As someone who lost everything in Hurricane Hugo in 1989, here’s what I learned (the hard way) about what to pack when you evacuate.
You can buy new clothes, shoes, furniture and household goods if a disaster strikes. But you can’t replace …
1) Your pets. If there’s a mass evacuation, hotels will take them. (Unfortunately, we didn’t know that.)
2) Photos, photo files, photo albums, mementos, videotapes, etc. — that capture important milestones and memories.
Storing photo files “in the cloud” or at a location outside your house right now is a good first step to saving what really matters in an emergency. I pay a mere $5 a month to have all my computer files duplicated and stored via Backblaze — and many other companies provide the same service.
If you’re like me, you probably have CDs with photo files on them, as well as printed photos and “old school” photo albums or scrapbooks. If those items aren’t scanned and backed up outside your home, those — plus videotapes and priceless mementos (the Family Bible, etc.) — are the important things to take with you if you have to evacuate.
3) Homeowner or renter’s insurance policies and other important legal documents and bank account information that you might need to get aid after the event. Make a list now of paperwork that would be hard — or impossible — and time-consuming to replace.
4) Each child’s favorite toy or stuffed animal.
5) Essential prescription medicines.
6) Your favorite item of clothing or most treasured memento.
#6 is on the list because I still – 25 years later — regret not packing this! At the time we evacuated, I had a blue denim jumper that I wore often and loved. It was casual and cute – and fit my life as a stay-at-home mom. But in my resolve to be practical and focus on packing things for my toddler, I took only a few sets of shorts and tops and nothing “frivolous” for myself (including makeup).
When we finally got to come back to what was left of the house six weeks after the hurricane, I was limited to packing remaining belongings in a single Hefty bag (since we had to travel to the island by communal boat, and that was the rule). Had my jumper not blow or washed away(! ), I wouldn’t have put wet clothes on top of the insurance policies and other paperwork I took from the file cabinet then, anyway.
How I yearned to put on that familiar, comfortable “mom” outfit for years after the hurricane! Just like you’d pack a few items to bring relief to your child, you should also pack something to give yourself comfort, too.
Make an evacuation packing list today and keep it someplace handy for quick reference. And I hope you never have to use it!
BIG TIP: Also, if it looks like a hurricane (or something fairly predictable) is coming your way, pick a spot inland to evacuate and make a motel reservation way ahead, to cover all the nights you might need to stay. You can usually do this without giving a credit card number (and if it’s after 4 p.m. or so, you can call the day of and give a credit card number to keep the rooms.)
You can always cancel the reservation, but if you don’t do it ahead and everyone else does, you may have to drive hours further away to find a hotel room. (I know this from sad experience…)