How to prepare for and stay safe during a power outage Millions of Floridians are without power in the wake of Hurricane Ian, which now has its sights set on South Carolina. Here are some do's and don'ts of blackout safety.

How to prepare for and stay safe during a power outage

A worker repairs traffic lights during a power outage following Hurricane Ian on Thursday in Bartow, Fla. Gerardo Mora/Getty Images hide caption

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Gerardo Mora/Getty Images

A worker repairs traffic lights during a power outage following Hurricane Ian on Thursday in Bartow, Fla.

Gerardo Mora/Getty Images

Hurricane Ian has left large swaths of Florida underwater and in darkness, with some 2.6 million homes and businesses out of power as of midday Thursday.

Three-fourths of those outages are concentrated across the seven counties closest to where the storm came ashore, with the hardest-hit coastal counties of Lee and Charlotte "basically off the grid at this point," as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis put it at a morning briefing. About 90% of the region is without power. (Read below for tips on staying safe when the power goes out — and for using portable generators safely.)

He said that while crews are ready to begin evaluations and repairs, the extent of the damage in those counties, among other areas, will require significant rebuilding that could take weeks or longer.

And as parts of Florida embark on what could be a long road to recovery, its northern neighbors are still bracing for impact. Forecasters say the tropical storm could regain hurricane intensity as it moves toward coastal South Carolina, where it's expected to make a second U.S. landfall on Friday.

The National Hurricane Center put the state's entire coastline under a hurricane warning on Thursday morning, advising that all "preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion."

Fortunately, there are things you can do to prepare for a power outage. FEMA recommends the following tips:

  • Find alternate power sources, like batteries and portable chargers or power banks, to use when the power goes out. Make sure each member of the household has their own flashlight — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends battery-powered flashlights and lanterns as opposed to candles and gas torches, to minimize fire risk.
  • Disconnect appliances and electronics to avoid damage from electrical surges. Also, install carbon monoxide detectors with battery backup in central locations throughout your home to alert you to possible carbon monoxide poisoning (more on that below).
  • Prepare food and know how to store it. FEMA advises maintaining several days' supply of nonperishable food and water, and keeping your fridge and freezer closed. It says a fridge will keep food cold for about four hours, and a full freezer will maintain its temperature for about 48 hours — you can use a thermometer to double check, and should toss the food out if the temperature reaches 40 degrees or higher.
  • Know your medical needs and make a power outage plan for any medical devices and refrigerated medicines. Ask your doctor for guidance about life-critical medications, including how long certain meds can be stored at higher-than-recommended temperatures.

After the storm passes you'll probably want to haul out your portable generator, if you have one.

But don't do so before reading up on safety tips — using them improperly can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be fatal after just a few minutes (and kills some 85 people each year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC).

In fact, after Hurricane Laura struck Louisiana in 2020, data revealed that more people died from carbon monoxide poisoning than the storm itself.

And the same was true after Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in the Florida Keys in 2017 — according to CDC data, there were 11 directly hurricane-related deaths compared to 16 deaths from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.

Here's what you should and shouldn't do when it comes to operating a portable generator safely, according to the CPSC:

  • Never use the generator inside a home, garage, basement or shed (even if the windows are open).
  • Only use a generator outside, placed at least 20 feet away from your home and directed so that the exhaust goes away from your home and any other buildings someone could enter. A porch is still considered too close. Any windows and doors in the path of the exhaust should remain closed.
  • Read the labels, instructions and warnings on the generator and in the owner's manual. You can also watch a CPSC public service announcement on generator safety in English and Spanish.
  • Install battery-operated CO alarms on each level of your home and outside separate sleeping areas. If any go off, get outside immediately before calling 911.
  • Recognize the most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, which include headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.

And, if you're going to be buying or replacing a portable generator anytime soon, look for one with a carbon monoxide shut-off safety feature. They're designed to turn off automatically when high levels of CO are present.