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

Two people walk through a rain puddle as they evacuate from the path of Hurricane Laura. The two people are photographed as a silhouette.
People looking to evacuate the path of Hurricane Laura arrive at the civic center where evacuation buses wait, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, in Port Arthur, Texas. Eric Gay / AP Photo

As a Florida native who yawned while Hurricane Matthew crawled up the eastern coastline of Florida in 2016, 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 in 2017, changed all that.

So there I was in September that 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 emergency managersrepeat every time a tropical cyclone threatens Florida’s vulnerable coastline.

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.

Even people in older homes are advised to stay and hunker down if they’re outside a flood zone. By sheltering in place, you’ll save precious hotel and shelter space for people who are in danger of storm surge and flooding.

Those two issues pose the biggest threat to homes and lives, said Ed McCrane, emergency management chief for Sarasota County on Florida’s gulf coast.

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. But what if you don’t have that luxury — or extra funds?

It may be slim pickings, but there are three resources for people to affordably 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 books, toys or games to keep the kids — and yourselves — sane.

This year, with hurricane season overlapping with the coronavirus pandemic, it’s also a good idea to equip yourself with supplies to help limit the spread — namely hand sanitizer and masks.

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

Also, your homeowners 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 anything.

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 where you could crash.

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

After social distancing all these months during the pandemic, it may feel awkward to ask to bunk with friends in close quarters. Recognize that some people may not be comfortable welcoming house guests — even guests in a storm’s path. And your own concerns about the virus might make you hesitant to move into someone else’s house, even temporarily.

But that’s the key to keep in mind: Hurricane evacuations are temporary. And uncomfortable. And they necessitate relaxing some regular rules. Be extra respectful of your hosts’ space, keep your distance when possible and wear masks, even inside the house.

If you have to travel further than a few miles, bring plenty of cash in case ATMs are down and, if possible, a filled gas can. 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, and the program is still operational.

But like everything else in 2020, Airbnb has been impacted by COVID-19. In June, the company unveiled new guidelines for hosts on cleaning protocols, spacing out reservations and contactless check-ins.

Hosts who commit to the enhanced cleaning protocol receive a special call-out on their listing, so guests know they are staying in a sanitized space.

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 in 2017 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 former data journalist at The Penny Hoarder. He covered hurricanes and tropical storms for five years in Sarasota, Florida.