It didn’t take long for the “blame game” to reach critical mass after Hurricane Wilma tore through South Florida. Emergency water and ice distribution centers ran out of supplies, even though the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had delivered more than 300 truckloads of water, ice and meals three days before Wilma came ashore, according to the Miami Herald.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was quick to accept the blame for underestimating residents’ needs in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, taking some of the heat off a beleaguered FEMA that’s still reeling from criticisms over its slow response to Hurricane Katrina. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Hollywood Mayor Mara Giulianti were nonetheless furious as hurricane victims waited in lines for hours to receive ice and water, rationed to one bag of ice per family.
“Again, there’s been a failure,” Giulianti told the Herald. “If there’s a failure of the government over something this simple, I’m frightened to see what would happen in an even worse crisis.”
But Bush and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff were also critical of hurricane victims’ lack of disaster preparedness. Many Floridians failed to heed basic emergency guidelines, which I outlined in last week’s Hot Off the Press column. Let me repeat: It’s every citizen’s responsibility to maintain 3 gallons of water for every family member, which covers the 72-hour period when you’ll be on your own after a major disaster. In fact, you may require even more. (Click here for details.)
“The failure to maintain adequate stocks of water and food in a disaster can range from merely inconvenient situations to life-threatening scenarios,” says Dennis B. Warner, senior technical advisor for water supply, sanitation and water resources for Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services, one of the largest humanitarian agencies in the world. “Depending on the climate, people require one to two liters of drinking water per day for essential life support. This does not include water for washing, bathing or any of the other functions that are necessary for long-term health. Over a few days to a week, a shortage of water for personal hygiene and household sanitation is an inconvenience; beyond that period, it can become a serious health hazard.
“Safe drinking water, however, is essential and must be available to all members of the household,” Warner adds. “Depending upon the contaminants in the water, the health consequences of drinking polluted water can range from mild intestinal upsets to severe dysentery and chemical poisoning. The quantity of available water is also crucial. People can survive for several weeks without food, but only a few days without safe drinking water. Our basic needs for water and food, therefore, should be an integral part of household preparedness for emergencies and disasters.”
Use American Family Safety’s “Are You Ready?” questionnaire to determine what you’ll need if a disaster strikes. Each AFS disaster kit contains a 3-day supply of drinking water and food. You may also purchase extra packages of emergency drinking water to supplement your kit.