3 Ways to Evacuate Ahead of a Hurricane If You Don’t Have a Lot of Money

A car is filled with hurricane supply items including water, canned goods, paper towels, cat food, bread, peanut butter and trash bags.
People in the path of a hurricane are advised to stock up on supplies including water, canned goods, pet food, bread, peanut butter, granola bars, paper plates, plastic cups and silverware, flashlights and batteries. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

As a Florida native who yawned while Hurricane Matthew crawled up the eastern coastline of Florida two years ago, I never thought I’d find myself caught up in the usual hysteria.

After all, I’d dealt with major storms before as a local reporter: I’d trudged through knee-deep waters after Tropical Storm Debby pounded Siesta Key in 2012 and photographed college students kayaking the streets of Longboat Key during Tropical Storm Colin four years later.

But Hurricane Harvey, and the devastation it brought to Houston, changed all that.

So there I was in September of last year, waiting three hours in line in south St. Petersburg, Florida, to fill my own sandbags. I watched as news poured in about a run on water, gas and batteries as Hurricane Irma bore down on the state.

Luckily, I had already put together most of my disaster-preparedness kit, and on a budget at that.

But next came the big question: Should I stay or should I go?

Ask Yourself: Do You Actually Need to Evacuate?

“Run from the water. Hide from the wind.”

That’s the refrain Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane repeats every time a tropical cyclone threatens the vulnerable Gulf Coast county.

If you live in a home in a newer subdivision, or at least one that’s been built under current construction guidelines, and have hurricane shutters, you shouldn’t worry about the high winds. The storm surge and flooding will be the biggest threat to your home, McCrane said.

If you’re in a flood zone, you should be prepared to evacuate as a hurricane approaches. Check your county’s emergency management website to determine if you fall in an evacuation zone.

You should also plan to flee the storm if you live in a mobile home park or manufactured home.

For some, it’s just a matter of gassing up the SUV and heading to a hotel in another state if they want to evacuate. But what if you don’t have the luxury?

It may be slim pickings, but there are three resources for people who want to evacuate ahead of a hurricane.

1. Hurricane Shelters Could Be Your Best Bet

Hurricane shelters are there for a reason.

They are usually schools built under strict new construction guidelines that make them the safest place for your family and pets. Yes, your county should have a pet-friendly shelter available, McCrane said.

But what should you actually schlep with you over to the local shelter?

Bring everything you would need for your emergency kit at home, plus a few things to make yourself comfortable: pillows, blankets or air mattresses; folding or lawn chairs; extra clothing, shoes and glasses; toothpaste, deodorant and other hygiene supplies; important papers, identification and family keepsakes; extra medication; and toys or games to keep the kids — and yourselves — sane.

And if you have any furry family members, don’t forget your pet emergency kit.

Also, your insurance policy will be your golden ticket after the storm, so don’t forget that either.

Keep an eye on your local media stations to see when shelters open — don’t assume.

2. Reconnect With Friends and Relatives

Who says a natural disaster can’t be a good time to catch up with old friends?

Forget about paying inflated hotel room costs — let alone finding availability — and reach out to friends and family to see if they have an extra room or couch on which to crash.

“All you have to do is go tens of miles, not hundreds of miles,” McCrane said.

If you have to travel further than a few miles, bring plenty of cash in case ATMs are down and a filled gas can, if possible. Make sure to follow specific instructions like these on how to safely transport it. You’ll want to strap it to the top of your vehicle or secure it in the bed of a truck.

That way you’ll have an emergency stash if gas stations along the highway begin running out, and you can take advantage of current gas prices.

Bring everything mentioned above that you would take to a shelter, and make sure to let as many family members as you can know where you’re headed.

3. Look for an Airbnb

In 2012, Airbnb launched Open Homes, a disaster relief program that encourages Airbnb hosts to provide free temporary shelter for those affected by natural disasters.

Airbnb currently has open homes available for those affected by Tropical Storm Gordon.

The company has not yet announced open homes available for Hurricane Florence — but the storm is expected to make landfall later this week, so be sure you have those emergency kits ready (with lots of water).

But the best advice we have as you prepare your supplies and decide whether to evacuate is not to panic.

As we reach the peak of this year’s hurricane season, we’re reminded of the guidance offered by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman last year as Hurricane Irma approached:

“I know we’re all on edge, but another important reminder as we prepare for Hurricane Irma — let’s be nice to each other. It costs nothing.”

Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder. He covered hurricanes and tropical storms for five years in Sarasota, Florida.