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Hurricane 2018: Heed Irma's lessons to protect your stuff

Justin Lyons' mom's belongings are piled on top of a dresser in their Valrico house which was flooded following Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Lyons lives near the Alafia River and had to evacuate his home in the middle of the night as the waters rose. Lyons has been staying at the house because he doesn't want his family's remaining belongings to be stolen. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published May 11, 2018

The headline said WE GOT LUCKY. But homeowners dealing with Hurricane Irma's aftermath — broken windows, flooded garages, damaged boats — know that luck wasn't so simple.

And Irma was just a Category 1 storm.

So when forecasters and experts urge Floridians to prepare for hurricane season this year, they're hoping Irma's blow served as a warning to take their admonitions seriously. Theirs is a tough battle, trying to get complacent Floridians and rookie transplants to heed their warnings, especially after a near-century in the Tampa Bay region without a direct hit.

But this year, with academics projecting another active hurricane season, and with all of Irma's damage in the rearview, listen up.

All of your belongings — those irreplaceable baby photos, your birth certificate, your French doors and your boat — all of them are at stake in a hurricane. And when a storm is barrelling toward Tampa Bay, the time to protect them was yesterday.

2018 TAMPA BAY TIMES HURRICANE GUIDE: FIVE LESSONS FROM IRMA

CHARLIE FRAGO: How to (barely) survive a week without power

COLLEEN WRIGHT: I took shelter from Irma. Here's what I learned.

WAVENEY ANN MOORE: How I took care of my mother during Irma

MOLLY MOORHEAD: How to hunker down when you're not evacuating

CAITLIN JOHNSTON: Evacuating? Drive tens of miles — not hundreds

Here are some specifics to guide you through the critical process of keeping your property, your boat and your belongings safe this hurricane season:

Protect your home

• Act fast: Everybody else has the same idea. Get to the hardware store early in the season to buy storm supplies.

• If you don't have wind-resistant or hurricane-safe windows, look for plywood, ideally at least ? of an inch thick. Don't drill it directly into the frame, as that lets water inside. Instead, apply bolts, nails or screws to concrete or wood about 6 inches.

• Don't bother taping your windows. Experts say it doesn't keep them from breaking (still, it may make cleanup easier).

• Need to brace your garage door? Find a kit from a home-improvement store. Experts recommend using wooden 2x4s to brace the door horizontally and vertically.

• Reinforce vulnerable French doors and double doors. Add extra locks or slide bolts, and pay particular attention to doors that swing inward.

• Give your roof and eaves a close look for missing shingles and weak spots, as a storm will likely accelerate any damage. Same goes for broken trusses or beams. Clear out your gutters. Make repairs now.

• Secure loose lawn items, lest hurricane-force winds turn badminton rackets and lawn gnomes into window-shattering missiles. Don't put your home (and your neighbors' homes) at risk.

• Inside, close doors between rooms. This cuts down on the wind pushing through the house.

Protect your documents

• Make a list of your important documents, then print copies of each one. In the aftermath of a storm, you don't want to be frantically searching for the papers that prove your identity and verify what you own. That means insurance policies, car titles, important receipts, passports, Medicare cards, appraisal documents, birth certificates, Social Security cards and more.

• If you're evacuating, take photos of your home and belongings beforehand. Print them out.

• You can also make electronic scans, which the IRS accepts, and save them on an external hard drive or on the cloud through services such as Dropbox and Google Drive.

• Sporting goods stores sell watertight bags that can protect your paperwork and photos, and Pelicancases.com stocks airtight, watertight and "crushproof" cases. Some tackle and ammunition boxes with O-ring seals can also keep documents dry.

2018 TIMES HURRICANE GUIDE: GET READY FOR STORM SEASON:

Forecasters predict an active Atlantic storm season

Heed Irma's lessons to protect your stuff

Gear up to gut it out. Prepare your kit now.

Don't wait for the storm to protect your pets

Protect your boat

• Most importantly, try to move your boat inland far in advance of a storm. Look for dry storage in a marina or garage.

• If you're short on time, take your boat up a creek or river to lessen the effects of storm surge, which raises the water level and can break deck lines. Operate cautiously, and know that drawbridges can lock down hours before gale-force winds begin.

• Leaving your boat tied up at the marina invites risk, but you can minimize the damage. Ensure your deck lines are strong. Extra-long "spring" lines help during major tidal fluctuations. Remove valuables, disconnect electronics and put away loose items, such as sails.

• After the storm, remember that buoys and channel markers may have shifted. Drive your boat slowly, as if you're in a no-wake zone, and keep a close watch for debris and other dangers.

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