Six Letters Re: Hurricane Irene Lessons Learned

Friday, Sep 2, 2011

Dear Mr. Rawles:
We've been without power for 3-1/2 days and Internet even longer, so I'm late in writing, but I wanted to say that the grace of God and deep preps won the day, here as hurricane Irene blew through.

When the power went out, we went to our generator, so we had water for ourselves and less prepared neighbors.  Those votive lights, the ones in the tall glass containers that often have saints' picture on them were perfect for our windowless bathrooms, and they're fairly cheap.  They burned safely almost the whole time and there's still a day left, I'd say, in each one.  That was a SurvivalBlog idea I picked up on - thanks.

When our old stove died, I went through a lot of hassle to get one with pilot lights instead of those newfangled glow plugs.  Few companies make them - mine was by 'Summit'.  We had to do part of the installation ourselves because the gas guys weren't used to dealing with such old-fashioned stoves, although one old-timer did give us some good hints so we were able to set the flames.  But...this mean that as long as we had propane we could cook anything, bake whatever we wanted.  The Summit stove is very efficient (as is our generator) so it needs no preheat time for the oven.   It also has no timers, lights, etc., which is okay by me.  I have the old-fashioned wind up timer and find I don't really need an oven light now that I'm used to not having one.

We froze a lot of water ahead and also got some bagged ice.  Running the generator 4 - 6 hours a day kept the freezer at 12F or less during the night, covered with quilts. 

It was eerie how the whole thing played out exactly according to the disaster scenarios.  Not only were we isolated - a tree blocked one road and floods another, but when people did get out, they found they had to drive a long way to find stores with power (they were lucky there were any).  In town there was no gas, of course, because no power, and cash only, because no computers.  The local banks were closed, of course, and grocery stores in all directions.  Some people were miffed that the power wasn't restored instantly and didn't seem to understand that there are no guarantees.  Also, the local power companies admitted on the radio that they've cut back on crews, partly because of government regulations, trying to ease their bottom lines.  There were also people who were just plain in denial there was going to be a hurricane.  It read just like a novel.

While we didn't have any security issues, we were armed, having gotten the permits and the weapons and spent range time when the sun shone.  The whole time we were grateful it was 'only' a hurricane and not an EMP or nuclear attack, or some other systemic meltdown.  Having read the survival literature, we knew this was just a bump, a chance to test our preps.

Thanks so much for your site, and for those who write in. - An old farmer in Connecticut

Dear James, 
Hurricane Irene taught me a valuable lesson.   At 4 a.m. on Sunday morning, the alarm on my septic tank went off.  The storm was raging outside and the rainwater had  filled the septic tank.   I went down to the basement to check things out.   The laundry tub has a pump that sends the water up to the soil pipe.  Water was running down to the pump from the overfull septic tank and soil pipe, and the pump would dutifully pump it back up to the soil pipe.  Up, back down, up, back down.   I realized that if the tank got any fuller, the pump would run continuously.   If the electricity went down and the pump stopped working, the waste would have started backing up into the house.   I prayed that the situation would not worsen.   Eventually the rain tapered off, the tank drained off some,  and at 8 am the alarm went off.
 
Up until now, I figured I needed backup power for the well pump and lighting.   It never crossed my mind that the laundry tub pump was a weak point in my preps. I am looking at ways to solve this problem.   I thank the Lord that we did not have a hurricane and a power outage. - L.C. in Pennsylvania

 

Dear Rawles Family,
I started reading your blog about six years ago (shortly after the birth of my first child, motherhood will do that to you) and am grateful everyday because you confirmed the mindset my Grandma gave me and helped me move forward. I hope this gives some marriages some hope.

Last Tuesday I was shopping with my three children. I got out of our vehicle, and noticed people pouring out of the store. I received a text message from my husband to call him immediately and was unable to. (Gee, those handheld radios I keep trying to get him to buy would have come in handy). People were running around saying this was another 9-11. I asked what was going on and was told "earthquake". I have actually lived in places where earthquakes were a common occurrence so the hysteria was a bit funny, but it was dangerous because people were freaking. Kind of like when people down south can't drive when it flurries. Accidents that should never happen do happen. I finally made contact with my husband and was able to assure him that not only were we fine, but if we were unable to make it home I had supplies with me.

This is important because he hated that I am a prepper. He took stuff out of the car that I put in. He removed supplies when I am not looking from bags I have packed and has gotten into heated arguments with me when I try to get him to buy one extra can of meat at the store. He will not, under any circumstances allow me to store water. He would rather sock money away, I would rather sock supplies away. For the first time, he was glad I was a prepper. I warned him that if he took anything out of our vehicle without telling me and we needed it on the way home that I was going to kill him. We were fine.

Less then two days later we were told the Mother of all storms was headed directly for us. This is the first time my husband has taken a storm seriously. He ran around clearing the yard of all items and what stopped him cold was when I calmly asked him what he planned to do about the whole week long, at least, power outage. He looked worried for the first time. See, we have wells powered by electricity. My pleas for a generator and solar power were ignored. My attempts for storing water were mocked and forbidden. So I just calmly reminded him of that. He freaked out.

Now I knew I had a Berkey (my Christmas gift one year) and a swimming pool. And that equaled drinking water. I had several large bathtubs and that equaled flushing and washing water. I knew that I had stashed oil lamps (which had precipitated a massive verbal fight in Wal-Mart over me buying "clutter") and two lanterns. I knew I had three battery powered radios  and the batteries to run them. But he didn't. He rushed out to stores and found...nothing. I let him. I wanted him to see that reality and feel that for once. Then when he got home I calmly took him through my plans. He was then called into work with only an hour to respond.

While he was upstairs dressing to spend an untold period of time away from us while during a massive storm (something he has told me I do not need to prep for--because it would never happen), I calmly pulled together a BOB kit for him. See I had already packed one for him, several times, and he removed them from his vehicle and warned me to never put them in his car again. So I waited for him to get dressed and was able to run down a list in my head and pull from various sources (you see my husband will not prep for an emergency, but he will "prep" for spontaneous hospitality...so we had junk food and drinks, extra bedding and towels, first aid kit et cetera for guests. There are ways to work with reluctant spouses :) and had his car packed in less then the 15 minutes it took for him to get dressed. He was very worried and begging me to prep away. I was praying, calm and had a plan.

I prepped as fast as I could for the storm. I made sleeping quarters in the basement. Put the children to bed after full baths, fully clothed. I was putting batteries in my radio when the power went down and the storm hit. Yes, I could have been really mad because I should have had everything in place if I didn't have to prep in secret but I have to spread my supplies around so I don't look like I am doing "that stupid prepping again", but I had the stuff.

I had ten minutes before tornado warnings started blaring on the radio. I calmly woke the kids up, got them to the basement with the dogs and barricaded them down there while I ran around to all my stashes getting supplies we would need to survive the aftermath. I made it back down with one minute to spare and got us in the closet. Thank God that I had "prepped" for a birthday party with glow in the dark jewlery--which is a great way to lighten the mood for small children locked in a closet during tornados.

My formerly anti-prepper husband then spent the whole time trying to reach us through the cell phone. See he has always refused to install the land line I wanted for emergencies. So we were at the mercy of the cell phones, which didn't work well or lost power quickly because they are "smart" phones". He came home to us safe, but the power down for "one week to three weeks" according to the power company.

However, I had talked him into keeping extra gas on hand for all his power tools. He bartered that (because there was no gas to be found) and one of my radios and batteries to hook up to a generator. So we didn't lose all the food. But we came close.

Needless to say, my husband just purchased our first generator, is calling about a land line and hasn't said a word about the water bottles I have begun storing since the power came back up.

The most profound thing that happened is that it shook him from his "it will never happen" sleep. Thank God, and not a moment too soon. So for any of you spouses out there dealing with this. Pray and don't stop. God is much better at waking people up and changing hearts then we are, And being willing to take the heat and prep within the parameters still works. Thanks for all the work you do Mr. Rawles and Family. - Mrs. L.B.

 

Dear JWR:
My husband and I read SurvivalBlog  regularly and want to share with other readers a way to keep insulin cool during periods without electricity. My husband has been a Type I diabetic for 43 years (44 this coming Thanksgiving) so I am always reading magazines, etc. about diabetes. A couple of years ago I came across an article about Frio insulin cooling wallets. I immediately ordered one but we had not used it until Hurricane Irene came through eastern North Carolina last weekend.

Thankfully our power was restored after 25 hours, but many people in other parts of the region may be without power for up to a week. If this had been the case, my husband’s life-saving insulin would have been available without our worrying about it being denatured by high temperatures.

The Frio wallet contains crystals activated by immersion in cold water and maintains its low temperature (77-to-79 degrees Fahrenheit) for a minimum of 45 hours through the evaporation of the water. After 45 hours, the wallet can be reactivated by simply immersing in  more cold water! The wallet also works in cold temperatures to keep insulin from being frozen.

The Frio wallets come in several sizes from the mini, which holds one vial of insulin, to the extra large that can hold eight vials of insulin. The wallets can be bought directly from the manufacturer. Or, depending on size of the wallet and the vendor, often less expensively through Amazon.com. - Brenda W.

James;
We live in Southern Vermont and have weathered Tropical Storm Irene rather well.  Our preparations included filling up our vehicles with gasoline, making one last run to the grocery store, bracing the chicken coop, and clearing up all the recent construction bits and bobs.  We just completed replacing our steel roof and we had put in a  new deck so there were a lot of small items that needed to be either thrown on the burn pile or put away for use later.  Outdoor furniture was placed in the barn, in the house, or tied down.
 
The recently completed chicken coop was certainly a target for high winds.  It would need bracing it to prevent the coop from being tipped over during the expected high winds.  I drove 2 four foot pieces (2x4s) into the ground on the downhill side of the coop.   The bottom of those 2x4 stakes were then attached to the top of the chicken coop with two 2x4s.  This effectively increases the width of the chicken coop and any strong breeze to either side of the chicken coop would have to work against those braces. 

Two eye hooks that were screwed into the top of the chicken coop on the other side of the braces.  A piece of polypropylene rope was tied off using those two eye hooks to a conveniently located apple tree and tightened down hard.  This created tension from the tree, through the coop framing, to the ground stakes.   My wife always complained about how I loved to tie my knots, but they certainly came in handy in securing our chicken’s home.
 
We tested the generator and manual transfer switch.  We expected heavy rains and some flooding so any elements located in the barn that would be damaged by flooding were placed up on wooden skids.  The pond is drained by two four-inch pieces of PVC.  Their grates were cleaned and replaced.  All fruit and veggies were harvested as much as possible from the garden and the hoop house.
 
The hoop house (green house) was tied down internally by using the remnants to the polypro rope to two five gallon buckets loaded with stone.  Two cinder blocks This anchored the hoop house on each end, yet allowed a little flexibility depending on the amount of wind being delivered by Irene.
 
These are all the preparations that were in addition to the regular activities and items that we had already performed as a normal course of ‘just being prepared.’  Gasoline and propane stored and ready to go; water stored in the basement with a gravity-fed water source into the house; food frozen, food canned, food in the fridge; backup generator filled and ready to rock; BOBs loaded and ready to run if necessary; full med kits filled out for ‘most any emergency.’ 
 
Everything was looking just fine for Irene’s visit.
 
We watched Hurricane Irene as she tracked her way through New Jersey and into New York City.  Her forecasted track did not change very much at all.  As she progressed up through New England we watched as she come across Connecticut dropping in severity to a tropical storm, and dropping significant amounts of rain.  As it approached our home, the rain starting to come down filling the storm drains on our property and on the road at the end of the driveway.  Our early estimate was that the rain fall was an inch per hour.  Two hours later we were experiencing 2 inches an hour.  That is when things started to get interesting.
 
The property was saturated.  The storm drains over flowed.  Our pond over flowed.  The drainage along the road started to over flow and began to cover our driveway.   And our basement started to flood.  My wife announced that we had two inches in the basement.  I had expected some seepage into the basement, but no more than two inches.  There was a monsoon occurring in New England and it wasn’t likely to stop anytime soon. 
 
There was a drain just to the uphill side on the road that was supposed to direct the water into a drainage pipe.  The DOT team had performed some pre-emptive grass cutting a week ago.  I had expected that the drain may end up getting clogged and prepared for it.  I grabbed my rake, hat and slicker and headed out to the road to address the problem.  I was in luck.  The grate was obviously clogged, but the water had risen significantly to over three foot in depth.  I had to use the rake handle as a walking stick to get down closer to the grate with unforgiving, slick footing.  I wished I had a safety line on and my wife on the other end.  If I slipped, the suction of the rushing water could have pinned me underwater.  As soon as I felt the grate under the rake handle I stopped, reversing the rake, I dragged the business end of the rake across the grate removing the long grass, sticks, and twigs that had created a mat of vegetation blocking the flow of water.   It didn’t take much to clear that grate; maybe four or five passes with the rake.  I then reversed my way out of that stream to the road surface.
 
To make sure that both ends of the pipe were clear, I also walked the 100 yards to the other end of the drainage pipe and ensured that was flowing clear and that there were no obstructions.
 
Once that was taken care of I headed up to our pond.  The volume of water off the mountain had created a small stream that was flowing from the back of my property, through the pumpkin patch into the pond.  The two four-inch drainage pipes from the pond were partially clogged by the grass carried down by the stream.  Water was flowing over the earthen dam and if left unchecked would have eroded and cause the pond to empty down into the barn below and end up in the road.  Again, using the rack handle I walked gingerly into the pond checking my footing along the way.  We had previously placed quarter-inch square rabbit wire around the ends of the 4-inch pipes in order to prevent the grass and leaves from clogging the pond drains.  However, with the large volume of water flowing into the pond, those drains were now insufficient to prevent the pond over flow.  I had to remove those wire filters that were partially clogged to ensure that the water would flow through the drains and not over the earthen top of the pond.  Once that was accomplished, I figured I would allow nature take its course at the pond.  The pond water was merrily flowing into and out of the barn taking with it all manner of dirt, sawdust and manure.  From the pond and barn I had to return to the house and examine the basement.
 
The water had continued to rise in the basement.  It was where our long term food supplies were stored both in five gallon buckets and on shelves canned and prepped for future use.  We couldn’t allow the water to rise much higher or it would ruin the freezer, the furnace, or the hot water heater.  My wife started to panic with that.  She grabbed a bucket and started to bail, carrying the water out the rear access door.  I rigged a small pump, a real small pump, to a garden hose and let that do some the work.   I assumed that with a small pump plus the drain in the floor working we could hold our own and not need to use a five gallon bucket. 
 
Big mistake! The floor drain, which worked so well taking the output from my dehumidifier, was clogged!  The water continued to rise.  We were now at five inches.  In a moment of inspiration, I decided to use the house pump.  I didn’t even need to rewire it, but I did have to disconnect the pump from the water from our spring.  I turned off the pump circuit breaker for safety sake.  After all, I was up to my ankles in water and therefore well grounded!  Closing a few valves stopped the spring water entering the house and also closed off the pump output from the house plumbing.  The 1 ½ inch hard plastic hose was quickly disconnected and redirected into the high water.   I turned on the pump at the circuit breaker and relaxed.  Away the pump ran, starting to drain the water out through a suitable garden hose and out the onto the backyard grass. 
 
All was well in the world.  Once again I had proved myself to the wife in coming up with a brilliant solution to a major issue.  Definitely a MacGyver moment.  I ruled!  Then the power failed.  I was crushed.  Needless to say, I was exhausted and soaking wet from the rain.  Having the little swim in the pond and the drainage ditch didn’t help.  Those are my excuses and I am sticking to them.
 
So I figured that I need to get more output from the small pump… Obviously!  I decided to add a garden hose T-connector to the small garden hose to increase the volume.  Obviously not thinking straight really.  The small pump had a limited volume.  You cannot get more water out of a small pump by having two, three or four garden hoses.  If it can pump 20 gallons per minute out of a garden hose, two garden hoses do not get you 40 gallons per minute!  It was obvious that this was not working and my patient wife, who was still bailing was under impressed with my efforts so far. 
 
I decided to run to the hardware store and buy another pump!  A great idea, but so flawed.  By this time we had been under the influence of Irene for over 16 hours with the last four hours of significant rainfall.  Needless to say, off I went into the 4x4 pickup and down the road heading to Brattleboro.  I believe that all your readers by now are intimately familiar with Brattleboro courtesy of the national news services.  I made it down two miles or so when I ran into massive road wash that made the road impassable.  Not to worry, off to the other town in Southern Vermont.  Wilmington!  Well I never made it to Wilmington either.  Water had washed out the road.   Two small trees, approx 80 foot in length, had collapsed across the road at approximately the same location as the same stream had washed away the roots.  In short, I wasn’t going to make it into Wilmington.  Dover was out of the question as well as the bridges on those roads were simply gone.
 
In record time, I returned home completely deflated.  My wife was exhausted upon my arrival.  I told her to stop for a break and I briefed her on the lack of a second pump.  ‘Why don’t you turn on the generator and plug in the pump?’   Now you know why I married her…  I realized that I had to rewire the pump, I needed a plug, which I didn’t have.  But I did have plenty of extension cords…  So the plan was set and I fired up the generator, which I should have done an hour ago.  I ran out to the barn where I had a smaller appliance grade extension cord only 10 foot in length.   Cut in half I could use the male plug to wire in and replace the 12 gauge wire running into the pump. 
 
You see, we had a gravity fed water supply to the house.  We added the pump to provide a stronger water pressure in the house (45 psi vs 17 psi from gravity) as the pump wasn’t required for TEOTWAWKI I hadn’t wired it into the transfer switch to the generator.  So the immediate and safest solution was to wire it to this male plug end of the extension cord and then plug it into a ‘hot’ plug in the basement.  Where the water was…  Where I was standing.
 
So the re-wiring was straight forward.  Even running the extension cord was simple, when  I heard my wife say, ‘You don’t mind if I leave the basement when you plug that in do you?  Just give me a head’s up before you do something stupid!’
 
So, the two of us left the basement and cheated death from Irene.  We plugged the cord into a suitable plug located in the kitchen.  The pump began to whirr, spin and drain the basement.
 
Currently we are still isolated in the interior of Vermont.  The road crews started work on sorting out some of the roads that may provide drive routes to towns with supplied grocery stores.  Well-built bridges will be required to carry commercial loads of food and supplies.  I understand Wilmington has issues with sewage, septic, water, food, and structural issues.  Vermont highways and bridges are washed out or down all over the place.  But we do have shelter, water, food, electricity, phone, and even an Internet connection.  In about a week there may be some convoluted solutions to get to a local grocery.
 
Lessons learned? Plenty!  Once I catch a breath, I am going to wire that pump into the transfer switch and I am going to buy another pump.  Maybe something like a large capacity marine pump that will run on DC.  I will also plumb that existing pump up with a garden hose fitting as an option to simplify using the house pump in case of an emergency of this nature. 
 
"One hundred year storms" don’t know how to read a calendar.  Another Hurricane just like Irene (or worse) could arrive next month or next year.
 
Stay safe from Southern Vermont – J.A.


James:
In the wake of hurricane Irene, many of your faithful readers are probably re-assessing their emergency preps.  As I will explain, it would be prudent to do so immediately.  I live in central Florida and experienced hurricane conditions three times in a period of six weeks during 2004 (Charlie, Frances and Jeane).  During that time, I observed an interesting reaction to the storms.  For the first storm, most people were under prepared, unaware of the potential difficulties, and took minimal precautions at the last minute. 

The second storm was an entirely different matter.  As soon as the forecast threatened the area, people were out in droves filling gas tanks and cans, buying supplies, and buying out storm prep items from store shelves.  People who were not prepared before the storm forecast was announced ended up being inconvenienced, or out of luck, if they needed to go out and get anything.  This is an important point for your readers in the areas affected by Irene: final preparations will probably be more difficult if another storm is forecast to hit your area.  If you need to tweak your hurricane preps, do it now before another storm comes along.  Observe how public officials have reacted to Irene with an early robust response in light of what happened with Hurricane Katrina.  The general public will do the same for the next storm, even if it is not for another year or two. 

Finally, when the third storm came, most people had their preps ready from the previous storms and everyone knew the drill.  It has been several years since the last storm hit, so I would not be surprised if the cycle repeated.  It is hard to appreciate the intensity of a hurricane if you haven't experienced one, but the learning curve is steep.  I can see one potential benefit of hurricane Irene:  It will probably motivate many people to become better prepared and learn form great resources like your SurvivalBlog.  - John in Florida


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