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Hurricane season is upon us, so it's time once again to attempt to minimize the effects of high winds and heavy rains on your property.

After Hurricane Andrew flattened southern Florida in 1992, a team of experts examined the homes that failed as well as the ones that survived. They found four areas that should be checked for weakness: the roof; the windows; the doors; and, if you have one, the garage door.

Roof reinforcement from the wind -- hurricane straps, for example -- will require a professional, and there is no time to do that work. However, you do have time to clean the gutters and downspouts and work to direct the water away from the foundation.

If you have a sump pump in the basement, it's time to test it to make sure it works. You also should check the outflow pipe from the sump, making sure that it is free of debris so that the water flows unimpeded.

If you are handy and can find one at the home center or plumbing-supply store, purchase and install a battery-operated backup sump pump, to keep the water flowing out if the electricity goes out.

Although basements afford ideal protection from the wind, they are the worst places to be in the event of flooding. Put your possessions up on blocks, and bring your valuables upstairs. Make sure you have a wet/dry vacuum for cleaning up after the storm passes.

You also have time to protect windows and doors, either by installing plywood shutters or at least by placing large strips of masking tape or adhesive tape on the glass, to reduce the risk of breakage and flying pieces.

Continued high demand by U.S. homebuilders as well as a variety of production issues have made plywood very expensive. However, home centers and lumberyards in coastal areas tend to keep enough plywood in stock to maintain adequate supplies in the event of storms.

To reduce the amount of debris that the winds will carry in a storm, take yard furniture, barbecues, trash cans, children's toys, and bicycles and store them away safely in the basement or garage.

Trim back tree limbs and branches that may brush the roof and other parts of the house. If leaves or other debris are blocking the storm drains in the street, don't wait for the municipality to act. Clean them yourself.

Remember, most homeowners' insurance policies cover damage from hurricanes and tornadoes, but not flood damage. There is low-cost coverage available for flood damage under the national flood insurance program. Details are available from your local Federal Emergency Management Office.

Make sure you go to the ATM before the storm arrives and withdraw enough cash for a few days, in case the system is incapacitated.

After the National Weather Service has issued a hurricane watch, you should make sure that the tank of your car is filled with gasoline so you can evacuate if ordered to.

Fill sinks and bathtubs with water as an extra supply for washing.

If power is interrupted, disconnect appliances to reduce the possibility of damage from the electrical surge when power is restored.

Adjust the thermostat on refrigerators and freezers to the coolest temperature so that you can keep food cold for a longer time. And keep the doors closed.

If you do lose power, eat the perishable food first.

Or, to supply your own backup power, consider purchasing a portable generator from a home center or hardware store.

You'll need to stock up on the following supplies before a storm hits, according to the Centers for Disease Control:

  • Several clean containers for water, large enough for a three-to-five-day supply (about five gallons) for each person.
  • A three-to-five-day supply of nonperishable food, including pet food.
  • A first-aid kit and manual, available at most drugstores for $14 to $19.
  • A battery-powered radio, flashlights, and extra batteries, as well as candles and matches.
  • Sleeping bags or extra blankets.
  • Nonbreakable spoons, forks, knives, cups and plates.
  • Water-purifying supplies, such as chlorine or iodine tablets or unscented, ordinary household chlorine bleach.
  • Prescription medicines and special medical needs, as well as insect repellent.
  • Baby food and/or prepared formula, diapers, and other baby supplies.
  • Disposable cleaning cloths, such as baby wipes, for the whole family to use in case bathing facilities are not available.
  • A portable toilet (available at camping stores) and toilet paper.
  • Personal hygiene supplies.
  • Alternative heat and cooking sources, such as a kerosene heater and a camp stove, to be used only in well-ventilated areas.
  • Shovels and hand tools.
  • Mop, bucket, towels.
  • One or more rolls of plastic sheeting, a staple gun with staples, and duct tape.
  • Plastic trash bags, ties.
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