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Official urges better emergency planning

Kanawha County's director of emergency management hopes the recent storm will persuade people they need to be better prepared when disaster strikes.

"People need to be prepared to take care of themselves for at least 72 hours," said Dale Petry, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management agency.

Petry's hopes come in the wake of the derecho that knocked out power to thousands around the state on the evening of June 29.  

Petry acknowledged that the power outages and extreme heat have lasted well past 72 hours, but he said emergency personnel need time to gather resources after a disaster.

"The state should have resources in place after 72 hours," he said.

That means people need to have water, non-perishable food and other items including batteries and flashlights ready in case of an emergency, he said. Non-perishable foods should include canned and dried goods.  

People should have enough water for everyone in their family in case of an emergency, Petry said. The standard is at least six, eight-ounce containers of water on hand for everyone in the family per day.

Petry added that people should keep an emergency kit somewhere in their home. Food and water aren't the only things that should be included in the emergency kit.

For example, the kit should include basic medications such as aspirin and items such as bandages and antiseptic cream.

"And if people take medications for a specific illness, they need to have extra in their kit," he said.

A severe power outage like the one that just occurred across the Mid-Atlantic states also affects pharmacies, he said. The high winds knocked down trees everywhere, making travel difficult.

Batteries and a flashlight are a must for any emergency kit, Petry said. However, people also need to keep some sort of battery-operated radio on hand to get information about the disaster once the lights go out.

"If you lose power, you don't have a television or a phone," he said. "You need to have a way to stay informed about the situation."

Having a backup generator on hand is a plus, Petry said, but it is also not practical for all residents, since the machines must be operated outside to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

"And people need to make sure their houses are wired for a generator before they hook one up," Petry said.

Gasoline must be stored in a safe, dry place.

"That way people don't create a worse danger for themselves and the community," he said.

Gasoline also must be cycled through the generator on occasion, Petry said.

"Gas can go bad," he said.

This is one of the worst situations Petry has seen when it comes to a natural disaster. He pointed out that many areas of the state were without power for more than seven days.

And with the excessive heat, more severe thunderstorms could be the norm over the summer, he said.

"With the excessive heat we've already had, I expect this to be a bad summer," Petry said.

At least this week temperatures are expected to dip, said Joe Merchant, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Charleston office.

A cold front that has moved into the area should keep temperatures in the mid 80s for the remainder of the week, he said.

"But we're in the warmest part of our year, so that doesn't mean temperatures won't climb back into the '90s again," he said.

The derecho that blew through the area wreaking havoc was a rare occurrence in the Mountain State but not unheard of.

The last time a derecho was recorded in West Virginia was April 9, 1991, he said.

"It began in Arkansas and it moved through the entire state."


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