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Last week, the area experienced storms with high winds that caused a lot of damage and left thousands without electricity. Summer is just getting started, so it’s likely that we’ll see more severe weather in the coming months.
Galax Police Chief Rick Clark is sharing some advice from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management about planning for the next storm.
“The National Weather Service estimates that winds have to blow between 50 and 70 mph to cause the damage we experienced,” Clark said.
So what do you do in that kind of a wind storm?
If you are inside, stay away from windows and seek shelter in the lower floors of your home.
If your driving, pull to the side of the road and park. You are much safer in a parked car.
If you are outside, lie flat on the ground away from items that could be blown over and hit you. If there is a ditch or ravine, seek shelter there.
After Appalachian Power Co. restored service to most of its local customers last week, a storm on Thursday knocked out power for hundreds more in Grayson County.
Service was unlikely to be restored to many of them by today, Monday.
The Virginia Department of Emergency Management suggest that you have a plan for such emergencies:
• Gather supplies — three gallons of water per person in your home, canned food, a manual can opener, battery-powered radio, flashlight and extra batteries, prescriptions, toiletries and special items for infants, elderly or disabled members of your household.
• Develop a plan — Discuss with your family what kind of hazards you may encounter and what you would do.
Know how the school will notify you about your children in the event of an emergency.
If you had to evacuate, know where shelters are located. In Galax, it’s the recreation center on South Main Street.
Choose a point of contact.
Keep important numbers with you.
• Stay informed — The City of Galax uses Nixle alerts, a text and e-mail system. You may subscribe by going to www.nixle.com. If you don't have Internet access or need assistance, contact the police department at 236-8101.
The local radio stations will broadcast emergency information, including details about shelters and evacuation.
Food: When in doubt, throw it out
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has advice for Virginians who are still without power after last week’s storms — throw out the contents of your refrigerator and check food in your freezer carefully to be sure it’s still safe to eat.
“We have a lot of tips for consumers,” said VDACS Commissioner Matthew J. Lohr. “But here is the main one: when in doubt, throw it out.”
VDACS’ food safety and meat and poultry inspectors are inspecting food processors, grocery stores and other retail stores in affected areas to ensure food safety. However, individual consumers also need to be aware that the potential for foodborne illness at home grows every day that the power is out.
VDACS offers the following basic tips for keeping food safe to eat during a power outage:
• Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
• The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if it is unopened. With that window having passed, consumers will need to discard most of the items in the refrigerator.
• A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
• Buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep an 18-cubic foot fully-stocked freezer cold for two days.
• If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs while it is still at safe temperatures, it’s important to cook each item thoroughly to the proper temperature to assure that any foodborne bacteria that may be present is destroyed. However, if at any point the food was above 40° F for two hours or more, discard it.
• Wash fruits and vegetables with water from a safe source before eating.
• For infants, try to use prepared, canned baby formula that requires no added water. When using concentrated or powdered formulas, prepare with bottled water if the local water source is potentially contaminated.
Once power is restored, consumers will need to determine whether their food is safe to eat.
If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperature when the power comes back on. If the freezer thermometer reads 40° F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.
If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. You can’t rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40° F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook.
Refrigerated food is likely safe as long as the power was out for no more than four hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut. If the four-hour window has passed, discard any remaining perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs or leftovers.
Keep in mind that perishable food not kept adequately refrigerated or frozen may cause illness if consumed, even when they are thoroughly cooked. Never taste food to determine its safety, and always discard any items in the refrigerator that have come into contact with raw meat juices.
The following foods are safe to consume even if they have been held above 40° F for two hours or more: hard cheeses, processed cheeses, grated Parmesan or Romano cheeses, jelly, relish, mustard, olives, pickles, soy sauce, barbecue sauce, fruit pies, bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, fruit juices, canned fruits, whole fresh fruits and raw vegetables except cut greens and cut tomatoes.
For more detailed information regarding which food items are safe to consume after an extended power outage, go to foodsafety.gov or foodsafetyinfosheets.com.
Answers for storm-related insurance questions
Virginia’s Bureau of Insurance can assist with insurance questions that have resulted from recent severe storms and tornadoes.
Virginia Insurance Commissioner Jacqueline K. Cunningham advises consumers to contact their insurance company as soon as possible for help in determining coverage available under policies for homes, businesses and vehicles that were damaged during the storms.
The insurance company or agent also will be able to guide consumers through the process of filing a claim.
Contact information for insurance companies and agents is available on the State Corporation Commission’s Bureau of Insurance website at: www.scc.virginia.gov/boi/ConsumerInquiry/CompanySearch.aspx.
The bureau recommends taking pictures of damaged property, saving receipts for repair costs, and protecting property from further damage.
Free consumer insurance guides are offered on topics including disaster guides for homeowners and businesses. The disaster guides provide answers to commonly-asked questions about settling disaster-related insurance problems and are available at www.scc.virginia.gov/boi/pubs.aspx.
The bureau reminds Virginia policyholders that, in addition to coverage for property damage, property policies may include coverage for debris removal and additional living expenses. Check your insurance policy or contact your insurance company to discuss available coverage.
The bureau’s property and casualty division can assist Virginians with questions regarding damage to property as a result of recent storms.
Policyholders who have questions about their homeowners, mobile home, automobile or business policies or an insurer’s handling of their claim are encouraged to contact the bureau at 1-877-310-6560 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trained staff can help consumers with insurance questions and concerns and can offer tips to help consumers expedite the processing of claims with their insurance company.
Consumer complaints may be filed electronically at www.scc.virginia.gov/boi. Correspondence may be mailed to the bureau at P.O. Box 1157, Richmond, Va. 23218.