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Bracing your finances for a storm

Marty Wagner carries Tatum Wagner as they move away from the spray caused by surging water from Hurricane Ike in Galveston Bay of Kemah, Texas.

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Tess Vigeland: Do you have a non-electric can opener. You know, the one that requires some cranking? You would if you lived in Hurricane Alley, 'cause there's no guarantee of when the electricity will return after a storm.

Residents along the Gulf Coast have dealt with several already this year -- Eduardo, Hanna, Gustav, now Ike -- and each time a projected path pops up on The Weather Channel families scramble for food, shelter and other necessities.

David Martin Davies of Texas Public Radio tells us those expenses can really add up.


David Martin Davies: Port Arthur sits on the Texas coast next to Louisiana. It's a working class town, dominated by petroleum refineries, fishing and sometimes, hurricanes.

The storms burden locals with all sorts of added costs.

Karen Schexnider: Time, money, its just such an inconvenience that really nobody wants.

Mary Maguire: It's such an inconvenience. We don't have time for this!

Best friends Karen Schexnider and Mary Maguire were getting ready for Hurricane Gustav by stocking up on groceries. Their shopping cart overflowed with two cases of Top Ramen instant noodles, gallons of water, 12-packs of soft drinks, candles and other supplies. They said prepping for the coming storm was a budget buster.

Schexnider: I think everyone lives paycheck to paycheck these days.

Maguire: We're all living pay check to pay check.

Schexnider: It hurts. I know with me hunkering down all this stuff that I bought won't go to waste. Eventually it will be either saved for the next time or used.

On the day before Hurricane Gustav's arrival, this grocery store was the only enterprise still open and there was no shortage of customers. All the checkout lines were full and families like that of Sabrina Whitney's were feeling the stress -- not just from the hurricane. They were also watching the family bank account take an ugly hit.

Sabrina Whitney: Any savings we might have we have to spend on the hurricane and then hope another one doesn't come around behind it and wipe out after we spent all our money.

Her husband Sean Steiner said he watched prices climb in the lead up to the hurricane.

Sean Steiner: Storms are good for business, well, for hardware and everywhere else. Gas went up 10 cents the minute they said anything about this hurricane in the area.

Predatory overpricing is a reality and a crime. This week the Texas Attorney General's office charged a Comfort Inn motel with price gouging. It's accused of jacking up room rates from $80 to $150 during Hurricane Dolly which struck South Texas in July.

In addition to motels, gas and meals, there are other expenses that add up when a hurricane comes to town.

Steiner: We've already spent money on lumber, gas cans, tape, a lot of the essentials.

Steiner said hurricane victims often miss work -- another blow to their budgets. And there's always the possibility of being without electricity for days, if not weeks.

Kenny Gaspard: You don't want to have a bunch of groceries because you'll lose everything in your fridge.

Port Arthur resident Kenny Gaspard came out of the store with a cart full of non-perishable items. He wasn't just prepping his household, but also dealing with other members of his family.

Gaspard: I have an 82-year-old mother and a special needs sister. She's got spina bifida and she's in a wheelchair and it's just hard to move them and the hotels rooms are booked all the way to Oklahoma. It's just crazy.

Gaspard had this recommendation: People should have money stashed away as an emergency evacuation fund.

Gaspard: I would say at least two grand. Depends how big the family is.

For families who don't have the money to fund an exodus, there are always government-run evacuation sites. For everyone else, their personal finances have to weather the storm.

In Port Arthur, Texas, I'm David Martin Davies for Marketplace Money.

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