During the past few weeks, I’ve noticed the news headlines are filled with stories of disaster—the recent flood in Louisiana, wildfires in California, earthquakes in Italy and tropical weather headed toward the gulf coast region. Even government officials in Germany have instructed citizens to get prepared and stock up on food, water and supplies for 10 days.
This really made me think. If there was a disaster and I had to evacuate to a shelter, or even stay at home without help for several days, would I be ready? Sadly, the answer was no.
September is National Preparedness Month and my goal is to bring awareness to families with food allergies or autoimmune disorders (including celiac disease) who need to be prepared for the unexpected. While all families should be prepared, those with dietary restrictions need to take extra steps to make sure they have proper food and supplies as help may not be available for several days in some cases.
If you happened to follow the news coverage of the recent Louisiana flooding, you likely saw images of my friend Barbara Manuel and her children, Elliott, 8, and Emily, 5, as they were being rescued by the National Guard near Walker, LA. CLICK HERE to view the news article and picture. With only what they could carry in backpacks, they left their home with garbage bags duct-taped around their legs to keep their feet and legs dry as they waded through the contaminated flood water.
“As we were walking through the flood water, we saw patches of ants floating about as well as smelled gasoline and saw mice swimming in the water,” Barbara said. “The water was disgusting.”
Barbara had just enough time to grab a couple of changes of clothes for herself and each of her children, as well as a few emergency food items including granola bars, peanut butter, packs of grits and bottled water. She also packed phone chargers, extra batteries and tablets for the kids. Fortunately, after their rescue they were taken to a church shelter that accommodated every need they had, so she didn’t really need many of the things she packed. Several days passed before they were able to return to their home, but when they did, their home was spared. They were the lucky ones.
On that same day in the neighboring town of Denham Springs, another friend, Mollie Baker, waited in the attic with her two-year-old daughter, Skylar, for volunteers with a boat to come to their rescue. The water gushing into the house was already above her knees when she started packing, and was nearly four feet deep when they were finally rescued. Mollie had time to pack a few things—vitamins, wallet, snacks, toothbrushes, and her daughter’s beloved Bitty Baby doll.
“She held her tight for two days after we were rescued by boat,” Mollie said, referring to Skylar’s doll.
Mollie said she wished she would’ve had an emergency backpack ready to go before the unexpected flood.
“That way I wouldn’t be running in knee-high water trying to gather my thoughts and make sure my daughter is safe at the same time,” she said. “I remember running around like a chicken with its head cut off because that is how it felt!”
When Mollie was finally able to return to her home, she discovered that she had lost everything she hadn’t taken with her, including her vehicle. She decided it was best to leave Louisiana and move in with family in another state because she had nowhere else to go.
“In the end, I am just so thankful our Heavenly Father got us out alive,” she said. “Most things can be replaced. Your life is irreplaceable, and you can always build a new one.”
Both of my friends safely made it to higher ground, but they certainly understand the importance of having an emergency kit and an evacuation plan.
Until talking with them about being displaced by the flood, I didn’t have an emergency kit, but I definitely have one now. Ready.gov has a great emergency kit checklist CLICK HERE, but if you have special dietary requirements, you’ll also need to be prepared to provide your own food and medicine for several days in case help doesn’t arrive soon or if you find yourself at a shelter that isn’t set up to accommodate dietary restrictions. Most shelters have very limited options and the risk of cross contamination is very high.
My church held a donation drive for flood victims and collected enough supplies to fill a 52-foot trailer. A lot of non-perishable food was donated, and as I helped sort boxes full of Ramen noodles, mac and cheese, canned ravioli, Spaghetti O’s, and peanut butter crackers to load onto the truck, I realized that my son and I, who are both on gluten-free diets, wouldn’t be able to eat any of it. It really got my attention!
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