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Schools: What parents can expect

If a storm is threatening, there’s a good chance schools will close - usually around the time a storm watch has been issued for the area.

School districts may send recorded telephone messages to students’ homes to say when schools will close and when they’ll reopen.

You also should monitor TV, radio and newspapers and school websites.

Schools might close a day or two before a storm’s landfall so they can be converted into shelters.

After the storm, classes might not immediately resume. After Wilma, some schools were closed for weeks.

Even if your child’s school is undamaged, if several others are inoperable, managers might opt to keep all schools closed to prevent a districtwide imbalance of school days.

It might take a while to repair the damage done to schools and clean up all the debris caused by the storm and by the people using the schools as shelters.

Some schools will be too damaged to use anytime soon and others will have to be converted or students shifted to other schools.

Some schools will have generators, but power will need to be restored.

Buses also might need to be repaired and roads they travel must be free of debris and have working traffic signals.

Chain saws: Be cautious

If you’ve never operated a chain saw, don’t start using one after a storm. Hire someone, ask neighbors or wait for emergency crews.

The time to learn how to use a chain saw is before the storm strikes. A dealer can help you pick the right saw, set it up and explain the proper use.

Always read instructions and warnings in the manual. A chain saw can kick, lurch, jump and snap back. You can be hurt or killed.

Never operate a chain saw with one hand. And don’t raise one above your shoulders.

For smaller jobs, you could use a cordless or gas-powered trimmer. Emergency or volunteer crews also will be coming through neighborhoods.

Without power, an electric chain saw will be worthless. Gas-powered models sell for $100 to $300. A saw with a 16-inch guide bar — the part extending from the saw body around which the chain is wrapped — is probably all you’ll need.

Look for safety features on chain saws such as a chain brake, which stops the chain if the saw hits something hard, or is pinched in the wood, and kicks back. All new models feature chains that reduce kickback; get them when you replace chains on old saws.

Wear goggles or safety glasses and a hard hat, plus gloves to prevent blisters and slippery grips.

Wear chaps or other sturdy reinforcement over pants.

Store gas outdoors, away from anything that can ignite it. Never store in garage or home. Move the saw at least 10 feet from the gas before you start it up.

Engine oil: Most saws use two-cycle engines that require you to mix gasoline with proper oil and in the proper ratio.

Bar and chain oil: A lubricant that keeps the chain from freezing up or breaking during heavy work. Buy it and two-cycle engine oil now; they will be hard to find after a storm.

Consumer Product Safety Commission:

Take steps to save trees on your property

You may be able to save smaller trees of less than 10-inch diameter that are down or partially blown over.

Cover their roots (but not with plastic) and keep the tiny root hairs wet until they can be uprighted. Don’t cut roots still in the ground.

With shade gone, plant tissues heat up in the afternoon, causing sunburn. A cooling spray of water in the late afternoon will help cool them down. Stake trees securely.

Give your tree some ‘sunscreen.’ Its leaves are like clothes. Without them, trees begin to suffer from sun scald (an arboreal version of sunburn).

Pile brush, soil, a tarp or sphagnum moss on trunk and major limbs. For small trees, try splitting a length of plastic pipe lengthwise and sliding it onto the trunk.

Securing the tree

Set the tree in soil at the same level it was before the storm. Dig a hole slightly larger than the root ball. Fill it with water.

Pull up the tree using a cloth sling or the backs of several friends. (Don’t use wires, chains or cables that may snap, injuring bystanders.)

Tamp in soil around roots while spraying with full pressure of garden hose to eliminate air pockets. Back fill with soil from the site. Keep watering until all bubbles cease.

Stake trees securely.

Pruning and fertilizing

Concentrate on salvageable trees. It’s a waste of effort to try to save large trees with split trunks or broken main limbs.

Prune downed trees heavily to compensate for root damage and reduce a tree’s weight to stand it up. Remove damaged or dangling limbs, using the “three-cut method” for big limbs. Don’t “hatrack” trees. Not only is it illegal, but it eventually creates top-heavy trees that will go down more easily in the next storm. Always try to prune back to an area of the tree where a smaller, lateral limb has sprouted.

Leave broken and dangling palm fronds, if possible. If trimming is necessary, cut them in half and see if the palm recovers. 

This also will reduce the tree’s need for water and nutrients while recovering. Remember, even brown and broken fronds are still providing food for the tree. It may take six months for new growth to emerge, and up to two years before palms have a full canopy again. Without sufficient rainfall, recovering palms will need to be watered three times a week for six weeks.

With other trees, trim the canopy back by one-half to two-thirds to reduce water loss. Always trim back to healthy tissue, using sharp, clean implements.

Don’t use pruning or wound paint. Treating a tree’s wound with copper fungicide, however, may help prevent fungus.

After a month, fertilize lightly, making sure the mix has potassium and magnesium. Spray palm buds with fungicide to prevent bud rot.

Fallen branches

Do not be quick to remove fallen branches or palm fronds, which provide shade while plants acclimate to a suddenly sunny garden.

Fallen leaves should be removed as fast as possible. They quickly form a rotting mat that blocks light from plants and grass beneath, and encourages the growth of fungus.

Keep in mind that it could be weeks before downed limbs and other vegetation is picked up.

Remember, no matter how bad the storm, almost everything grows back.

— Barbara Marshall

Dealing with debris

One of the largest tasks after a storm will be collecting debris.

More than 3 million cubic yards was collected after the three 2004-2005 storms just by the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County. That’s about what the authority normally collects in two years.

The same amount was collected by area municipalities across Palm Beach County.

And debris also swamped agencies and towns in Martin and St. Lucie counties.

It can take several weeks to get everything. You can help.

Don’t call! Everyone is in the same hurry, but collectors can work only so fast.

Agencies and municipalities will provide updates through the media.


The first priority will be household garbage. It might take three to six weeks for them to pick up debris.

Get everything to the curb as quickly as is safely possible.

At the curb, separate household garbage, recyclables, vegetation (yard trash) and “construction materials” — lumber, concrete, wood fence pieces, etc.

Secure household garbage in plastic bags or cans and place at the curb on your scheduled collection day.


Collectors could make as many as three or four passes, each time collecting a different type of debris, or skip your home altogether if trucks are full. Be patient. They haven’t forgotten you.

Never place debris near or on a fence, mailbox, power line equipment, poles, transformers, downed wires, water meters, or storm drains.

Agencies use cranes, loaders and other heavy equipment that will damage these items. And hidden electrical hazards can injure or kill workers.

Between the debris sitting on it for weeks, and the heavy equipment snatching up debris, you can probably count on having to fill and/or resod your swale.


FEMA will provide some reimbursement to area agencies and municipalities for storm debris cleanup.

But neither you nor your homeowners association will be reimbursed if you hire a private contractor.

Take steps to avoid stress from the storm

Contact loved ones, if possible, so it’s known that everyone is OK.

Stay connected with your community, friends, relatives and neighbors. Don’t let yourself become isolated.

Expect to go through the natural grieving process — denial, questioning, acceptance and recovery.

Stress might begin for you as early as the start of hurricane season. Don’t wait until the crisis is nearly on us to first work on managing your stress or seeking help .

You might experience short tempers, a reluctance to abandon your property, guilt over having been unable to better prevent damage, flashbacks of the ordeal, difficulty in making decisions and letting pride get in the way of accepting help. Recognize these as effects from the crisis that will pass. Talk about your feelings with friends or relatives, or if necessary contact social agencies for help.

You’ll find yourself worn out as recovery drags on and you yearn to return to normalcy. Pay attention to your physical health. Make sure you’re eating properly and getting plenty of rest.

Avoid drugs or alcohol. You need to be alert.

Avoid argument and confrontation. You need teamwork and camaraderie to get through recovery.

If you’ve escaped injury or damage, it’s natural to experience “survivor’s guilt.” Don’t push yourself too hard trying to help others.

Seniors or the disabled might not be strong enough to prepare homes, install window coverings and drive to get supplies.

Make sure both their needs and their mental health are taken care of and that they have plenty of supporters.

Generator safety tips

Never run your generator in a garage, carport, crawl space, shed or porch. Place outdoors but under cover to prevent electrocution if unit gets wet. Be sure the generator isn’t positioned outside an open window, which can allow fumes into the home.

Use a carbon-monoxide alarm that’s battery-operated or has battery backup.

Never feed power from a portable generator into a wall outlet. This can kill linemen working to restore power or your neighbors who are served by the same transformer. It also can damage your generator.

Don’t use power cords that are frayed, torn or cut. This can cause a fire or shock. Be sure all three prongs are intact and the cord is outdoor-rated. The cord’s wattage or amps must not be smaller than the sum of the connected appliance loads.

Store fuel and generator in a ventilated area and away from natural-gas water heaters. Vapors can escape from closed cans and tanks, travel to the pilot light and ignite.

Never have wet hands when operating a generator. Never let water come in contact with the generator.

Make sure you have the right cords and connectors.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says you should not use an auxiliary tank.

Most starters use rope pulls. If yours uses a battery, keep it charged.

Always turn the engine off before refueling and let the generator cool.

Don’t spill fuel. It can ignite.

Even in the off-season, your portable generator can become just that, at the hands of a thief. Permanently bolt it down or at least secure it with a strong chain and lock.

More information: Consumer Product Safety Commission

Need more power? Many homeowners opt for large standby generators

Large, permanent generators — also known as automatic standby generators — are more powerful and quieter then their portable counterparts. And newer models are better and less intrusive than older versions.

Most are powered by propane or natural gas stored in large underground tanks or are fed by service lines. That means no shuttling to service stations to fill gasoline cans.

They’re directly wired into the home’s circuit panel. When power goes out, just fire it up and flip a switch.

Some units have a “brain” that detects outages, automatically starts the generator, and switches circuits in seconds. When power resumes, the system flips back to the house circuit and powers down the generator.

Standby generators can range in power up to 45,000 watts — enough to power an entire large home.

Determining if you need a standby generator

List the appliances you’ll want operating in an outage and total the required wattage.

Most units range in price from $10,000-$30,000. You’ll also have to pay for a concrete slab, installation and wiring.

You’ll be subject to the laborious, and costly, permitting process used for new driveways, fences, shutters and roofs. You’ll also need to meet the rules of your local homeowners association.

You’ll need to be familiar with the manufacturer’s guidelines for placement and operation. Some homes will not have room outside to place generators and still have the required space for proper ventilation and to meet fire codes and zoning.

Finding a reputable company

Consumer groups and even the police in the past have dealt with complaints that generator sales and installation outfits took money and either delivered the generators but never installed them, or never delivered them at all.

Some companies poured just the concrete slab. Some delivered units but never pulled permits.

Make sure the company shows its license. Check for complaints. Get referrals.

Sources: Palm Beach Post archives,, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Florida Power & Light Co.

Checklist: Outside the home

Be cautious following a storm

Do not leave your home or shelter until emergency officials tell you it’s safe.

In the yard

If your home is open to the elements or you fear it will collapse, get out. Secure it as best you can, get as many valuables out as possible and find another place to stay. 

If your boat is in your yard, inspect it and document damage for insurance. Repair what you can. Pump water out. Check the fuel, electrical systems for damage.

In the neighborhood

DON’T TOUCH POWER LINES. Watch for downed lines. Consider every power line energized. Do not attempt to touch any electrical power lines and keep your family away from them.

Watch your step. The area could be covered with broken glass and other debris.

Don’t walk in standing water and don’t venture out in the dark because you might not see a power line that could be energized and dangerous.

Watch for insects, snakes and other animals — including alligators — driven out by high water.

If your neighborhood floods during the storm, listen to the radio for instructions.

Watch and listen for reports of storm-spawned tornadoes.

Be careful about letting your pet outdoors. Landmarks and scents might be gone, and your pet might get lost. 

In the area

If you stayed outside your neighborhood, do not return to it until you get the all-clear. Roads may be blocked.

You might have to show proof of residency, such as a driver license or insurance documents, before being allowed back in.

Law enforcement agencies likely will impose curfews; hours and extent to depend on damage. Anyone out would be subject to arrest.

Driving will be treacherous. Traffic lights likely will be out and streets will be filled with debris and downed power lines. When traffic lights are dark, intersections become four-way stops.

If flooding occurs, try calling local government or drainage districts before calling the water management district.

Don’t go to the coast or barrier islands until you get word that it’s safe to do so.

Living without power

Many hurricane-related deaths result from accidents after the storm. Among the dangers: fires from candles and gas canisters; carbon-monoxide poisoning from generators; traumatic injuries from power tools, nails and chainsaws; and heat-related injuries from no air-conditioning.

Turn off your circuit breakers, disconnect all electrical appliances that are still plugged in, and turn off all wall switches.

When resetting circuit breakers, do not attempt to touch them if you are wet or are standing in water or on a wet floor. Wear dry, rubber-soled shoes and stand on something dry and non-conductive, such as a dry piece of wood or wooden furniture.

DO NOT STAND IN WATER when using switches, unplugging anything, or touching an electrical appliance, wiring or tools.

Be careful walking around your home. Loose electrical wires, ceilings and beams might fall.

If your roof or windows leak, water in your walls and ceiling may come into contact with electrical wiring.

Don’t use candles.

Do not use electrical or gas appliances until they’re dry. Replace any appliances, gas control valves, electric circuit breakers, ground-fault interrupters and fuses that have been in water.

You may need a licensed electrical contractor to survey your house and make repairs, depending on the damage.

If the meter, the box that holds it, or any of the external pipes and wires associated with the meter are missing, bent or otherwise damaged, FPL may not be able to reconnect service until a licensed electrician makes the necessary repairs.

If someone in your home is dependent on electric-powered, life-sustaining medical equipment, review your emergency plan for backup power or make arrangements to relocate.

Open all doors and windows so noxious smells and gases can escape. Check for gas leaks.

Don’t smoke indoors until everything has dried.

Never use a charcoal grill inside the home or garage.

Business tips

During a storm, more people are trying to use their phones at the same time. The increased calling volume may create network congestion, leading to “fast busy” signals on your wireless phone or a slow dial tone on your landline phone. If this happens, hang up, wait several seconds and then try the call again. This allows your original call data to clear the network before you try again.

Consider wireless text/short messaging services. During a storm, text messages will often go through quicker than voice calls because they require less network resources.

You can also use certain high-end wireless data devices’ messaging capabilities to communicate with employees during a storm.

Keep non-emergency calls to personnel to a minimum, and limit your calls to the most important ones. During severe weather, chances are many people will be attempting to place calls to loved ones, friends and business associates. 

If the storm worsens, head to ‘safe room’

If you do not feel safe during the storm, head immediately to the “safe room” in your home.

A secure room should be an interior room that has enough space for everyone, and a quick way out if necessary. It should be a secure, windowless (but ventilated) place. It can be a standard, 6-by-6-foot room, bathroom or walk-in closet. Special accessibility needs should be considered.

An emergency supply and first aid kit should be in the room. There should be an adequate supply of food and water for everyone who will be in the room.

Surviving the storm: Remain in the safe room— you could be in it for hours — until weather authorities have issued an “all clear” for your area.


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