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Preparation can limit icy weather dangers
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's mostly mild climate can show an ugly side unexpectedly, and ice storms are an occasional nasty part of life in the state.
The accumulation of ice knocks down power lines and trees, cutting off the electricity to many homes and communities and making driving dangerous. For others, the intense cold can be deadly, especially when electricity is needed to keep a house warm.
Local utility companies urge residents to keep flashlights and extra batteries on hand, and to stay clear of downed power lines. Call authorities to report power outages and downed lines. Always stay away from fallen electrical wires and assume they are “live.”
Herb Willcutt, safety specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said a disaster preparedness kit can prevent a bad winter storm from becoming a crisis situation.
“Ready access to some basic essentials can mean the difference between life and death,” Willcutt said. “Equip homes and vehicles with a kit that contains necessary items to sustain health and life in an emergency situation."
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.
Pamela Redwine, Extension nutrition and food safety area in Yalobusha County, said to store a gallon of water per person per day for cooking, drinking and personal hygiene.
“The amount of food you should have on hand depends on the age, gender and activity level of your family,” Redwine said. “Ready-to-eat foods are good to have on hand, as are instant foods that only require water added, as long as you have safe water to use in their preparation.”
She recommended rotating water and food supplies every six months to keep them fresh.
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.
Vehicles and home or portable heaters should never be low on fuel. A vehicle's heater can be a good way to stay warm temporarily, but breathing fumes from the exhaust can be deadly. 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.