The weather may have been a bit dreary in the Northeast this Labor Day but it was nothing compared to the misery suffered by residents in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas.
With thousands still without power and many in the Gulf Coast dealing with the flood damages, the weekend was labor-intensive rather than a vacation. After the floodwater receded, the real work began, from clearing out flood debris, waterlogged carpets and furniture to scrubbing everything down with bleach and water to prevent mold.
This is a routine many residents in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast remember too well since it was just one year ago that we were dealing with the effects of back-to-back storms. First to strike in late August was Hurricane Irene, packing powerful winds and driving rains.
Then two weeks later, days of torrential rains from Tropical Storm Lee added to the misery. Creeks and rivers overflowed and trees came down on electrical lines, disrupting power for thousands. Pine Grove was one of the hardest hit areas in this region.
In the latest storm, the path of Hurricane Isaac was forecast well in advance but nothing could prepare individual homeowners in the Gulf for 20 inches of rain.
September being National Preparedness Month, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency advises residents to make sure they're ready for all types of emergencies.
Glenn Cannon, director of the PEMA, said the destruction brought by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee a year ago isn't forgotten and we must always be prepared for the next onslaught.
"Those memories, as well as seeing coverage of Isaac's recent impacts, will hopefully motivate people to formulate emergency plans and build emergency kits for their own families," Cannon said.
After a disaster, Cannon said history has shown that emergency responders cannot reach everyone immediately, so families should have enough food, water, medication and other necessities, including pet supplies, to survive without outside assistance for at least three days. Families should also prepare a plan to communicate and reunite if they are separated during an emergency.
Residents are urged to always following mandatory evacuation orders. In New Orleans last week, a number of residents who ignored warnings later had to be rescued, putting themselves and their rescuers at risk.
"Sadly, too many people have died while trying to 'ride out the storm.' Evacuation orders are for your own protection," Cannon advised.
The state's web site www.ReadyPA.org advises residents to take three basic steps before an emergency or natural disaster occurs:
• Be Informed know what threats Pennsylvania and your community face;
• Be prepared have an emergency kit with at least three days' worth of essentials at your home, including food, one gallon of water per person per day, medications and specialized items such as baby or pet supplies. Create an emergency plan so family members know where to meet if everyone is separated when an incident occurs;
• Be involved specialized training and volunteer opportunities are available so citizens can help others in their community in a disaster.
After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, some in Bayou country were lulled into a false sense of security when they heard that it was a "once in a lifetime" event or a storm that occured about once every century.
But every storm is different, as we saw last week when Isaac parked over Louisiana for two days. Not many who experienced the worst of Hurricane Katrina seven years earlier could have imagined a lingering storm capable of delivering 20 inches of rain.
By Jim Zbick