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Disaster Veteran Offers Tips for Hurricane Safety

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. — If this week's earthquake wasn't enough to set your nerves on edge, Hurricane Irene might be the coup de grace for natural phenomena-related anxiety.

Westport resident and longtime American Red Cross volunteer Mary Ann West takes the threat of a possible hurricane seriously. West, who's been with the Red Cross for 24 years, has helped families stricken by fires, floods and tornadoes and worked with victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. She also volunteered at the Red Cross' community operations centers right after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Shortly thereafter, she became a victim of Hurricane Rita , when the shelter she was overseeing had to be evacuated.

West says she is ready for whatever Irene deals. "You know it's a potential emergency when the American Red Cross is checking your availability in the event a hurricane hits," she says.

If a hurricane is poised to lash our area, West says it's prudent to listen to authorities' warnings – even if it means evacuating your home. "If there is a need to go somewhere safe, know that your town or city short-term shelter is filled with local volunteers, friends and neighbors. You can bring your pets, and although they won't be inside the human shelter, they will be accommodated," she says. Remember to bring your pet's food, crate, bedding and rabies certificate, she adds.

The first step in being safe, says the Red Cross, is knowing the difference between a hurricane watch and warning. During a "watch," hurricane conditions can be a threat within 48 hours. In a "warning," hurricane conditions are expected within 36 hours. Residents in hurricane warning areas need to complete storm preparations and leave the area if directed by authorities.

The Red Cross has some suggestions to make yourself, your family and your home ready for the onslaught. Here are some highlights:

Listen to NOAA weather radio for information from the NWS .

Check your disaster kit or “go bag ” for supplies; replace and restock as needed.

Bring inside any outdoor furniture/toys/equipment that could be moved by strong wind.

Close/board up windows.

Turn refrigerator and freezer to lowest settings and avoid opening doors too frequently.

Fill up car gas tank; turn off propane tanks.

Unplug small appliances (to prevent electric surge burnout).

Create evacuation plan with family members: where will you meet if separated?

Create emergency plans for pets.

Use flashlights – not candles – and check ahead for extra batteries.

Have cash on hand. If there is no power then your ATM card will not work.

Charge every necessary electronic device and have extra chargers in your go bag.

Fill up bathtubs for extra water for flushing toilets.

Make sure you have plenty of drinking water (one gallon per day per person).

Stock up on food that doesn't need cooking, such as cold cuts, salad makings and cereals, and make sure you have plenty of canned foods and boxed milk on hand as well.

Also helpful will be extras of items such as toilet paper, paper plates and plastic utensils, baby food, snacks and hand wipes. And if you have a charcoal grill, stock up on the charcoal for outdoor cooking when storm passes (before power comes back on).

West says residents on the waterfront of Westchester and Fairfield Counties need to be aware that even if Hurricane Irene passes to the east, there is a possibility of a huge storm surge as the water is pushed into the narrowing Long Island Sound by the left-rotating winds.

Take precautions now. Maybe your anxiety level will decrease later, in time for the next natural phenomenon.

Are you ready for Hurricane Irene? Let us know on Facebook and twitter.

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