How to prepare for and stay safe during a power outage
Hurricane Ian has left large swaths of Florida underwater and in darkness, with some 2.6 million homes and businesses out of power as of midday Thursday.
Three-fourths of those outages are concentrated across the seven counties closest to where the storm came ashore, with the hardest-hit coastal counties of Lee and Charlotte "basically off the grid at this point," as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis put it at a morning briefing. About 90% of the region is without power. (Read below for tips on staying safe when the power goes out — and for using portable generators safely.)
He said that while crews are ready to begin evaluations and repairs, the extent of the damage in those counties, among other areas, will require significant rebuilding that could take weeks or longer.
And as parts of Florida embark on what could be a long road to recovery, its northern neighbors are still bracing for impact. Forecasters say the tropical storm could regain hurricane intensity as it moves toward coastal South Carolina, where it's expected to make a second U.S. landfall on Friday.
The National Hurricane Center put the state's entire coastline under a hurricane warning on Thursday morning, advising that all "preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion."
Fortunately, there are things you can do to prepare for a power outage. FEMA recommends the following tips:
After the storm passes you'll probably want to haul out your portable generator, if you have one.
But don't do so before reading up on safety tips — using them improperly can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be fatal after just a few minutes (and kills some 85 people each year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC).
In fact, after Hurricane Laura struck Louisiana in 2020, data revealed that more people died from carbon monoxide poisoning than the storm itself.
And the same was true after Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in the Florida Keys in 2017 — according to CDC data, there were 11 directly hurricane-related deaths compared to 16 deaths from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.
Here's what you should and shouldn't do when it comes to operating a portable generator safely, according to the CPSC:
And, if you're going to be buying or replacing a portable generator anytime soon, look for one with a carbon monoxide shut-off safety feature. They're designed to turn off automatically when high levels of CO are present.
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