How to respond when the lights go off and everybody’s home.
OK, it happened – the power’s gone out. Cheers for that, Cyclone Gabrielle. What do I do now?
Staying calm is priority number one. Make sure everyone in the house is safe, including little ones and pets, and reassure them that everything’s going to be OK, because it probably will be.
Great, that’s done. What’s next?
You probably want to find a torch. Battery-powered lighting is preferable to prevent fire risk. Hopefully you’ve been keeping your phone fully charged, as per our guidelines on how to prepare for Cyclone Gabrielle. You can report your outage to your power company or Vector and check the status of other power cuts through this outage map.
Looks like the power might be out for a while. Do we hunker down?
If your house remains habitable, yes. (If it’s not, you can call 0800 22 22 00 or visit aem.govt.nz to organise emergency accommodation and welfare needs). Those in the storm zone are being asked to stay home and avoid travel wherever possible. Auckland Emergency Management suggests that once you’ve made sure you and the members of your household are OK, you should think about checking in on nearby neighbours who might be in a vulnerable position. “This is distressing, stressful, and can be lonely and frightening for vulnerable or isolated households,” AEM says.
It’s getting a little chilly at nights with all this rain. Can I use my heaters?
Well, any plug-in ones won’t work. If you’ve got an indoor gas heater, you can use that as long as you adhere to manufacturer guidelines. AEM says fireplaces can be used as long as they’ve been checked recently. But don’t be tempted to drag outdoor heaters or barbecues inside to use for heating, says AEM – this is incredibly dangerous. “If using a generator, make sure you have enough fuel to keep it going,” it says. To be safe, rug up in blankets and extra clothes, and fill hot water bottles using water heated up on your outdoor barbecue.
How safe is tap water to drink?
You should be fine. “Auckland’s water network is very resilient,” says AEM. Watercare has updates on any potential issues, and if you’re worried, supermarkets remain open for emergency supplies of the bottled stuff, or you can boil supplies on your barbecue. For those using tank water, you’ll need to be a little more cautious.
Can I eat the food in my fridge?
Yes. With the current state of supermarkets and food supplies, you’ll want to make the most of your supplies and make sure as little as possible goes to waste. Eat up all the fresh fruit, vegetables and cheese you can and drink up leftover milk as they’re the things likely to go off first. “After more than two days, perishable foods might not be safe to eat,” says Vector. For cooking, you’ll need to use your barbecue or one of those dinky camping stoves if you want to enjoy a hot meal. Again, this needs to be done outdoors in a well ventilated place. “Make sure food is thoroughly cooked before eating,” warns AEM.
How about the food in my freezer?
That depends on how often you open your freezer door. If you keep it shut as much as possible, the food in there could last up to a week, according to my mother-in-law, a veteran of the Christchurch earthquakes. You may want to give those sausages a sniff before chucking them onto the barbecue though. “If the colour has changed, it has a slimy texture or smells off, it probably is,” says AEM. It also warns that once the power comes back on, you can’t refreeze thawed food.
Will my pet’s food be OK?
The same rules apply for pet food as they do for human food. They can get sick eating contaminated food, so if it’s been a couple of days and that dog roll smells worse than usual, chuck it out and feed them some biscuits instead. AEM warns contaminated food should be removed from the fridge as soon as possible so it doesn’t contaminate other food. “Managing hygiene around food preparation requires more thought than normal,” it says.
OK, I’m warm and have food and water. How do I stay up to date with the weather forecast and news updates?
Listen to a battery-powered radio, or if you don’t have one of those, try your car. Limit calls to preserve the life of your phone battery, warns AEM, so you can keep scrolling. Of courses, we’ll be covering everything you need to know through this weather event right here on The Spinoff. And there are updates on AEM’s website too.
I think I’ve got this under control. Anything else I should be aware of?
“Unfortunately, emergency situations can also prompt criminal activity,” warns AEG. “If you see anyone committing a crime or behaving suspiciously, phone 111 and report it to police … DO NOT put yourself in harm’s way.”
For more advice, visit Auckland Emergency Management’s website here.