In the past couple of hours I have fielded phone calls from friends/family in the path of Hurricane Irene. They wanted to do what they could get right damn now to be prepared for the storm.
Here's what I told them:
Get to a full grocery store, Family Dollar, Dollar General, Wal-Mart or Target or similar store.
Buy 5 gallons of water (at Family Dollar it is 1 buck a gallon). That's for drinking and cooking only. Many places will end up sending out *boil water* orders because their water treatment plants will be flooded, etc. Having ready water to drink will be a relief. Buy 10 gallons if you have a large family.
Buy ready to eat foods. Nuts, dried fruit, trail mix, a box or two of crackers, some peanut butter and bread, anything you don't have to refrigerate or cook. Canned tuna and canned ham or chicken, too.
Buy 1 or 2 tarps. High winds and rain may cause roof leaks or break a window. Tarps can help you reduce or mitigate damage.
If you have a grill, get a bottle or two of propane or if not a gas grill, get charcoal briquets and lighter fluid. If the power goes out for a few days, you'll need this to cook on. The food in your refrigerator should be the first things you cook, then the foods in your freezer.
Buy a cooler and buy a couple of bags of ice to save refrigerated foods if the power goes out. Keep the ice in your freezer until it starts to melt a bit.Then transfer it and your thawing foods to the cooler.
In fact, make as much ice as you can right now! Fill empty 2 liter bottles 3/4 way full and put in freezer where-ever you can fit them in. They will keep your frozen foods frozen longer.
Buy flashlights and batteries NOW. Also some candles. The dark is scary to most people, even more so to small children. Never leave small kids alone in a room with a lit candle. Remember matches and/or lighters.
Buy a manual can opener. Most folks forget this!
Buy paper plates, plastic utensils and aluminum foil. Easy to clean up. Make sure you have trash bags. You can cook in aluminum foil. Get the heavy duty type, so you can cook on the grill or over a campfire.
Move valuables out of basements or any other place where water may flood. If you think it necessary, park your vehicles on higher ground.
Buy a roll of duct tape Tape windows or use to tape up tarps, etc if windows break.
That is the quick basics.
Realize that you should ALWAYS have the above items on hand.