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Tips to stay ahead of a hurricane

Florida's Coast to Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross reminds residents that the Atlantic hurricane season runs through Nov. 30, traditionally peaking in September.

These tips will help you prepare and respond appropriately in the event of a hurricane:

Prepare a disaster supplies kit. Include a battery-powered radio, flashlight, extra batteries, a first aid kit, canned food and can opener, bottled water (at least three gallons of water per day), prescription medications and rainwear. Store food that doesn't require heating and any items you may need for infants, elderly or disabled family members.

Prepare a family communication plan. Designate a friend or relative outside your town or area as your family contact in the event you are separated from family members during a hurricane or if it knocks out your electricity.

Have an evacuation plan. Identify where you could go if told to evacuate. Get a good map and plan various evacuation routes, avoiding low-lying areas. This is especially valuable in the event of flash floods or flooding from tropical storms. Do several test runs of different routes. In the event of a flash flood, remember that you will not be able to evacuate. Instead, immediately seek higher ground. Choose a place for all family members to meet if you are separated. Designate someone outside the area in which you live to act as a point of contact for your family members.

Remove dead or diseased branches and limbs now. Now is the time to cut back and dispose of dead or diseased branches and limbs from trees and tall shrubs so they do not break off and become missiles during high winds. When a storm is approaching, it is too late to do this, because trash pickup services are often not available or are assigned to other storm-preparedness duties.

Prepare window coverings now. Prepare your home for high winds. If you do not have pre-installed hurricane shutters, get outdoor plywood now and cut it to fit every window of your home. Plywood is readily available at reasonable prices now but may not be when a hurricane is announced in the news. Hurricane Andrew taught an important lesson: Homes that had all windows covered survived the storm with little or no damage. Homes that did not cover all the windows often were destroyed. Taping your windows is not recommended. Although it may keep the glass from shattering, the tape will not ensure the windows will not break. Larger pieces of glass could break off and could cause serious injury.

Listen to local authorities and stay alert to broadcasts. If local authorities ask you to leave, do so right away. You will need as much time as possible to evacuate because of higher-than-usual traffic volumes. If you are on a barrier island or live in a mobile home or on a boat, you must evacuate well inland. Listen to NOAA Weather Radio and local television broadcasts for the latest information about the storm. Consult information provided by your local emergency management agency, sometimes published in telephone directories, showing "surge zones" and evacuation areas.

Know the meaning of watch and warning. A hurricane watch means a hurricane is possible in your area. Keep listening to NOAA Weather Radio, local radio or local television for updated information. Hurricanes can change direction and speed, and they can gain strength very quickly. It's important to keep listening for updated information several times a day. A hurricane warning means a hurricane will soon occur in your area. If told to move to a shelter or evacuate the area, do so immediately.

For information on how to prepare your family for hurricanes and other disasters, contact your American Red Cross Florida's Coast to Coast Chapter, 7449 Gulf to Lake Blvd. Units 3 and 4, Crystal River, or call (352) 799-3237.