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Prepare emergency kits for severe winter storms

By Bonnie Coblentz

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A winter disaster preparedness kit can prevent a bad ice storm or snowstorm from turning into a crisis situation.

Much of Mississippi is susceptible to harsh winter storms, and when the electricity is out, roads are iced over and temperatures fall to the teens or single digits, the unprepared can be in trouble. Herb Willcutt, safety specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said ready access to some basic essentials can mean the difference between life and death.

"Every home and vehicle should be equipped with a kit that contains some necessary items to sustain health and life in an emergency situation," Willcutt said. "Some items are seasonal and should be included at certain times of the year, and all items should be fresh and in operating condition."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests every home keep a disaster supply kit in a duffel bag or backpack stored in an easy-to-reach spot. These kits should have a three-day supply of food and water, first aid supplies, batteries and lights, baby diapers and formula if appropriate, medications and sanitation items.

Willcutt said to be sure to include a manual can opener and spare batteries for equipment such as radios and flashlights in the emergency kit. He suggested keeping a small inverter in the emergency kit. The inverter plugs into a vehicle's lighter and changes the 12 volt current to 120 volt current capable of operating small appliances.

FEMA recommends that during the winter, homes maintain a high supply of basic necessities, in addition to the emergency kit, to prevent trips to the store in bad weather. Stockpiled items include enough medicine for several days, plenty of stored water, food that requires no cooking or refrigeration, baby necessities and pet supplies. Vehicles and home or portable heaters should never be low on fuel.

Willcutt urged people caught in a winter storm to use grills and propane stoves outdoors, and wood heaters or fireplaces indoors for food preparation. Supplement fireplaces or heaters by using blankets and sleeping bags, staying close together, and keep doors and windows closed to conserve heat.

A vehicle's heater can be a good way to stay warm temporarily, but breathing fumes from the exhaust can be deadly. Willcutt urged people to move cars out of carports and garages before running them for heat.

Another winter weather tip for vehicles is to lower the air pressure of the tires to 20-25 pounds if the vehicle must be driven.

"It's best to stay off the road, but if you have to drive on snow and ice, lower air pressure in the tires gives increased traction. Drive slowly and as little as possible," Willcutt said. "As soon as roads clear, re-inflate the tires properly."

A workplace emergency kit should contain food and water, and women especially should include a pair of good walking shoes. In a car, an emergency kit should contain food and water, a means to signal for help, tire chains, sand and other items for dislodging a stuck vehicle, and extra clothing for severe winter weather.


Released: Jan. 27, 2005
Contact: Herb Willcutt, (662) 325-7345

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