Houses in Bermuda are designed to withstand hurricane force winds, storm surges and most other destructive forces associated with violent tropical weather systems. Many of us will be secure at home during a hurricane, confident that we’ll be safe, warm and protected.
What if the encroaching storm is a big one, though? What if you’ve got some structural damage in your home that may make it especially vulnerable this time? What if you live in St. George’s and have anxiety about being stuck east of the Causeway for an indeterminant amount of time? Should you stay at home? Or should you evacuate to a more secure location?
There are many factors that the typical Bermudian will consider when trying to decide to leave their home in anticipation of a storm. A nice family stay in a hotel might appeal to nuclear families with young children. The lure of constant electricity, hotel amenities or just being on a magical family outing can often be too wonderful to resist.
Many hotels will even offer good rates for locals wanting to ride out the storm in one of their rooms, especially in the fall, when our tourist season is winding down a bit. This alone may be a reason to evacuate your home during a hurricane, but there are also more serious considerations to be made.
Mr. Lyndon Raynor, National Events Coordinator on our Ministry of National Security’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Mitigation Unit, advises that citizens should consider evacuation for several reasons.
“Currently, in Bermuda there is no law for mandatory evacuation as in other jurisdictions, and therefore the decision for a person to leave their home should be based on their personal circumstances.” He says those circumstances could include the following reasons:
- For example, a person who relies on oxygen or other machines, meaning that the potential loss of electricity will be detrimental to their health; a dialysis patient; a female in the last stages of pregnancy who is projected to give birth before a hurricane is expected to pass.
- Their current residence is not a sound structure.
- Their residence may be close to the shoreline, and sea surges, which are common with hurricanes, may make them prone to flooding.
Listening to updates, warnings and alerts from the Bermuda Weather Service and the Emergency Measures Organization (EMO) will give you all the information you need to make the urgent decision whether to stay or leave your home, including when that decision needs to be made by.
Persons living in St. George’s should pay close attention to announcements regarding the closure of the Causeway, which is a standard protocol for all hurricanes since the tragic events of Hurricane Fabian in 2003.
Raynor outlines the process by which important information is disseminated to the Bermuda public during the Atlantic hurricane season, with special emphasis on when your evacuation decision must be made:
“During hurricane season, the Bermuda Weather Service, which monitors storms and advises the EMO Executive of their potential impact, will issue one of two Tropical Update Bulletins (TUBS),” He says that a Hurricane Watch means hurricane force winds are forecast to occur within 48 hours, while a Hurricane Warning means hurricane force winds are forecast to occur within 36 hours. A decision by a resident to leave their home should be upon the issuance of the hurricane warning bulletin.
“To be classified as a hurricane, a tropical cyclone must have one-minute average maximum sustained winds of at least 74 miles per hour (64 knots).”
Traditionally, larger hurricanes have tended to eat away at our southern shoreline, leaving large chunks of stone, asphalt and plant debris scattered across the ravaged land. People raising families in that area should give heavy consideration to evacuating, as our south shore routinely gets hit hard by larger storms.
Monitoring the movement of approaching storms is also an important part of your decision to evacuate. There are many websites and apps designed to give users accurate logistics on storm movements. Raynor recommends the NOAA Weather Radar and Windy.com apps.
If a system looks too daunting, and is moving at a pace you don’t like, get your things together, and get out of there! You can book a hotel room for the family, gather together with friends at a guest house, temporarily move in with family who live in a more secure area (preferably in a valley), or even make your way to the Bermuda government hurricane shelter at Cedarbridge Academy, which will open in the hours before a storm’s impact.
Whether you decide to stay at home or go somewhere else to ride out the storm, having an exit plan is always a good idea, and communicating that plan with family and friends is important too. It is also a good idea to have a basic supply kit packed and ready to move at a moment’s notice.
It’s a good idea to put together a basic supply kit in advance so you can evacuate more quickly. It will also come in handy if you as you hunker down from the storm. Basic supplies should be stored in an easily accessible and moveable container, like a suitcase or storage container on wheels.
Hurricane preparation experts recommend that your basic supply kit include enough cash to last for several days after the storm has passed, a water-tight medical kit for all your important medical documents and at least two weeks’ worth of any prescription medications you may require, a battery-operated radio, a supply of batteries, a manual can opener or multi-purpose survival tool, a lighter with extra fuel or matches and a backup cell phone charger.
If you are going to a public shelter, your basic supply kit should include personal items like a sleeping bag or blanket, a complete set of dry clothes, personal hygiene items like a toothbrush and toothpaste and books to share and enjoy when the screens shut down.
There is no greater concern during a hurricane than personal and family safety. Weigh your variables carefully and make the decision that best fits your situation.