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Houstonian Who Lived Through Hurricane Harvey Offers Advice For Those In Florence's Path


When a dangerous storm approaches, people in its path are supposed to check off a to-do list - assemble a watertight backpack with essentials, find and move important papers in your house. And our next guest says perhaps most importantly, get to know your neighbors.

Sara Cress has been on our air before talking about her experience in Houston during Hurricane Harvey. And in the Houston Chronicle yesterday, she wrote about her to do-list. She wants to help those in the path of Florence avoid making the same mistakes she did last year. Sara, welcome back to the program.

SARA CRESS: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: I want to start with your advice about neighbors. You write that when things get grim, it doesn't matter how different you are or what political sign you have that is now submerged in water. Explain what you mean.

CRESS: Well, we didn't know most of our neighbors before Harvey happened. I mean, we would see them every once in a while, but - and say hi and be friendly, but we didn't know them. And it was amazing how generous they all were that day when we were all in bad shape. And we all ended up at this one neighbor's house who has an elevated house. And immediately, when I showed up, they offered me, like, a bandage for my knee because I was banged up and coffee and beer (laughter) just to, like, get my nerves settled.

SHAPIRO: Soothe the rattled nerves, yeah.

CRESS: Yeah. And we all just sat around and talked and helped each other through it. Some of them had been through a flood before. And we were all pulling for each other. And I think it's really important to know who's around you just so that you can learn from them.

SHAPIRO: When we spoke to you last year, you said there were a bunch of things you wished you had done before the storm came. Putting together an emergency kit was one thing. And here's something else you said.


CRESS: We should have had pet carriers out. We should have had a to-go kit, you know, for them, too. We didn't have our phones in plastic bags, so they were in our pockets when we were walking through the water.

SHAPIRO: Houston is not in the path of Hurricane Florence, but do you now have those kinds of things packed all the time in case of an emergency?

CRESS: Yes. As part of our rebuilding, I made sure that we had a very thorough emergency kit. We have pet carriers for every pet. We have lifejackets because my husband went back to the house in chest-high water, and it's just amazing that nothing bad happened to him. We have backpacks filled with all of the things that we would need to evacuate immediately. And I feel much more confident now about our ability to evacuate and be safe and at least somewhat calm for those couple of days after you evacuate.

SHAPIRO: And do you think there's some version of this that everyone ought to have whether they live in a hurricane-prone area or not? Because if not hurricanes, maybe it's earthquakes or wildfires or tornadoes.

CRESS: Yes, I learned the great importance of having an emergency kit this time. And, you know, we wake up every day not knowing what's going to happen to us. And things happen. And the ability to have this bag just ready to go I think would have saved us so much heartache.

SHAPIRO: Something practical that I would not have thought of - as you say, take photos of all the big, expensive items in your house, and catalog appliance serial numbers. Explain why.

CRESS: Well, if you have flood insurance, you have to prove that you've lost everything. So in the midst of demoing our house, we had to also take pictures of everything. And if we had had that already available to us, it was just one step we wouldn't have had to do.

SHAPIRO: And so now in this day or two before the storm is projected to make landfall, what do you think people in its path should be doing aside from evacuating if they're in an evacuation zone?

CRESS: Just trying to be as calm as possible and to think about what you have that would be destroyed. Like, what is on the floor? What is near the ground that you want to save? I made the mistake of having so much of my sentimental items under a bed. And I lost all of that, all of my journals and letters and photos. And just think about those things that you may not be thinking about right now. You're probably thinking about just saving your life. But at some point, your life's going to come back to normal, and you're going to want those things that you're - you might lose.

SHAPIRO: Writer Sara Cress - her piece in the Houston Chronicle is "How To Prepare For A Flood." Thanks for joining us again.

CRESS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.