The start of this year's hurricane season is rapidly approaching, and LSU AgCenter experts say stocking up on supplies now makes sense — whether you think a storm may come your way or not.

“Don't wait until there's a storm brewing to get batteries, flashlights, nonperishable food and other things you'll need if the power goes out,” Paul Coreil, vice chancellor of the LSU AgCenter, said. “Start now. It will be a lot easier if you shop for supplies early rather than getting caught up in the last-minute rush at the stores.”

Stocking up isn't wasteful, according to the experts, who say most of the supplies you need to survive the first few days after a storm are things you can use later if this year's storm season turns calm.

“We can hope we're as lucky this year as we've been the past couple of years, but we shouldn't forget what happened in 2005 — with Katrina and Rita. People should hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”

You will need a variety of basic supplies to survive during and after a storm.

“After a major hurricane, you could be housebound for as much as a week or longer, probably with no electricity,” LSU AgCenter disaster preparedness specialist Pat Skinner said.

“Water may be off or contaminated. Stores may be closed. Gas stations may not be in operation. Restaurants may not be open.”

The same types of rules apply if you have to evacuate.

You'll still need some basic supplies, since an evacuation more than likely will mean spending hours in the car and nights away from home.

“Either way, you'll need some nonperishable food and enough water for everyone,” Skinner said.

“You'll also want to have some other basic supplies, and you can shop for most of those now and store them until they're needed.”

Some of the supplies you may need include flashlights and extra batteries; hurricane lamps or lanterns (avoid candles); portable radio and extra batteries; first-aid kit or first-aid supplies; insect repellent; matches; ice chest; disposable cups, plates and utensils; disposable towelettes; and prescription medications.

You should have at least a three-day supply of food and water for each person. That means at least 2 quarts of water — a gallon is preferable — per person each day.

Choose foods that require little or no cooking and no refrigeration, and buy them in sizes appropriate for one meal with no leftovers.

Keep low-volume, high-energy foods, such as granola bars, raisins and peanut butter, on hand.

“Don't forget to have a manual can opener. Otherwise, you won't be able to open canned foods when the power is out,” Skinner cautioned.

LSU AgCenter experts also say to consider any special dietary needs and to be sure to have items such as baby food and diapers on hand, if you need them.

“Keep your pets in mind, too, because they'll also need to be fed and to have water,” Skinner said.

Although it's not an absolute necessity, an electrical generator “could be particularly important if you must operate medical equipment continuously,” Skinner said. “It also is a way you can protect your investment in frozen foods, since a generator could allow you to keep your refrigerator and freezer running.”

Camp stoves or barbecue grills also can help with cooking. Just be sure you have enough fuel on hand — and use them outdoors only.

“Most of the items you'll need have a long shelf life, but they disappear from stores quickly when hurricane warnings are issued,” Skinner said.

“That's why it's important to gather these supplies now — before a storm is approaching.

“Doing so also allows you to concentrate on the other preparations you'll need to be making as a storm approaches.”

LSU AgCenter experts point out that while hurricanes Katrina and Rita served as a wake-up call for people who hadn't really faced the full devastation of a head-on hit by a major hurricane, the mild hurricane seasons in 2006 and 2007 could lead people to think “it won't happen again.”

But it's important to heed warnings and to be prepared, the experts say.

“Much of the damage and loss of life associated with hurricanes can be prevented or reduced by planning, preparation and evacuation,” Coreil said.

“Planning may save your life or your pet's life or help you to salvage something else you hold dear.

“At any rate, it definitely will help you to sleep easier through the hurricane season. And it probably will help to reduce damage to your home, help you cope during the storm and help you recover more easily after a storm.”

To help with preparations, Louisiana residents can buy certain hurricane preparedness items free of some sales taxes on May 24-25. During that two-day period, the first $1,500 in purchases of certain supplies will be exempt from state sales tax. Visit the Louisiana Department of Revenue's Web site at www.revenue.louisiana.gov for more details on the “sales tax holiday.”

For more information on preparing for a disaster or recovering from one, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office.

You also may find the online versions of such publications as “There's a Hurricane Forming” in the publications section of the LSU AgCenter's Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. Other resources also are available by visiting the Hazard and Threats section listed under Family and Home on the AgCenter Web site or by going directly to www.lsuagcenter.com/hurricanes.