Each hurricane season here in Cancún has normally not meant too much more than a few days of isolated showers. We actually haven’t even had a lot of close calls or named storm systems pass through that anyone really had to worry about or give much thought to. Well of course 2020 would be the year that would change all of that.
At the beginning of the month Tropical Storm Gamma passed over the Yucatan Peninsula just shy of being classified a hurricane and got everyone’s attention. It no sooner cleared when we suddenly realized we had less than 24 hours to prepare for Hurricane Delta…a hurricane which quickly gained strength & was expected to hit Cancún as a category 4 or 5 major storm. I nervously prepared for Delta which was going to be mine and my daughter’s first hurricane. My husband had gone through Hurricane Gilbert here in Cancun in 1988 and I remember his stories and they were pretty terrifying and not anything I was eager to live through myself.
I ran to the grocery store alone first thing in the morning when it opened and did my best to pick up items on a list I had worked on overnight. I realized my list was full of not just the usual hurricane prep items but as a mom to a young child I was gathering a ton of parental survival items as well. As we’re suddenly preparing yet again for another hurricane (Hurricane Zeta), here’s a list of some of the things I recommend having on hand if you’re sheltering in place and bracing for a hurricane with children and how you can help eliminate some of the fear involved with bracing for a major storm system like a hurricane!
We prepared our 5-year-old daughter Isla for Delta by being honest about what was happening. We first off stayed calm ourselves and explained that a hurricane was just a really, really big storm and would come through with extremely strong winds, rain and possibly thunder & lightning. We let her know we all had to secure or remove anything outside which could possibly blow away. She helped bring some of her things inside (we take advantage of the warm weather and practically use the front of our home as an outdoor living/play room so there were many many things we had to take care of) and was there as we removed pieces of the playground in the park for safety. I think a big part is taking the fear out of it all. She didn’t really see us worry…she just saw us busy prepping so thankfully that’s what she’ll likely remember more than anything. She helped us close and tape up windows and shut bedroom doors. She also begged me to wear her bathing suit while we were outside doing one last check before heading indoors and we thought why not as she was preparing herself for the bit of rain that had started.
We chose to camp out all together in our living room for a few reasons. We felt we should all be together in the same room, we figured our living room was one of the safest places for us so we weren’t directly against or under any windows, being on the ground floor our living room is often quite a bit cooler than the upstairs bedrooms (especially important as we knew we’d likely lose power for the a/c or fans) and last of all it just made for a fun night our daughter looked forward to! We called it our hurricane pyjama party. We put a mattress on the floor, all ate our favourite tres leches cake and watched a movie while we still had power before bed. Hurricane Delta wasn’t going to hit until about 5am so honestly we were able to get Isla asleep and she stayed asleep the entire evening with no worries as she felt safe.
I quickly learned a huge part of preparing for a hurricane was preparing for the possibility of a long lasting power outage. Beyond the usual emergency items someone might have on hand be sure to stock up on batteries for your child’s favourite nightlight or flashlight. We had tons of candles sitting in the cupboard just in case but with kids candles can pose such a risk. Just like moths to a flame young kids seem to be attracted to the flame of a candle and then there’s also the hot wax to worry about. We have a great soft glowing portable light up unicorn type of night light for our daughter as well as just a small handheld flashlight.
I also highly recommend getting outdoor solar powered motion sensor lights. I need to be honest that we didn’t purchase these in preparation for the hurricane or even with a power outage in mind but we were quickly thankful we had them. We bought them to place outside our home and truthfully just never got around to putting them up. We have 3 and I have to say they are AMAZING! We placed one in the kitchen, one in the bathroom on the main floor and one in the living room. Even though they’re activated by motion (there is a switch you can completely turn them off) they seemed to stay on just long enough as we’d move around the kitchen or bathroom. Since they’re meant for outdoor use we found them super bright. I liked not having to fumble with any more batteries and just be able to recharge them by placing them outside.
Losing power when you live in a super hot & humid climate means you also have to think about trying to keep everyone comfortable. My husband and daughter both get hot quickly! We have these great cooling towels which help quite a bit. They’re made of a special material that once you wet them and then wring them out and shake off all of the excess water they are absolutely cool to the touch without dripping wet! They’re great for wrapping around a little one’s neck or placing across their back or chest to cool down.
Having a great cooler is also an important hurricane preparation item. We kept 3 bags of ice in our freezer for as long as possible after we lost power. Eventually we moved 2 of the bags of ice into the cooler along with some of the fridge items which worked out perfectly. The remaining bag of ice kept the freezer items cool. This definitely helped us save many of our refrigerator items like cheeses, cold cuts, fruits, veggies, yogurts & condiments.
On a practical note we made sure we had filled some buckets of water in case we lost power which could have filled her little mini bathtub, been used to wash up or flushed a toilet. We also had an ample supply of baby wipes for the same reason for quick clean ups in a pinch. We thankfully never lost our home’s water supply though.
Another fun hurricane related family plan my daughter was looking forward to was having a candlelit outdoor dinner party if we lost power. Sure enough we did lose power (we were lucky only losing power in our neighbourhood for about 36 hours) so that first night we set up outside and Isla was literally bouncing around she was so excited. In might sound strange to someone else reading this to hear my daughter was looking forward to things like a hurricane sleepover in the living room or an outdoor dinner party but these are the moments you want them to be able to enjoy and remember!
We shopped as if we could possibly be out of power for several days. I’ve learned a lot of items available here in Mexico to start with are a little more pantry shelf friendly than what’s more commonly available in Canada. I’m positive it has to do with the extreme heat and for moments like this when refrigeration might not be an option. We bought small juice boxes & tetra drink box style milks so we’d have them available to drink and use over cereals which was my husband’s great idea so they could stay unopened at room temperature without going bad.
We also bought several of the toddler friendly puréed fruit pouches & apple sauces which do not need to be refrigerated. I still buy these the odd time anyway to toss into my bag for long bike rides or to have on hand during a road trip. The yogurt pouches are also great. They do need to be refrigerated but can stay good for up to 6 hours out of the fridge which makes them another great healthier & filling snack option.
Beyond that we wanted to prepare for what could have possibly been several long scary days so we also stocked up on some junk food snacks! We decided a hurricane was the perfect time to have some of our daughter’s favourite spicy peanuts & chips on hand.
Thanks to COVID we’re probably a little more organized then we’ve ever been in this department having everything on hand like children’s fever/pain relief medication, a thermometer (believe it or not but we never even owned a thermometer until about a month ago), bandaids, allergy medication and so on. I find most families are well prepared with meds these days but it’s always a good reminder to check you have everything you might need.
Now this is something I had no idea about until a friend of mine helped me put one together. She gave me a list of all of the items we should keep in our Go Bag at any given time…not just for a hurricane. The items include things like copies of everyone’s passports (important to place in a ziplock bag), some emergency cash, at least 2 changes of clothes for everyone, bottles of water & packaged snacks. Prepping for the hurricane Maureen also urged me to add our actual passports and pieces of ID (again in a ziplock bag), a sharpie in case we needed to leave our home in the middle of the hurricane or during possible flooding over the days to follow (the sharpie is to write our phone numbers on our daughter’s arm in case we were to get separated) as well as a life jacket. I’ll never forget when she told me to keep a life jacket handy for my daughter I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry! She told me she once had to evacuate after a hurricane by swimming out of her home which is why she recommended a life jacket should be handy for all children until the coast is clear. Due to the pandemic I also added a few cloth masks & small things of sanitizer in one of my large size dry bags I normally use at the beach.
Keeping Kids Busy
When it comes to our daughter we are a fairly limited screen time family to start with. Being at home during a hurricane means we’re lucky to be close to all of her favourite toys, books and activities. If you need to evacuate be sure to bring with you a few small non-electronic games and toys your child can play with that don’t require batteries or to be charged. We have some really fun little pocket brain teaser games we often carry with us and play together as a family she loves and I found a few books also helped lighten the mood.
During the Hurricane
In our case Hurricane Delta hit at 5am. Our daughter was already sound asleep and didn’t budge at all not waking until about 8am just as the very tail-end was passing. She was actually a little disappointed she didn’t get to see or hear the hurricane. It’s important to remind kids they need to stay indoors until an adult tells them it’s ok and that they should stay inside not opening any windows or doors either. We really had no idea what to expect as big storms like this can sometimes be unpredictable so you prepare for the worst and hope for the best. We did have her noise reducing Baby Banz baby headphones close by if she had been awake and if for some reason the noise became overwhelming.
Checking out the Aftermath
I homeschool Isla and she is in the equivalent of Sr. kindergarten so we don’t follow a set out curriculum yet and I just have my own list of things I want to cover and work with her during the year. Since our schedule is flexible I can easily add or change what I had planned depending on what’s happening in our lives and I immediately knew the hurricane was going to be an important part of what we would focus on. I found age appropriate material to talk about the names of different types of weather and storm elements, talked about all of the ways we prepared (Delta came so fast we had to do our hurricane study unit after it hit) and even a few fun activities counting syllables in storm names etc.
Just shortly after Hurricane Delta hit (thankfully only as a category 2 dropping down from the expected category 4 or 5 they had predicted) my daughter and I had our breakfast, did school and I told her we’d know it’s safe to go outside once we hear the birds chirping. Sure enough that morning we started to hear birds chirping and could see them suddenly flying around again. We talked about how wild animals might have reacted once they could sense the hurricane coming, how many can sense changes in weather and air pressure to get to safety and I let her brainstorm where she thinks they went to ride out the storm and how important it is for us to take our cues from nature. Even the night before we told her we knew it was still safe while we saw birds flying around and then suddenly watched them all fly off as the winds & rain picked up.
Once I took a look around outside to make sure there wasn’t anything putting us in immediate danger like a fallen tree or sharp objects that may have blown around our property, we went for a walk around the neighbourhood to assess the aftermath damage. We thankfully didn’t have any damage to our home or car and it was the same case for all of our immediate neighbours. Most of the damage from Delta in our neighbourhood were trees that had been knocked over and lots of large fallen branches.
Again I felt it was important to take some of the fear out of what my daughter would remember from her first hurricane. We remained honest with her but also wanted her to see how all of the neighbours came together to clear fallen branches, check on each other and start the clean up process. She helped us remove tape from the windows, pick up some small branches in the park and asked neighbours how they were doing. She actually had a great time with a few of her little friends walking around the nieghbourhood assessing the damage.
Overall I’m glad we were able to stay safe sheltering at home during the worst part of the storm. It’s been just a little less than 3 weeks since Delta hit and Isla hasn’t seemed effected by the hurricane. When we’re out and about she still points out downed trees or other things that look out of place which the hurricane likely had knocked down (like large street signs or business storefronts) but all in all she understands the seriousness and power of the destruction a hurricane can cause without being fearful. We are now going through the process again as we prepare for Hurricane Zeta expected to hit the Yucatan Peninsula sometime late this evening. Since we literally just went through the hurricane prep and clean up process a few short weeks ago we all feel prepared as a family and talking once again about it all as we brace ourselves again for a very active 2020 storm season.
Kids Hurricane Prep Quick Check List
-pureed fruit/apple sauce pouches
-yogurt pouches (stay fresh out of a fridge/cooler for up to 6 hours)
-milk & juice tetra style drink boxes
–portable night light & flashlights
-non-electronic games & toys
-favourite treat/snack item
-“Go Bag” ready with a packaged snacks, change of clothing, copies of important documents in a ziplock bag, a sharpie & lifejacket
-small Rush Hour pocket brain teaser game (good for kids & adults)
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