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updated 10/26/2012 3:21:22 PM ET 2012-10-26T19:21:22

Hurricane Sandy is currently walloping the Bahamas, and the latest forecasts have the storm moving up along the East Coast and potentially making landfall somewhere between North Carolina and Maine early next week, meaning a large portion of the country's population is starting to get nervous.

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Adding to the possible danger from the storm is its tremendous size — tropical storm force winds extend out more than 275 miles (445 kilometers) from the storm's center — and its potential to merge with a cold front currently crossing the country to create a situation similar to the "perfect storm" that hit the Northeast in 1991 and caused more than $200 million in damage.

While this forecast may sound apocalyptic, there's no need to panic. Staying alert to weather forecasts and alerts and taking a few simple precautions can make all the difference in protecting yourself from a storm.

Residents of the East Coast should be watching the weather, taking stock of their emergency supplies and beginning to think about precautions they might need to take for this storm, said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center. People should start paying attention now, "because early next week might be too late," Feltgen told OurAmazingPlanet.

Here are a few of the main hurricane preparation tips to take note of:

What to do now:

  • Stay alert to weather forecasts. Storms can change direction and intensity quickly, which means forecasts can change.
  • Listen to local emergency management authorizes for advice on evacuations and other protective measures to take.
  • It's always a good idea to have an emergency preparedness plan. Have an idea of where you might evacuate if directed to.

"You need to have a hurricane plan," Feltgen said. This includes being aware of your area and what damage it might be susceptible to, as well as evaluating your home for potential hazards. "These are all things you need to think of before a hurricane," he said.

If you're likely to be affected by the storm:

  • Check your flashlights and batteries and make sure they're in working order and good supply.
  • Withdraw cash from the ATM to have in case the power goes out and you need to make any purchases.
  • This is also a good time to put gas in your car.
  • Keep listening to forecasts and your local emergency managers.

If you're in the range of a direct or near-direct hit:

  • Shutter or board up your windows.
  • Clean your yard and remove anything that could be blown around by the wind and cause damage.
  • Make sure you have plenty of water: Fill your bathtub and extra jugs, and buy any bottled water you might need.
  • Follow any evacuation orders issued for your area.
  • If you need to evacuate, be ready to take any important documents with you, as well as basic necessities and anything you consider irreplaceable (photos, laptops, other valuables).
  • If you're a pet owner, you need to include the pet in your evacuation and other emergency plans. "If it's not safe for you to stay behind, then it's not safe to leave pets behind, either," the Red Cross notes on its website.
  • If you're in a high-rise building, take shelter no higher than the 10th floor. Winds become progressively stronger higher up.
  • Avoid elevators.
  • Charge up your phone so that you'll have the maximum amount of battery charge if the power goes out.

What NOT to do:

  • Taping your windows is "a waste of time, effort and tape," Chris Landsea, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hurricane expert, writes on the NOAA Web site. You're better off shuttering or boarding up your windows (see below). Taping up windows can actually make a situation worse if debris hits a window, because the tape keeps the shards of glass together and makes them more dangerous, Feltgen said.
  • Don't leave your windows or doors open: The idea that this prevents a pressure difference from building up between your house and the outside is a myth. The pressure difference is not enough to cause an explosion, Landsea notes. Your windows should be closed, locked and shuttered throughout the duration of the storm.
  • Don't stay behind! The best thing you can do to protect yourself and your family is by leaving the area if advised to do so.

For those who experienced Hurricane Irene last year, the necessity of preparing and evacuating may be acutely clear, with scenes from the storm still fresh in collective memories.

"Irene was a great wake-up call," Feltgen said. It got rid of the region's "hurricane amnesia," which had been in place because of the generation-long gap following the previous major storm to hit.

Some areas, like New York City, didn't see the major impacts from Irene that had been warned, but Feltgen warns people not to become complacent.

"If you prepared for the last storm and it didn't happen, you were lucky," he said. Better to prepare for a storm that misses you than not prepare for one that doesn't.

"You want to be a storm survivor," Feltgen said.

For more information on hurricane preparedness, visit the National Hurricane Center, Red Cross, Red Cross en Español or FEMA.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the extension of Sandy's wind field.

Reach Andrea Thompson at athompson@techmedianetwork.com and follow her on twitter @AndreaTOAP. Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter  @OAPlanet. We're also on  Facebook  and Google+.

© 2012 OurAmazingPlanet. All rights reserved. More from OurAmazingPlanet.

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