How to Behave (and Survive) in a Natural Disaster

Natural disasters are horrible. We do not approve of them at all but, sigh, they show up. And one must cope. The one secret advantage of them, rarely spoken of, is that it is helpful a few times in one’s life, to survey a room of one’s belongings and think, “Now, if this all blows away tonight, what do I want to save?” Of course, it’s a useful exercise at any time, but if it is just a mental exercise, it’s not quite as helpful as the sure knowledge that a typhoon is approaching and chez toi is located at the precise spot its making landfall with never-before-this-high-recorded-winds. Of course, at that moment, do take a moment to think about cash-value (yes to the jewelry box) and photos, but go mostly with your heart: take what your hands yearn to pick up.


Most importantly – Make friends. Friends will get you through all disasters (“Family?” you ask; remind me to tell you the time a ferocious tornado was bearing down on your beloved auntie and the reaction of two close family members was, and I quote, “I’m sure you will be fine, I have to go, I’m in the middle of planting begonias.”)

If possible, befriend a redhead. Redheads are ferocious; they have the correct sang-froid to deal with disasters. “Blizzard approaching? Yawn. Let’s make brioche.”

Also, watch action movies. Lots to learn from watching The Rock.

Also important

  • Shopping 1 – The fun part! Go shopping! Buy plastic storage crates (don’t keep things in cardboard boxes), sachets. Get a few tarps (it will make you feel so SAS to have some tarps at home!) A few jerry cans, water containers, masking tape, flashlights, batteries, candles. If you live where it’s cold, extra blankets. Throw it all (and by ‘throw’ I mean ‘carefully pack’) in a plastic storage crate and forget about it until those red spots turn up on the weather radar.
  • Shopping 2 – Shelf in the kitchen with extra sugar, tea or instant coffee (don’t sniff and don’t turn up your nose at me, Ms. Blue Mountain or Shoot Me, you would sell your mother for a packet of Nescafe two days after a flood. Been there, done that and luckily my resourceful mother was able to escape her captivity after I finished the coffee.) Look at the ‘preppers’ lists but get what you will actually use: macaroons, honey, smoked salmon, Nutella, pepperoni, etc.
  • Shopping 3 – If you live someplace where disasters occur, keep extra soap, TP, Kleenex, cloth towels on hand. Have a few canvas tote bags. If you have a pet, have extra food on hand and BUY A TRAVEL CONTAINER for it, although for small pets, a zip-top canvas bag will do in a pinch. Your auntie who was rescued by Navy Seals (a story for another time) brought her beloved animal companion with her during the escape – and so will you. You leave a pet behind and I will sic Marines on you. And never doubt that Auntie knows Marines who will sic when Auntie says sic.

Typhon/ Cyclone/ Hurricane – If you live in a place that might possible flood or be visited by hurricanes, before you move in pour a bottle of water on the floor of each room. Of course you will not do this. What a complete waste of time and energy, you are thinking, especially exactly at the time of moving in when you just want to move in. This is why you have warts and I don’t. Semplicissima. How often must I tell you, work at the beginning saves you from lower back pain and bottles of champagne hurled at you from across the room later.

Pour water, see where it goes and then write it in your house book. Of course you have a house book. Preferably Smythson but Peter Pauper Press is eminently respectable as well. Don’t worry about alphabetizing (let’s resist those OCD tendencies as we can), just start a new page and write natural disaster at the top, then sketch each room and where the water pools. As you set furniture, take note of where the water pooled and don’t place anything valuable there.

Blizzard –   In the dangerous months (August-June), have at least one emergency blanket and water stored in EVERY ROOM. EVEN THE BATHROOM. Hide them in fey ottomans.

Tornado – Build a tornado shelter or invest in military-grade radios tuned to the emergency broadcast channel.

Tidal Wave – Build a cemented stone watchtower or invest in military-grade radios tuned to the emergency broadcast channel.

Earthquake –  A person should admit their limitations and I have no advice about earthquakes. Try to stay alive. Good luck.

Disaster looming

  • Decide whether to evacuate – if you do, toss stuff in canvas bags and go. Tell people where you are and what you are doing.
  • Make plans because once you are in the middle, you will be too stressed and tired to be rational.
  • Drink water, you don’t realize it but you are dehydrated. Yes, you are. Don’t argue. Drink. Now.
  • Get your emergency storage box out, rinse the jerry cans, fill with water, check supplies (think: food you can eat without heating or cooling)
  • Stuff fridge and freezer with bottles of water, full fridge stays cooler longer – make list of what to pull from fridge and put in cooler; if you have extra blanket, put it next to fridge to cover fridge when power goes off to keep it cooler longer

In the middle of disaster

  • Survive
  • If there is nothing you can do, do nothing. When the category 4 hurricane hit, charming Auntie was in the study (room with fewest windows) eating F & M lemon cookies and reading She. Be like Auntie.
  • Drink water.
  • NEVER NEVER NEVER repeat bad news unless you are sure – keep news flowing but preface everything with a “maybe” – don’t be a disaster drama queen
  • Check in with people if you can and ANSWER people (even if you loathe them) who are trying to check in with you – connections and information help keep you in a positive mental state. When your house is shaking, you need positive.

Disaster over

  • Offer anything and everything to people more in need than you. Never be miserly – offer your car, offer people to take hot showers and use your washing machine at your place if they don’t have electricity, offer to run errands. God just gave you a pass, show your appreciation.
  • Ask for help if you need it. Don’t be Ms. I Can Handle It – “handling it” causes fallen arches, bad breath, and in-grown toe-nails
  • Leave the house torn apart for at least a few days – let everything dry and clean the floors before you put anything back.
  • Don’t work non-stop and don’t spend non-working time looking at the damage. Assess that everyone you know is ok, step in to assist as needed and if there is no immediate work that must be done, disengage. Read a romance book for a few hours.