7 things to know about traveling during hurricane season

As Hurricane Ian tracked toward Florida’s Gulf Coast on Tuesday, airports closed, residents and tourists fled mandatory evacuation zones and those who remained made last-minute preparations.

The Category 3 storm is expected to make landfall Wednesday evening south of Tampa, Fla., though the southern part of the state is already seeing rain and tornado warnings early Tuesday. Authorities have warned of dangerous storm surges and flash flooding.

Many tourist sites in Florida have been affected: the airports of Saint PETERSBOURG, Tampa and Bradenton closed on Tuesday; Orlando International Airport said it would cease operations at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. Busch Gardens in Tampa was firm from Tuesday to Thursday, while Walt Disney World, Universal OrlandoSeaWorld in Orlando and Legoland in Winter Haven closed Wednesday and Thursday.

Thousands evacuate as Hurricane Ian heads for Florida

Hurricane season, which lasts from June 1 to November 30, still has months to go. For travelers on the path to a major storm – Ian or any other – experts say it’s important to stay aware and prepared.

Josh Dozor, managing director of medical and safety assistance at the risk management company International SOS, said travelers should always have backup phone battery chargers, especially during hurricane season. He added that it’s also important to bring adequate medication, formula and pet supplies if you’re traveling with a baby or pet. A hard copy of a map is also important in case cell service is interrupted.

He said if travelers were to find themselves in the path of a storm, they should have enough food and water on hand for 72 hours.

Rich Harrill, Director of International Tourism Research Institute at the University of South Carolina also recommends having flashlights and batteries and “a really good first aid kit” on hand.

How to prepare for a hurricane

Harrill said travelers should pay attention to local television, radio or news websites to follow emergency announcements.

“Don’t let them surprise you,” he said.

Dozor said tourists should keep their phones charged and enabled for automatic alerts to receive push notifications about tornado warnings, evacuation orders or other precautionary measures.

He said floridadisaster.org is a key emergency management site in Florida, and RedCross.org is a good resource for finding shelters.

Even in areas where the storm doesn’t hit directly, there could be threats, so travelers in a wide area should watch for emergency notifications. Dozor said tornadoes were a risk in South Florida on Tuesday, for example.

Listen to emergency warnings

Dozor, a former deputy assistant administrator for response at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said he recommended evacuating even if there was only an announced voluntary evacuation – and certainly if there was. a binding order.

Travelers typically don’t have a pantry full of food or a support system nearby, key reasons to travel to a safer area. And he said relief workers will need to focus on priorities such as people with medical conditions who rely on electricity or are unable to move around.

“You don’t want to add a burden to this already strained infrastructure,” he said.

Former FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate told The Washington Post in 2019 that travelers should check to see if their hotel is in an evacuation zone and possibly arrange an early exit.

“If you can, you don’t want to wait for evacuation orders to be given,” he said. “You might want to cut your trip short a bit sooner.”

If your family is not together or might be separated, make a plan for where and when you will meet.

“Pick a point on the map, pick a place and time, and stick to it,” Dozor said. “Assume poor cell coverage.”

He said travelers should keep in mind that hotels will likely be booked along evacuation routes, not only by evacuees but also by emergency responders and power restoration workers. heading towards the storm. It may be necessary to deviate from the main roads to find a place to stay.

Transport routes may also be limited; Florida and other states often change all lanes of a freeway to go in one direction — away from the storm — or restrict movement in certain lanes to emergency use only.

Fiona has grounded dozens of flights. A JetBlue plane flew over it.

Get ready for what’s next

Hurricanes are not just one-day events. Dozor said they can cause prolonged power outages, poor cell coverage, and fuel and food shortages for 50 to 100 miles. Travelers should ensure their phones and backup batteries are charged before a storm and conserve battery power. Texting is better than calling to conserve battery life and establish a connection.

He said emergency services might also struggle to reach an area.

Flooding could also pose a hazard once the storm moves inland and crosses Florida and the southeast, Dozor said.

Your cruise will continue (probably)

Cruises have been playing a game of dodgeball in the tropics over the past two weeks, first with Hurricane Fiona and now with Hurricane Ian. Operators have redirected some ships to calmer parts of the Caribbean, changed ports of call and spent days at sea to avoid bad weather. At this time of year, passengers shouldn’t get too attached to an itinerary.

Carnival Cruise Line said on Tuesday that two of its ships scheduled to return to Florida ports could experience delays. Carnival Paradise left Tampa on Saturday and is staying overnight in Cozumel. He will begin returning to Tampa on Wednesday, “but maintaining a safe distance from the storm as the company determines when Carnival Paradise can return to the Port of Tampa after the U.S. Coast Guard assesses conditions,” a Carnival statement read.

Carnival Elation will travel to Freeport in the Bahamas on Wednesday; his return to Jacksonville on Thursday could be delayed, the company said.

Carnival has canceled two cruises, Carnival Paradise from Tampa and Carnival Elation from Jacksonville, which were scheduled to depart Thursday.

Consider travel insurance

The insurance may provide some coverage if a trip is canceled due to a storm, depending on the policy. But that purchase should be made well before an impending hurricane.

“Whether it’s a tropical storm or a hurricane, once the storm is named, your options for covering storm-related events are next to nil,” said travel insurance comparison site InsureMyTrip. . said on its website.

Airlines typically offer waivers so travelers to or from affected areas can change flights at no additional cost, as they do for Hurricane Ian. American airlines said it capped fares at a maximum of $684 per way for the main cabin and $884 for premium cabins for people traveling to or from more than a dozen Florida airports through Oct. 2.

Tourists who must leave a destination before a storm should be aware that airports could close, as many in Florida have done this week, and flights could be canceled.

Individual hotels may offer vouchers or refunds for hurricane-related cancellations, but this is not a guarantee. Airbnb said that hurricanes are not covered by its “extenuating circumstances” cancellation policy which allows guests to cancel for a credit or refund.

Dozor says whenever he travels to hurricane-prone areas this time of year, he makes sure to check hotel policies and purchase insurance.

“If I travel to the Southeast States in August, September, I always do it,” he said.

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