She and her filmmaker husband live in Evanston, IL. You can find out more...

How to evacuate your family during a hurricane or other disaster — from moms who’ve done it

If quizzed, most of us could probably guess what people should gather up before evacuating their homes due to an impending natural disaster — birth certificates, insurance information, bottled water. (In fact, here is a disaster supply kit reference from Ready.gov, which you should for real check out.)

But as anybody who has ever calmly packed a hospital bag and then frantically had a baby can attest, being theoretically ready then actually going through the "this is not a drill" experience are two different things.

If you’re preparing to evacuate due to Hurricane Matthew or you live in a part of the country where evacuations are a real threat due to storms or fires, here is some advice for evacuating your family from people who have been there.

Cursha L., evacuated her Savannah home due to Hurricane Matthew

"I let my kids pick their favorite backpack or cinch sack and put whatever they wanted to in it. They seemed extremely happy about this. Ownership is important to kiddos when times are uncertain."

More: Kids helping Fort McMurray evacuees are a shining example

Juli M., evacuated her California home due to a forest fire

I [stayed] in touch with the schools to see if they were closing. I work 45 miles away from my house, so I called in for a couple of days while it was going on and just said I wasn't coming in. We gathered a big bag of important papers, everyone packed a small overnight bag (me + 3 kids), I got [the pets ready], I made sure I had some cash and I filled the car’s gas tank.”

Petra G., evacuated in 2005 from Hurricane Rita

“We carried cash, food, snacks, first aid kit, flashlights and water because most stores were either sold out completely or already closed up. If you have advance notice make sure you book a room, connect with family for a place to stay or pray you find some form of shelter.”

Brooke D.B., whose mother evacuated her Florida home due to Hurricane Matthew

“[My newly-widowed mother had to evacuate our family home]. I advised her to take pictures of every room in the house, both for insurance purposes and for her own memories, as well as pictures of various antiques and paintings over a certain value as further insurance documentation. She talked about how this is the kind of situation where it feels critical to have two adults on hand to think of things the other forgot and to bounce ideas off of each other.” 

Stephanie B., evacuated her Nashville home due to 2010 floods

“I would have taken the warning seriously and packed more stuff — focusing on things you can't replace like photos, high school yearbooks, that box full of letters and cards that we all keep stored somewhere and forget about. Furniture and clothing can be replaced — those things can't.”

Donna B., evacuated for Hurricane Katrina

“We have a go box that includes not only the essentials for the family but items for the kids: most recent LEAP test scores, immunization records, birth certificates and social security cards. When we evacuated for Katrina, we enrolled our oldest in school in another state — the process is much smoother if you have all of these items. My son was able to enroll and begin classes that same day.”

Leslie C., who has had to evacuate her New Orleans home several times, including for Hurricane Katrina

“Don’t panic. Take five to 10 minutes for planning. Make a list.

"Choose a staging area (likely near the front door) where belongings can be gathered. Tell your children you are going on a family road trip adventure. Incentivize: There will be treats in the car if they behave. If children are of an age that they can be helpful, assign duties such as 'choose three stuffed animals, five books and two games.' If children are of an age that they are unhelpful, this is the time to use pack-n-plays and iPads — whatever works."

More: Preparing for a hurricane: The most important things you need to do

"Gather sturdy containers — suitcases, bags, plastic bins — it is all about consolidating and transporting. Go room by room — bedroom for clothes, bathroom for toiletries, kitchen for snacks. Avoid aimlessly wandering or frantically running around the house. Don’t forget the power cords. Blanket and pillow for each kid. Paper towels, Ziploc bags, garbage bags, baby wipes, hand sanitizer — the car, and life, will get messy. Snacks. If you have room for a cooler with ice, go for it. If you have pets: bowls, food, treats, leash, carrier, litter box, toys. Before you leave, make a final, purposeful walk around the house.” 

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