In September 2017, Hurricane María isolated Rincoeños from the rest of the island when its torrential rains swelled Río Culebrinas, north of town, and Río Grande de Añasco, to the south, beyond their riverbanks. Floods, landslides, fallen trees and concrete poles crushed any chance for outside help to drive into town for days after the devastating storm.
Learning from this experience, the director of Rincón’s Municipal Office of Emergency Management Hector Martínez says Rincoeños should take the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice and plan to survive for at least two weeks without government help. That means storing enough supplies for every member of your household, including pets, to survive on your own. At a glance, it looks like a daunting task, but, here’s a handy guide to help you prepare for hurricane season 2019.
Stock Up on Food and Potable Water
It is smart, not pessimistic, to assume that Rincón will lose power and water services before the worst part of the storm begins, so you better stock up on canned food with a long shelf-life.
What you buy is up to your budget and dietary restrictions, but pay attention to nutritional values, especially calories and servings per container, which will help you calculate how much food you need to store. Do the same for every member of your family.
For example, a 25-year-old moderately active male would need about 2,400 calories per day, according the Dietary Guidelines of the US Department of Health and Human Services. If possible, the CDC suggests avoiding salty and spicy foods as they increase the need for hydration, which brings us to the next important resource on the list: Water.
The CDC recommends storing at least one gallon of potable water per person per day, but, in warmer climates like Puerto Rico’s, Martínez advises to increase that number to two or three, which should be enough for drinking, brushing your teeth and washing your dishes every day.
Unopened, commercially-bottled water is the safest emergency water supply, according to the CDC, but if your budget is tight or stores run out of bottled water, like it happened in 2017, you can fill sturdy plastic containers (preferably food-grade) following these steps:
1. Wash container with dishwashing soap and rinse completely with clean water
2. Sanitize container by adding a solution made by mixing one teaspoon of unscented liquid household chlorine bleach in four cups of water
3. Cover container and shake well so that the sanitizing solution touches all inside surfaces
4. Wait at least 30 seconds and pour the solution out of the container
5. Let the empty sanitized container air-dry before filling it with tap water
6. Seal the container hermetically and label it with today’s date
7. Store in a cool place, away from direct sunlight and toxics like gasoline and pesticides
8. Replace non commercially bottled water every six months
If a prolonged water outage ensues after the storm, once the roads have been cleared, the municipality will roll out newly-acquired water trucks to deliver potable water to all barrios in Rincón and will also set up several water oasis around town.
Rincoeños can either fill their water cisterns and containers once the truck rolls through their community, or they can drive to the closest oasis. Martínez and his team will make the schedules available when emergency protocols are in effect due to an incoming storm.
Do It Yourself Rainwater Collector
If you want to take your water reserves to the next level and don’t have the budget to install a water cistern on your roof, you can try making a 55-gallon DIY version yourself for about $65.
Plenitud Puerto Rico, a non-profit educational farm in Las Marías that helps individuals and communities develop their own sustainable solutions, recently ran taught islanders in Añasco how to passively collect rainwater.
In this video, Plenitud’s executive director Owen Ingley explains the materials and tools needed to build a DIY rainwater collection system out of a sturdy plastic container.
The metal or fiberglass mesh on top prevents all sorts of debris, including mosquitoes, to contaminate the water, while letting liquids sip right through. Although this water is not safe for human consumption, you can make it potable with a water filter like Sawyer’s for an additional cost. Otherwise, you can use this water to for your non-sanitary needs like flushing toilets, doing laundry, and watering plants.
A Rinconvenient Truth shopped around and found that the 55-gallon drum is the hardest to pin down. If you don’t have the tools or the experience, ask for help at your local hardware store or head over to Empresas Desardén on PR-342 in Mayagüez, where A Rinconvenient Truth found all materials and the owner was willing to help out with the cutouts.
Ask your doctor and pharmacist about early refills
In the aftermath of a hurricane, it might be difficult to access drug stores, so, before the hurricane makes landfall, ask your doctor and pharmacist about getting early refills for your vital medications.
Once you have them, make sure to put them in a water-tight container to avoid contamination in case of a flood. If they require cold-storage, keep them in the refrigerator along several icepacks before moving both items to a portable cooler if the power goes out.
Keep a detailed list of all your medications and their doses, in case someone else needs to help you administer them. Pack your medical devices, such as nebulizers and blood sugar monitors, and medical supplies like syringes and blood test strips, in case you need to evacuate your home.
Accessing health services might be difficult too, so having a first aid kit and instructions at hand to attend to minor injuries is a good idea. The Red Cross recommends including the following items in your kit for every four people in your family:
2 absorbent compress dressings
25 adhesive bandages in assorted sizes
5 antibiotic ointment packets
5 antiseptic wipe packets
2 packets of aspirin (81 mg each)
1 instant cold compress
2 pair of non-latex gloves
2 hydrocortisone ointment packets
1 roller bandage (4in. wide)
10 sterile gauze pads
Having covered your needs for food, water and medication for two weeks, remember to do the same for your service animals or pets. If you need help figuring out what they need, use this checklist.
Low-Tech solution for short-distance communication
If you were to lose phone service during a storm or thereafter, keeping in touch with your friends and family across town might be difficult, but there are low-tech solutions to this problem, according to OMME’s Director Hector Martínez.
One of them is the General mobile Radio Service (GMRS), which is a licensed radio service that uses radio frequencies (462 and 467 MHz) for short-distance (radius of 5-25 miles) two-way voice communications using hand-held radios (walkie-talkies), mobile radios and repeater systems.
To operate GMRS, you’ll need, at least two walkie-talkies, but may add one for every member of your family. Besides the equipment, you’ll need to pay the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates the service, an $85 fee for a 10-year license to use the frequencies.
Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS), the Family Radio Service (FRS) and the Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) offer similar functionality to GMRS, according to the FCC. Click here to find out more or reach out to Martínez at OMME-Rincón.
Don’t forget these handy items
Besides food, water, and meds, get a flashlight for every member of the family and, at least, one battery-powered radio to learn about the day’s news. If possible, keep two sets of batteries for every one of these electronics.
Hand sanitizer will come in handy before meals, and wet cleaning cloths (like baby wipes) should do a better job than toilet paper in case you are low on clean water. Soap and toothpaste are the bare essentials for good hygiene. Extra tampons or pads will go a long way for female hygiene, while diapers will do the same for infants and incontinent or bedridden adults.
Pack enough supplies for three days on the road
If your house flash floods, you won’t have enough time to pack everything in the last moment before you need to evacuate and head to a shelter.
Instead, before the storm hits, pack enough warm, comfortable clothing, non-perishable food and drinking water that can tie you in for at least 72 hours without outside help.
Also pack your important documents, all your medication, assorted medical supplies (if not your full kit), extra pair of glasses, hygiene products in small containers, a flashlight, a small radio with spare batteries, your mobile phone, and any other items that you deem strictly necessary from this list.
If you have children, this would be a great activity to get them involved in the process.
This story is part of the A Rinconvenient Truth’s #HurricaneReady series. If you want to learn more about how to prepare for hurricane season 2019, which officially starts on June 1st, check out other stories in the series by clicking here.