Hurricane tracking can sometimes be unpredictable, so it’s important to prepare for the worst whenever there’s a hurricane anywhere in the western Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico.

1. Protect the windows

The best way to protect your home is with hurricane-resistant windows. However, they can be expensive. Most people are left with two more economical solutions: hurricane shutters or plywood.

For those who can afford them, hurricane shutters are the way to go because they are easy to deploy once installed. Just know that not all shutters are created equal and you generally get what you pay for. Thinner gauge aluminium shutters will not perform as well as those that are thicker when tested by a major hurricane.

People who live close to the sea, or at higher elevations where hurricane winds are stronger, should strongly consider the heavier-gauge shutters.

Putting plywood over windows will also work. It’s best to buy plywood in advance and store it in a dry place. Make sure to use proper screws – and have the right amount of them – to anchor the plywood to the side of your home.

2. Protect your structure

Hurricane straps on the rafter system are a vital protection for roof structures.

Homeowners with houses that don’t have them should see about getting them retrofitted.

Before the storm, residents should clean their outside yard of anything lying loose that could become a projectile during a storm, and knock down coconuts hanging from nearby trees.

Double doors should be shored up with a brace to prevent the wind from blowing them in. Deadbolt single outer doors or use other methods – such as the old chair under the doorknob trick – to increase their strength.

3. Seal windows and doors tightly

Storm surge is a very real threat during a hurricane. If there are any openings in a home, water will find a way through. Seal gaps in doors – especially near the bottom – with either silicone caulking or duct tape, or a combination of both. If possible, seal all doors from the outside.

Put duct tape over outside electrical outlets and dryer vents. If practical, put duct tape over eave vents to prevent wind-blown rain from entering through the eave vents and damaging attic spaces and interior ceilings.

Flooded septic tanks can cause toilets and sinks, especially on the ground floor, to back up and flood apartments. Turn off the water to your toilet, flush it and then bail out any remaining water. Then put a sandbag, or two, over the drain hole to prevent sewage and storm surge from back-flowing into the home.

4. Protect your belongings

Put valuable possessions up high, on top of cabinets, closet shelves and other permanent structures. Even in homes flooded by several feet of storm surge during Hurricane Ivan, items placed high generally survived, as long as the roof stayed on.

Those who live in a home that has more than one storey, should consider taking valuable furniture and belongings upstairs for a hurricane. Another option is to raise downstairs furniture off the floor using cement blocks.

Cover items like beds, artwork, electronics, and other things that can be damaged by water, with plastic.

Keep important documents like passports, birth and marriage certificates, and other legal documents in a sealed plastic bag so that you can take them if you must evacuate your home on short notice.

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