By Fraser Sherman
ORANGE COUNTY – If a hurricane strikes Chapel Hill, it puts pets in danger just as much as their owners. Planning ahead can help your pets survive with you.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts at least 14 named storms in the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season, with six to 11 hurricanes and two to five major hurricanes. Although hurricane season begins in June and ends on November 30, the August – October months are when most hurricanes that impact North Carolina occur, according to insurance statistics.
Basic prep for hurricanes, fires and other disasters includes supplies of extra drinking water, food and necessary medications, plus copies of important documents such as your insurance paperwork. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sums it up as the five P’s: People, Prescriptions, Papers, Personal Needs, and Priceless Items.
Orange County Animal Services Communication Specialist Tenille Fox says you should put the same thought into planning emergency care for your pets. ID tags and microchips are a good start. “In emergencies, pets can often get lost,” Fox said. “We love pets to have visual identification, but collars can also be lost. Almost any veterinarian can microchip pets.”
When disaster strikes, one of the big questions is whether to evacuate or shelter in place. If you have pets, Fox says, the choice becomes more complicated as the storm gets closer, and you shouldn’t wait until the last minute. She suggests you plan your own evacuation route, which takes into account the needs of your pets. Decide whether to plan on sheltering with friends, or staying at pet-friendly hotels or shelters. If you find one listed online, Fox recommends calling hotels to confirm ahead of time that they will welcome your dog, cat or other pet.
Along with an emergency kit for you and your human family, Fox recommends preparing one for furry family members: “You want several days of food and water just for your pet. Keep a record of all medications. In case your pet needs some cleanup, take grooming items and shampoo. If you have a cat, take a litter box and litter. Paper towels and newspaper for extra cleanup. If you walk the dog, you want to have some baggies for picking up feces.”Another good idea is to buy pee pads, in case you are not able to take your pet outside.
Fox recommends asking the vet about pet first-aid items you should take along, besides their meds. Also consider equipment you’ll need to travel with a pet, such as a leash and a sturdy pet carrier. Buy whatever you think you’re going to need well ahead of time. If possible, take along your pets’ favorite toys or bedding to give them something familiar to hang on to.
It’s also good to have a photograph of yourself with your pet available. In an emergency, despite your best efforts, you and your pet may end up separated. Having a photograph helps people identify your animal and also shows them that you really are the owner.
If your pet bolts in a panic or you can’t find your outdoor cat before you evacuate, putting up posters in your neighborhood or online is good, but don’t stop there. Fox recommends checking Orange County animal shelters in person, then neighboring areas: if a pet flees far enough, someone may pick them up and not realize they belong in Chapel Hill. Call veterinarians too, because people often contact their vet about strays. Also check with neighbors or nearby businesses whose property might have good hiding places for a terrified stray.
Fox says you can find more information at the federal ready.gov website’s pet-care page. The page goes into detail about planning and preparing to protect your pets, including planning for larger animals such as horses or goats.
History of hurricanes in later months that have impacted North Carolina
UNC of Chapel Hill says 83 tropical storms have made landfall in North Carolina. Forty-seven hurricanes, including 12 major hurricanes, have hit the state. Although Chapel Hill is more than 200 miles from the coast, hurricane force winds can reach this far inland.
In September 1996, for instance, Hurricane Fran hit Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Durham hard. The National Weather Service says it was a week before water was drinkable; falling trees destroyed multiple houses; and the storm left a million people without power. Two weeks after the storm, 150 secondary roads were still closed.
Hurricane Michael made a devastating Category 4 landfall in the Florida Panhandle in 2018. It was only a tropical storm by the time it reached Chapel Hill but the winds were still strong enough to down trees and leave hundreds without power.
Fraser Sherman has worked for newspapers, including the Destin Log, the Pensacola News-Journal and the Raleigh Public Record. Born in England, he’d still live in Florida if he hadn’t met the perfect woman and moved to Durham to marry her. He’s the author of several film reference books and has published one novel and several short story collections.