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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Pam Datlof knows devastation. She lived in Gulfport, MS, for years before Hurricane Katrina disrupted her life on the Gulf Coast.
Just before the storm hit, her family evacuated their neighborhood that was located just miles from the beach. They traveled inland, and eventually to Myrtle Beach to wait out the storm.
When Datlof's family returned home one week later, she says they weren't prepared for the damage they saw.
"Our house had chunks of roof missing, no shutters and broken windows," she recalled. "In the backyard, the fence was missing."
While the home was heavily damaged, Datlof said her son suffered even more. He had an apartment on the beach in Gulfport that was completely wiped out. In the place it once stood was a pile of rubble.
"Thank goodness I had taken digital pictures before we left so I could give them to [our] insurance agent," Datloft recalled. "Most importantly, we packed all of our important papers. We got our pets, got in the car and drove inland."
Nanci Conley, director of public support for the Coastal South Carolina American Red Cross, says that's exactly what they want people to do -- plan for a storm to hit but hope it doesn't.
Conley said there's usually no way to prepare for a tornado or a fire, but with a hurricane, people have some time to get an emergency plan in order. She advises that each year on June 1, those living in hurricane-prone areas should get their families together to discuss a hurricane plan.
Conley also advises to build a kit that includes the following items:
AM/FM battery-operated radio
Foods with a long shelf life
Thick gloves, such as gardening gloves
A whistle in case you get stuck under debris
A large container of water
First Aid kit
Midland Weather Radio
A fireproof and waterproof container to store important documents, including:
Immunization records for your family and pets
A copy of any prescriptions or medications that are needed
Digital pictures of your home
An updated record of your belongings
People are advised to think about replenishing materials in the kit because batteries and sanitizers will dry out, food will go bad and photos of property will become outdated. Experts suggest putting together a new kit at the start of each hurricane season.
For those wanting to brave a storm from their home, experts recommend taking a First Aid and CPR class, both of which are offered by the local American Red Cross.
"If you do choose to stay home and if the winds get above a certain [speed], you will not have ambulance or 911 services. You're going to need to be totally self-sufficient," she warned.
For Datlof, being prepared made all the difference. When her family returned home to Gulfport, she showed their insurance agent digital before-and-after pictures of their house.
Without delay, the family had the money to fix the home and put it up for sale. After spending a week in Myrtle Beach, they decided the Grand Strand was where they wanted to make their new life.
Even though her family moved away from the devastation of the Gulf Coast, Datlof's photos of the storm damage are a constant reminder to always have a plan in place.