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Deadly Hurricane Ian – downgraded to a tropical storm on Thursday as it tracks through Florida – slammed into the state’s southwest coast on Wednesday, destroying homes and knocking out power to millions.
As emergency crews scramble to help those still trapped in their homes, more than 2.5 million homes and businesses were without power early Thursday. Ian is expected to bring strong winds and heavy rain to parts of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas in the coming days, the National Hurricane Center said.
“It will be a life-changing event for Ian. This is a very powerful and catastrophic storm that will cause significant damage,” said Eric Silagy, CEO of Florida Power & Light.
If you’re without power during a hurricane, here’s what you can do to stay safe.
It’s important to make sure appliances are unplugged to prevent damage or injury from power surges, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
FEMA recommends keeping freezers and refrigerators closed to help maintain cooler temperatures for food preservation.
For good measure, turn off the main switch in your home and do not use any device that is wet.
Generators should only be used outdoors and placed no more than 20 feet from doors and windows, even when closed.
The devices emit carbon monoxide, which is a poisonous gas that can be fatal.
“(Carbon monoxide) is an odorless and colorless gas that kills without warning. It claims hundreds of lives and sickens thousands more every year,” says the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC also recommends placing battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors near sleeping areas.
Food damaged by floods should not be consumed and should be thrown away, authorities advise.
According to FEMA, refrigerated foods that reach at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit should be discarded.
If you have medications that require refrigeration, find out how long they can last without it before the safety expires.
Avoid candles during a blackout if possible. If you must use them, keep them away from flammable materials and do not leave them unattended, the CDC says. Make sure a fire extinguisher is available and that those around you know how to use it.
Although it may be unavoidable when dangerous flooding occurs, stay out of flood waters as much as possible.
Flooding can lead to the risk of drowning or being swept away by the intensity of the flow and wind. They can hide dangerous downed power lines and can also be chemically harmful because they contain germs, hazardous substances, human and animal waste, the CDC says.
When it’s safe, check in with the people around you to make sure they’re doing well.
People with medical equipment that requires power, such as ventilators, should be taken to areas with unaffected generators or to a friend’s or neighbor’s home.
And remember: the elderly and young children are especially vulnerable to extreme weather.
Don’t leave your pets behind if you evacuate during a power outage and never tie them up outside during extreme weather events. “If you leave your pets behind, they can get lost, injured, or worse,” the CDC says.
Take the proactive step of contacting your local emergency management office to find out if they have opened pet shelters. To find a shelter near you, check the Humane Society website. Be aware that diseases can spread between pets and humans during extreme weather events.
Energy can be split by turning off and unplugging non-essential lights and appliances. Do not use large appliances such as ovens or washing machines if you can avoid them.
Thermostats should be set at 68 degrees because increased demand may cause more or extend outages.