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What to do when a cyclone hits?

What precautions must you take before a cyclone hits? How to keep your home and your family safe during a cyclone? How to prevent rain water from entering the house during a storm/cyclone? I share tips on staying safe during a cyclone, based on personal experience.

Having spent many years living in the cyclone prone regions of India I have first-hand experience witnessing nature's fury and the problems that it brings. We lived in the port city of Visakhapatnam for eight long years and grew accustomed to cyclones. Our preparedness, each time, for imminent cyclones, prevented inconveniences that are common during natural calamities. After years of living with cyclones, we 'successfully' braced through 'Cyclone Vardha' that hit Chennai in December 2016.

This article has tips on things that you can do to ensure that you and your dear ones and your belongings remain safe when a cyclone hits.

The good thing about cyclones is that they fore warn you. So, make the most of the time you have before the storm actually hits, because once the weather gets rough, getting out of the house or securing things within the house would be difficult. People miss stocking things like baby food or milk and then run around in panic when the cyclone hits.

Securing your home

There is no absolute way of keeping your home safe, during a cyclone, because the might of the storm can, within seconds, tear down barricades that you put up. Nonetheless, you cannot just let your house bear the brunt of the storm and therefore you must attempt to secure things to keep the strong winds and the water out.

Here is what you can do –

  • The window AC that keeps you cool during the hot summer months can also be instrumental in flooding your home. Strong winds that accompany cyclonic storms can drive the rain through the exposed panels on the outside. If you have easy access to the unit, on the outside, I suggest you cover it in plastic and tie it firmly, with a twine. Otherwise, seal the unit from the inside, the best you can. Even little crevices can let huge amounts of water into the house, because of the force of the wind and the amount of rain pouring down. Use cloth and plastic to seal whatever you can
  • Modern apartments have sliding windows, which trap water in the sliding panels, which in turn gets pushed into the room, during storms. There is not much that can be done to avoid this other than placing pieces of cloth that soak up the water – but this becomes quite ineffective when you are facing a cyclone. It is best to remove furniture away from such windows, so you can easily move the water that comes in, without hindrance. Windows with shutters, on the other hand, are a little easier to secure. Place plastic sheets on the window shutters before you shut them so that there is no gap on the top, the bottom and between the shutters. Let the plastic sheets overlap each other such that they act as a sealant. Push the bolts in place and tie the handles on the shutters together, using old shoe laces or a dupatta. Stuff plastic sheets in any gaps that you might find
  • The balcony can get flooded, despite being connected to a drainage system and the water eventually finds its way into the house. I use a hose to drain out the water from the balcony. I leave one end on the balcony floor and tie it to a rock so it doesn't get blown away and tie the other end to the railing and drop it outside. When the balcony begins to flood the water gets syphoned and drains out over the balcony. If the balcony dado is too high you will need to initiate the syphoning by sucking at the end hanging over the balcony
  • Stuff plastic sheets between the balcony door and the floor, to prevent the water ingress. Also, use old bed sheets to create a bund
  • Ensure that the holes where the gas & condensation pipes of your split AC unit pass are blocked. I use rolled up plastic sheets to seal the holes
  • The exhaust fan vent flaps get battered in a cyclone and often get blown away, allowing streams of water to pour into the house. I learned it the hard way when I had water pouring in because the exhaust vent flaps and the blades blew away. The water, of course, went down the bathroom drain, but then we had privacy problems because the flaps had gone missing. So, the next time there was cyclone I used twine to hold the flaps in place
  • Shoring the balcony door or the main door is important, especially if it is designed like a folding French window. Use pieces of cloth or rope to hold the door panels together. You will need to connect the grills on each door panel with cloth/rope. Some people suggest using a wooden plank to secure the doors, but the force of the wind can tear apart the piece of wood. I prefer cloth

Precautions for ground floor houses during a cyclone

If you have an independent house or live on the ground floor the chances of the area around your house getting flooded are high. In such a case the likelihood of the water entering your residence is also high. Here are some precautions that you can take –

  • Make the heavy furniture such as beds, dining table and sofa stand on bricks or concrete blocks. You will need some help to do this, but doing so will prevent the furniture getting wet and ruined
  • Do the same with the refrigerator and washing machine
  • Clear the floor of all loose items
  • Use cement bags to prevent water entering the front/back door and the main gate
  • If you have a problem of sewage spewing into the house through the toilet then you need a permanent solution, because if it happens once, it will happen again. The solution is to break down the toilet and have a new one built, ensuring that it is set on a higher platform. The new toilet should be at an elevation from the ground level. This will stop the sewage from regurgitating into the house
  • Trees around the house should be pruned. A tree with a full canopy is more susceptible to catch the wind and being uprooted, falling and damaging your property. Even if that doesn't take place there is always the probability of damaged and dead limbs falling on your property, causing damage

Stocking up

You could be marooned for days depending on the intensity of the storm. This means that if you haven't stocked up emergency supplies you would find it difficult to procure basic necessities. Cyclones always lead to the disruption of power supply. We had no backup power supply when we were in Vizag, so here is what I used to do. The following tips will also help if you have emergency power backup, but no access to fresh groceries.

Twenty-four hours prior to the cyclone I would set the thermostat in the freezer section, of my refrigerator, to coolest. I would stock half-litre milk packets, chopped veggies in zip lock bags and portions of chicken/fish etc. in the freezer, ensuring that they were frozen, before the power went off. The freezer would be packed chock-a-block. I also knew what was kept where, so when I opened the freezer to retrieve something I didn't allow excess warm air to infiltrate.

Unseen to the eyes, the freezer set on coolest notch gets a thick layer of ice on all sides. Further, since the items in the freezer are frozen the food stays good for a couple of days, as the temperature inside is maintained, by which time the power supply would generally be restored. You don't have to bother about wading through water to get your groceries because you have everything you need in the freezer compartment. Make sure you open the fridge only when necessary, and get out all that you need at one go.

Note that you will need to thaw frozen milk completely before boiling, as it tends to burn if a frozen chunk is heated.

Alternately, you can stock milk powder. I also stocked onions, potatoes, tomatoes, eggs among other things. I always kept extra rice, pulses, flour, oil, LPG cylinder etc.

Candles and mosquito repellent must be on your list of things that you stock, as also personal hygiene items, especially for ladies.

Since power outages can occur and you might run out of fuel to run the generator you might face a water crisis. I suggest that you use water sparingly –

  • Switch to using disposable plates instead of having to wash plates after every use
  • Store water in whatever you can for bathroom and kitchen use
  • Storing drinking water is crucial – because your water purifier won't work if there is no power

Keep vehicles safe

If you live in an apartment complex that has basement parking or if the street and/or parking area near your house has water logging problem during rains, it is best that you remove your vehicle to an area that offers better protection. Flood waters can cause immense damage to vehicles and you will have to shell out a pretty sum to get the damage fixed, despite the insurance cover. So, in your best interest move your vehicle to a higher ground, where water does not collect.

Medical emergencies

There are certain medical conditions that you can treat yourself. I am referring to mild fever, cough & cold, aches & pains etc. I suffer from allergies and often get bouts of allergy, which if left unattended can trigger an asthmatic attack. Hence, I always keep/kept medication that I could use as SOS, despite the hospital and the MI Room being just a hop away, from where I lived.

Make a list of basic medicines that you need. This is important if you have children and the aged living with you. Consult your doctor and keep a stock at home – replenish the medicines when the date expires. A lot of emergencies can be avoided if the problem is addressed in its early stages.

Pregnant women close to their due date and the aged and the sick, who might need medical attention, must be shifted to safer locations, before the cyclone hits. Alternatively, keep the contact details of doctors in your vicinity, so you can approach them in case of an emergency.

Final tips

  • Buy a couple of squeegees – they are those floor wipers, with a rubber blade. They can come in handy to remove water, work better than conventional coconut brooms. In case you have rain water coming into the house you can quickly divert its flow using the squeegee
  • Put cello tape on plug points located in the balcony/veranda to prevent water getting into them
  • Shift potted plants indoors, as the lashing rain and the wind will damage them
  • Always have ready cash on hand to meet emergencies. With power down, the ATMs and swiping machines go down as well

And finally, don't fortify your home completely for that could spell disaster. Water will come in only through doors and windows that the storm rams into. Keep open, a window or door on the opposite end, not facing the brunt of the storm. This helps to equalize the air pressure, within the house to the pressure outside and prevent the secure doors and windows from being blown away.

Though there is some research that says otherwise, I have experienced cyclonic winds throw open bolted doors, when the house was completely 'fortified'. I later survived many cyclonic storms by keeping open the main door of my apartment, which opened into a sheltered corridor.

Article by Juana
Juana is a freelance writer, with years of experience, creating content for varied online portals. She holds a degree in English Literature and has worked as a teacher and as a soft skill trainer. An avid reader, she writes on a variety of topics ranging from health, travel, education and personality development.

Follow Juana or read 609 articles authored by Juana

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