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Letter: Now’s the time to prepare for hurricane season

Posted 8/4/20

To the editor:

Portsmouth Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) is urging all residents to practice hurricane preparedness as August and September are when hurricanes threaten New England …

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Letter: Now’s the time to prepare for hurricane season

Posted

To the editor:

Portsmouth Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) is urging all residents to practice hurricane preparedness as August and September are when hurricanes threaten New England most. 

All hurricanes, even a Category 1 hurricane with wind speeds between 74 and 95 mph, can cause a tremendous amount of damage to homes, transportation systems, public utilities and other services we rely on. 

The 1938 Category 3 hurricane, arguably the most severe to ever impact Rhode Island in modern history, destroyed or severely damaging most Rhode Island homes located in what are now designated coastal flood zones. In the past, we anticipated Category 3 hurricanes impacting Rhode Island, but with warmer seas, Category 4 and 5 are more probable, with all categories capable of bringing greater-than-ever-before anticipated levels of precipitation like we experienced with supper storm Sandy. Sandy was one of the costliest storms in U.S. history from not only coastal flooding damage, but also from the rain it unloaded causing rivers and streams well inland to flood many communities and roads.

Much of our evacuation planning is centered around coastal flooding and storm surge, as this is where the greatest threat to life exists. However, we must consider the wind in our evacuation plans as well, particularly when we get into the Category 4 and 5 hurricanes. Our local building codes call for wooden framed homes to be constructed to withstand winds of 110 mph, yet a Category 3 hurricane starts at 111 mph. Homeowners should consider both the threats of flooding as well as wind in their protection of property and evacuation planning.

Adding to the increased risk from hurricanes from global warming, COVID-19 increases our vulnerability as well. Many families wait until within hours of a hurricane’s arrival to begin protecting their homes and property, purchase food and supplies, gas up the vehicles, pack to evacuate their family and pets, and gather vital documents that connect them to loved ones and their possessions. Under COVID-19 conditions, anticipate these errands taking much longer due to social distancing lines. Not preparing early is simply foolish.

Our Aquidneck Island emergency sheltering plans are being revised, recognizing we may not have the capacity we had under a non-COVID environment. Social distancing and added personal protection equipment, the possibility of more families needing public sheltering due to limited incomes, the need to provide non-cognitive space for those possibly exposed to COVID, and having volunteers willing to work in public shelters under the threat of COVID-19 are all added shelter planning challenges. 

Local officials do not want to recommend an evacuation unless it is necessary to save lives, but should an evacuation order be given, be ready to go. Every household, even those not in a flood zone, should stay informed, purchase what they need to protect their property, have an evacuation and family communications plan, and confirm their evacuation safe place is available under pandemic conditions. Preparedness information may be found at the town’s website or at www.ready.gov. Portsmouth hurricane brochures are available free at most local gas stations and convenient stores. You may also contact Portsmouth Emergency Manager, Ray Perry, at 401/477-2172 if you have questions. Prepare now.

Ray Perry

Director, Portsmouth Emergency Management Agency

Portsmouth

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