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What should I put in my go-bag this hurricane season? 3 New Orleanians share their tips

Lynn Wesley-Coleman and kids
Carly Berlin
/
WWNO
From left: Wesley Coleman, Maddie Coleman, and Lynn Wesley-Coleman, pictured with their hurricane go-bags at their home in New Orleans East on May 31st, 2022.

It’s the time of year to stockpile canned goods, gather your flashlights, and make a plan for where you’ll evacuate if a major hurricane strikes south Louisiana.

Forecasters predict yet another “above-average” hurricane season this year, bringing 14 to 21 named storms. Of those, three to six are predicted to become major — Category 3 or higher — hurricanes.

If you plan to shelter in place, emergency officials recommend having non-perishable food for at least three days on hand, as well as three gallons of water per person. And if you plan to leave town, it’s important to bring along IDs and documents that prove where you live. It’s also a good idea to bring masks and COVID tests along.

As the height of hurricane season creeps closer, we sat down with three New Orleanians to ask what they pack in an emergency kit, or a go-bag — and what they suggest others do to prepare.

We heard reminders to gather the basics, and tips that go well beyond the ordinary.

Last year was the first time Wesley Coleman, a 7-year-old resident of New Orleans East, evacuated for a hurricane. Her family stayed in Memphis for two weeks because of Ida and the subsequent blackout.

Wesley was nervous throughout their stay: her aunt’s house flooded. And her other aunt had to stay in town to work at a hospital. When her family returned home, their house was relatively unscathed, except for wind damage in their backyard. But going into this hurricane season, she’s feeling anxious again that her family’s life will be uprooted.

“I’m worried about everything,” she said.

To help give Wesley and her younger sister, Maddie, a greater sense of control in a stressful time, Wesley’s mom Lynn Wesley-Coleman is making sure her kids are involved in preparing. She has encouraged her daughters to pack their own bags in case they need to leave again.

Wesley and Maddie have matching princess-themed suitcases already filled with the essentials and some of their favorite things. Wesley packed her toothbrush and a special jumpsuit, a gift from an aunt; Maddie put in her pack a set of summer clothes and some lip gloss. Both girls have their dolls ready to go, too.

Lynn, a parenting blogger, said sharing the family’s preparation efforts and plans is a way to help her kids feel safer.

“Now, it seems like because of the climate change, we have to evacuate more, which means the kids are more familiar with it,” she said.

New Orleans Council on Aging
Carly Berlin
/
WWNO
The New Orleans Council on Aging Building on Canal Street.

Howard Rodgers III is the executive director of the New Orleans Council on Aging. Helping New Orleans seniors prepare for emergencies is a key part of his job.

After Hurricane Katrina, NOCOA distributed emergency kits from the Red Cross to hundreds of senior citizens. The bags included essentials for sheltering in place, including a whistle, a radio, and a first aid kit.

His main tip for older folks: have a list of all medications — as well as at least a week’s supply — in case of evacuation. He also recommends keeping a list of emergency contacts on hand, as well as some cash, in case the power is out and ATMs are out of commission.

Rodgers also said it’s essential to bring important papers with you — or copies of them — like passports, birth certificates and insurance policies. He keeps his own documents stashed in a big plastic box inside a duffle bag.

“So when it’s time to evacuate, all I do is grab the duffle bag and throw it in the car,” he said.

After the stress of the last few record-breaking hurricane seasons — on top of the pandemic — one group is encouraging people to focus on some of the bright spots.

“At first people are like, wait, what? That’s a wild idea,” said Klie Kliebert, the executive director of Imagine Water Works, a mutual aid and climate justice group.

This year, they’re helping people identify good memories from past storms, and encouraging folks to factor those into their plans. For example, if the memory is of a barbecue, maybe it’s having a grill ready to go.

One of Klie’s good memories is of bathing in a swimming pool with friends after Katrina.

“So that prep tip would be: locate a pool right now that you can all share. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something that you own,” they said. “What as a community do we have access to?”

Another good memory is of playing guitar with their dad during a power outage, so they always make sure to have their guitar nearby. Playing it helps them feel at peace amid the anguish that hurricanes bring.

“There are so many moments of those that happen in the middle of a storm, and after a storm,” Kliebert said. “They exist, and I’m trying to find more of them for folks — and help other people find that, too.”

Want to see more stories like this one? We want to hear from you: fill out our Hurricane Season Questionnaire to let us know what you need to know as we gear up for severe weather. 

Carly Berlin is the New Orleans Reporter for WWNO and WRKF. She focuses on housing, transportation, and city government. Previously, she was the Gulf Coast Correspondent for Southerly, where her work focused on disaster recovery across south Louisiana during two record-breaking hurricane seasons. Much of that reporting centered on the aftermath of Hurricanes Laura and Delta in Lake Charles, and was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.

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