They Had Minutes to Pack and Flee Before the Flood

8/31/2020

When the voluntary evacuation order was issued before Hurricane Harvey, Liana George and her husband discussed their options before deciding to ride out the storm in their home 20 miles southwest of Houston.

When the voluntary evacuation order was issued before Hurricane Harvey, Liana George and her husband discussed their options before deciding to ride out the storm in their home 20 miles southwest of Houston.

“There wasn’t any flooding around our house,” George says. “As long as we had the supplies we needed, we assumed we’d be fine at home during the storm.”

The couple drove to a local grocery store for supplies and found a line “about a mile long” out the door, which George says only confirmed their choice — it appeared plenty of other residents decided to stay, too. But after filling a cart, she recalls the sudden, uneasy feeling she experienced at the checkout. “I turned around and there was nobody in line behind me. It was a ghost town.”

A mandatory evacuation order had been issued.

When there's no time to lose

After racing home from the grocery store, the Georges had less than an hour to grab essentials and get out of the house. By the time they drove away, the water was so deep, they were forced to drive to higher ground on the wrong side of the road.

“We’d had so many false alarms, we were lax about preparing for this one,” George says. “I only had time to pack a few sets of clothes, medicine, important documents and things I would need to run my business.”

“You always think, ‘It won’t happen to me, it won’t happen to my house,’” says Julie Rochman, president and CEO of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. “Everybody says it.”

When you have less than 24 hours to prepare for an emergency evacuation, experts and survivors say these steps may help reduce damage to your home and help you evacuate with the essentials.

Find these documents first.

George knew to grab important papers first, and that helped her file insurance claims and get disaster relief quickly. “There was so much confusion about getting help with hotels and food during displacement and which insurance, if any, would cover those expenses. Having the right documents in hand was a lifesaver.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends storing copies of vital paperwork in a watertight, fireproof box that’s easy to grab on the run. Consider storing paper originals or digital copies on an encrypted USB thumb drive in an off-site safety deposit box.

Vital records are records you may need within 24 hours of evacuating to file claims or receive disaster assistance. If you evacuate without these records or they’re lost in a flood, it can take a week or more to request and receive records. You may also pay processing fees for duplicates — from $5 to $20 per record, or more if you need to expedite the request.

  • Driver license
  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage record or divorce certificate
  • Adoption paperwork
  • Social Security card and Passport

Important documents aren’t considered “vital,” but F E M A recommends evacuating with these records to keep them safe and help the claims and disaster relief process.

  • Insurance (homeowners, renters, flood, auto, health)
  • Property records
  • Medical information (immunizations, prescriptions, living will)Estate planning documents
  • Financial records (page 1 and 2 of most recent tax returns, stock and bond certificates, investment records, brokerage/retirement account information, credit card and banking account numbers)

To read more, visit farmers.com.