The sandbags that Jennifer Ronzo piled up on her Amityville property as superstorm Sandy headed toward Long Island last October did nothing to stop the bay from flooding her home. But some of the other steps she took to prepare before the storm hit prevented even further damage.
Ronzo, an agent with Coldwell Banker Harbor Light, brought all of her outdoor furniture and kayaks inside to prevent them from blowing into windows or washing away. After she evacuated, Ronzo had a neighbor shut off the home's main electrical supply.
It's been a relatively quiet summer in the Northeast, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting an active hurricane season, with the peak running through October. This week, the first hurricane of the Atlantic season, Humberto, strengthened to a Category 1 storm. Humberto is moving north-northwest from the West African coast, but is expected to weaken.
"It's time to take preparedness very seriously," says John Miller, chief executive of the American Red Cross on Long Island.
STOCK UP, BOARD UP
The agency recommends having enough flashlights, batteries, water and nonperishable food on hand, and making sure you have a sufficient supply of any medication that you take regularly. Residents should also create an evacuation plan, coordinating with family members and neighbors.
Just before a storm, you should shut off propane tanks, unplug small appliances and board up windows to prevent damage from flying debris -- plywood is much cheaper than a new window.
The Home Depot recently held hurricane preparation workshops at many of its tristate area stores, advising customers on how to pick the right generators and providing fully assembled disaster kits, complete with portable hand crank radios.
Rocky Ryan, manager of the home improvement chain's Bay Shore store, advises residents to get most supplies -- especially generators, which tend to sell out when a storm is forecast -- and consider buying equipment for post-storm cleanup, such as chain saws, in advance.
WIND AND WATER
Some home-improvement jobs can help you weather a storm. Homeowners with decks, a common casualty of Sandy, can install hurricane ties, pieces of metal that help secure the structures in high winds. Gutters should be cleaned out before they become heavier and less stable.
Regular home maintenance is important, says Brian Gill, an agent with State Farm Insurance in Melville. Homeowners "could have avoided some of the shingles blowing off the house" if they had kept on top of regular roof maintenance, Gill says.
Flood prevention is a bit trickier.
"Water's tough," Ryan says. "People put up sandbags, but if the water gets to a certain level there are not many things you can do to prevent it from coming in."
A product such as Drylok, an interior latex paint, can be used to waterproof some basement walls. Sump pumps can also get rid of water, but homeowners should make sure to have a generator and gasoline on hand since the pump will be useless if the power goes out. Ryan recommends having two or three 5-gallon cans of gasoline on hand, storing it in a cool place.
"That will give you enough to put a quarter-tank of gas in the car and run your generator for a few days," Ryan says.
There are many ways that water can get inside a home. Joyce Coletti boarded up the windows and doors of her house in Long Beach before she evacuated last October, but that wasn't enough.
"The sand and the ocean came in through my air conditioning," says Coletti, an agent with Douglas Elliman Real Estate. "I never even thought of covering up my air conditioners."
Sandy and previous storms have also highlighted the growing need for tree maintenance and removal. Even if Sandy didn't bring them down, many trees were compromised by the storm -- and summer foliage can obscure hanging limbs.
"If the tree falls down, we're likely going to cover the damage, but do you want to go through that?" says Gill.
Peter Colgan Jr., owner of Kings Park-based Colgan Tree and Landscape Service, recommends calling in a qualified arborist any time of year. An arborist can examine the bottom of the tree, the bark and the branches, and if there's a problem, they don't necessarily have to cut the tree down. Aside from pruning, there are methods such as cabling and bracing to support a tree that has a structural weakness but is otherwise healthy.
"That storm put such scare in people, and I understand why," Colgan says.