Six Letters Re: Hurricane Sandy After Action Reports

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James,
I'm located in central New Jersey not far from the Delaware River. In the days prior to the hurricane hitting, everyone packed the supermarkets, warehouse clubs and home improvement stores to stock up.

At the home improvement stores, the people who had best luck getting generators were those who purchased them online and selected in-store pickup. There were lines of people 100+ deep from the front of the store to the back waiting for new shipments of generators to arrive. The only people who were guaranteed anything were those who had already purchased and paid online.

For those lucky enough to get a generator, they'd have a hard time fueling it if they didn't already have gas cans and gas stored at home. The shelves were cleared of gas cans days before the storm hit.

The warehouse club that we are members of sold out of water the day before the storm hit. They normally have pallets of water on shelves up to the ceiling along the length of an entire aisle. That aisle was completely bare. They also sold out of most fruits/and vegetables that could store for a little without power. The displays that normally hold bananas and apples were bare.

Flashlights and D batteries were gone days before the storm too. The only ones that were left were plug-in rechargeable flashlights that would be of little use after the first discharge in a power outage.

My sister had luck finding a huge display of batteries at a big chain baby store. Most people went straight to the supermarkets and home improvement stores, not thinking that many other types of stores also kept basic supplies.

The winds really started to pick up Monday afternoon. There wasn't much rain, even at the height of the storm, but the winds were very strong. Our house, which is only 4 years old, shuddered a couple of times in the highest gusts. We didn't sustain any physical damage to the house, but a couple of small trees tilted over but didn't uproot or break. Some sections of vinyl fencing in our neighborhood blew out and shattered from the force of the wind.

Sections of our neighborhood started to lose power around 6 PM not long after the hurricane made landfall. Street lights were out and the power to houses across the street were out. From our upstairs windows, we watched the sky glow blue and pink in all directions as transformers blew. Every minute or so another one would blow.

Finally, around 8:30 PM, we watched a transformer light the sky up for about 30 seconds. When it finally darkened, we and the rest of our neighborhood were out of power.

I had filled our spare refrigerator in our garage with cases of water and the spare freezer with bags of ice. I also took every empty plastic jug and bottle out of our recycling bins and filled them 3/4 of the way with water and froze them in our main/spare freezers. Every inch of freezer space that wasn't packed with food was packed with an ice bottle.

I knew our refrigerator wouldn't keep food cold long, so we immediately transferred our most critical food (milk for the kids, etc.) into ice filled coolers. The main freezer with most of our frozen food and frozen water bottles was never opened. It stayed perfectly cold until the power came back on, and most of the ice bottles had barely started to thaw. The food in our ice-filled coolers also was fine. We did sacrifice non-critical food that we didn't have space for in the coolers to the garbage bin.

We lit the house with long-lasting led lanterns that definitely did the trick. We hunkered around an old battery power radio to keep up with storm news, and gave our two-year old son a spare lantern to play with, which kept him happy. With no power and little news expected until morning, we turned in early (for us) at around 10 PM.

Our furnace was out and we don't have a fireplace, so the temperature dropped to the low 60s in our house overnight. It was a little chilly, but we were comfortable enough. We were definitely lucky it wasn't colder outside.

By the morning the storm had passed and a family that we are very close friends with down the street had their generator running. We and several of our friends congregated there for the day. They had enough power for their refrigerator, several lights, a tv and cable box, and a power strip for charging phones.

Although the power was out, the cable stayed on until around noon so we were able to see the first images of storm damage. After the cable went out, most of us switched to our web-enabled smartphones and social media to stay informed and reach out to friends.

We grilled outside for lunch and dinner, with everyone pitching in food that would go bad if unused. Everyone with spare gas stored was prepared to pitch in whatever they had until the power came back on to keep the generator running. We brought over 10 gallons that wasn't needed.

Cell phone service was spotty. People who were subscribers of one the two major cell providers in our area had no problem making/receiving calls and surfing the web. Subscribers of the other major service had a signal, but couldn't make calls and their data service only worked intermittently.

The day after the storm, most traffic lights remained out. All gas stations and most stores were closed. One home improvement store opened under emergency power. They only let a limited number of people into the front part of the store where they had set up displays with their remaining emergency supplies (flashlights, batteries, power cords, and a new supply of gas cans). They surprisingly even accepted credit cards. Some other stores we checked out only accepted cash if they were open at all.

24 hours after the power went out, it came back on for most of our neighborhood. We're definitely lucky since of the 2/3 of our state that was without power, only about 15-20% of homes had been restored when we were reconnected.

It was an interesting experience for a day, but something that none of us would have been happy to have continue. We all realized, individually and as a group, what things we were missing that could have made us more comfortable.

Although we were lucky that our part of the state suffered little more than downed trees and power lines, New Jersey is very small so we all have friends in the hardest hit parts of the Jersey Shore and we are very familiar with the popular vacation spots that have been destroyed.

I've been in contact with friends who live just blocks from the beach who have raised homes and still have standing water lapping at their front doors. A few other friends live in beach neighborhoods that have essentially become islands with bridges, highways and other access roads out of service and surrounded by water. Others left some of the very hardest hit communities before the storm hit and don't know if their homes are still standing.

Some neighborhoods devastated by storm surge and flooding are now burning. Along some of the barrier islands, emergency services from the mainland are cut off and fires will likely be left to burn themselves out. Some entire towns are expected to burn.

There are a lot of people who have lost everything and many who are still in harm's way. Keep them in your prayers. Thanks, - Brad S.

 

James,
I have family from Pennsylvania to Maine.  I tried to encourage my family and cousins who I knew would be affected by Sandy to visit me in the mountains of New England, but they were all so sure that they could survive the storm. 
 
Only one family had a generator.  It wasn't wired into the house, so plenty of extension cords are in use there.  The others had nothing at all setup.  So I briefed them on filling the tub, freezing extra containers for ice, etc.  And all were briefed on staying put during and after the storm.
 
Of course, some don't listen so well.  While all survived in some fashion, here is the latest and worse from my cousin on Long Island:

"Pumping out water all day.
We had absolutely not a drop of [drinking] water. Storm surge at 830 p.m. and we were seeing it force its way in at the rate of a foot a minute!! I have never witnessed anything like that in my life!
Scary stuff!!!

We tried to hold it back just no way hydraulic pressure was just too much.
Total 10 feet of water. We jumped ship when it got to 6 feet. Then couldn't get to [deleted for OPSEC]'s house... Every path home and on every road trees were down, we didn't plan for that. We slept at a friend's aunt's house. She welcomed us (dog and all) with open arms and we are total strangers. The walls all cracked assuming will be a total loss.

We are going to call it quits soon will be back at it again tomorrow. No [phone] service so can't call our insurance company. Friends are coming from all over to help. No big deal--It is just a material asset. Insurance hopefully covers hurricanes. We are fortunate, as it could've been much worse."

He was right.  They were fortunate.  They could have drowned leaving during the night.  They could have been injured trying to leave that location to their 'safe' house.
 
I suspect that the next time they will evacuate in a timely fashion.  I doubt that they will ever disparage a prepared mindset again.
 
We can't save folks from themselves.
 
I will head into New York and New Jersey when possible to reach them with support.  I expect to have to wait until after this coming Tuesday.
 
Thank you for your SurvivalBlog site! Regards, - Mike A.


Good Morning to You!
Our area of the East coast was spared the worst brunt of the storm.  Massive snowfalls to our west, and massive flooding to the east.  We were very fortunate.

We live on top of a hill, and by Monday morning, we had water filling our basement.  I went outside with middle son, and we found a deep hole filled with water next to the foundation of our house.  We dug a ditch from the edge of the hole far, far away from the edge of the hole and down the hill well past the fall line.  I would estimate we dug at least 30 feet of mud.  While I dug, my son took the shovels of dirt that I pulled out of the ground and put it back into the hole by the foundation.  Once we were finished, we moved the drainage pipe from the gutters so that it, too, fed into the ditch we had dug away from the house.  10 more inches of rain fell over the next 24 hours, but no more of it ran into our basement. 

I understand now what you mean when you say you need to be physically fit!  I'm a 40 something mother of three, and my 17 year old son and I put in a good two hours worth of physical work in the driving rain, diverting water away from the house.  Maybe insurance would have covered the damage if we hadn't done the work, but I prefer the effort of digging a ditch in the rain to the effort of clearing a basement of water and carpets and furniture.  Best two hours worth of work I've ever done, and our house is still in one piece!
 
Besides the obvious water and wind damage around here, there is one thing that stuck out more and more:  The number of people killed by falling trees.  Tall trees close to the house really do need to be trimmed back so that damage is lessened if a tree or limb falls on a house.  One gentleman told the story of how he and his father had a conversation on Saturday about how they needed to trim or cut down the tree next to the house.  Then on Monday, his father was killed instantly when the tree fell on the house during high winds. 

Peace to you all. - B.L.W.

 

James,
The report from Delaware. With the exception of flood prone and some beach front areas we dodged the bullet.

It was an excellent exercise for our small family. The preparation for with this sort of an event turns on do you stay or leave. Different priorities for equipment supplies and staging following from each of those two choices. However what this storm brought home to us (since we have a shelter in place default ) is that within the shelter in place paradigm is,"suppose that tree falls on your house and you must leave in a hurry anyway' sub-plan. Since for us in our location Sandy was forecast to be a wind event, this latter sub-plan rose up from the back burner rather forcefully.

Now, we had to pull out and check the go bags (not seen since last year's windy scare) marshal water, food rations, range bags (did I restock those mags after the last week) , document case, comms and other take-with items by the door while preparing to deal with prolonged electrical outage (potentially weeks) therefore check generator, water reserves, fuel, etc etc.. 

I found that while our shelter in place preps and SOP were fairly well in hand, the "Yikes, we got-a-go now" end was pretty confused. Part of the reason for this is that we really need to have more duplicate gear stashed in the "Go now" configuration, and it was clear from this go round that we ain't there yet. I also know as I write this that I have all sorts of essential items stowed carefully labeled clearly that I will want to toss in the vehicle, but it will take me days to think through the inventory. Not something to be doing as water is cascading through a rent in the building.

So I tell you to tell me, "build the list now while it is still fresh."

One side note: We were "powerless" for only 8 hours, but as a result I am looking to replace my noisy old Generac (such a headache! The thing just roars. I must be getting old) with newer quieter Yamaha or Honda digital. While researching I found this very useful worksheet for calculating loads on the Yamaha web site.

Blessings... Pray for the folks in New York City, Connecticut and New Jersey.... They have a long way to come back. - Dollardog

 

JWR:
As per your request for info out of the New York City area: Having grown up in Florida, I kind of knew what to expect. Needless to say, I was well provisioned and my powder, so to speak, was high and dry and at the ready well in advance of Sandy's final approach...

My wife and I rode out the storm in our "Brooklyn Bunker," a fourth-floor apartment in a solid pre-war building. We spent a long night watching for the flashes of transformers exploding in the wind, and darkness encroaching as lights went out in the homes all around us. Luckily, the lights managed to stay on in our neighborhood, and we didn't lose power once. After the storm passed, we emerged to discover no major damage, some trees down on cars and roofs, limited cell phone service, but that's about it...

The same can't be said for lower Manhattan and parts of Staten Island, though. The six-foot security fence around some rental property I own there came down, right into my truck. A violent storm surge turned most of the coastal communities on the island into what looks like a war zone, with the National Guard deployed to keep order. No working street lights, no stores open, no gas. People are attempting to drive into northern New Jersey to find gas stations that have power, with little luck. Con Edison now says power will be out to 60% of the island for more than a week. My tenants are in the dark with no heat...

Looking across the East River into Lower Manhattan at night, I am reminded of my time as a journalist in New Orleans during Katrina, where I witnessed another entire American city abandoned, darkened, and brought to its knees by Mother Nature (combined with a healthy dose of human stupidity). The entire subway system here is paralyzed, and along with it commerce, and most of the city's inhabitants. There are already some rumblings on blogs and other social media platforms about the "lack of government response," like this one here, but for the most part, people have remained unusually calm and accommodating to each other, at least for New Yorkers.

As with Katrina, Sandy reminded me of just how fragile the veneer of civilization that most most city-dwellers often take for granted truly is. During the final 24 hours leading up to Sandy's arrival, lines at every major grocery store in Brooklyn and Manhattan were several blocks long, with hours-long wait times just to enter the stores and clerks taking small groups of people in to shop, just a few at a time.

Given the mentality of the average city-dweller, the run on grocery stores was to be expected. Perhaps more importantly for the SurvivalBlog readership at large, what's transpired here over the past 48 hours is nothing short of an amazing exercise in the efficacy of state control circa 2012 (much better execution than what I witnessed during Katrina). I am at once somewhat pleasantly surprised yet shockingly dismayed by just how quickly the authorities were able to shut down and subdue the country's biggest metropolis. Within a few hours, they were able to - successfully - deploy several thousand National Guard troops, shut down the country's biggest subway system, 15 major bridges and tunnels, three major airports, and cut power to eight square miles of a world-class city...all with nary a whimper nor major objection from the populace.

New Yorkers in three major boroughs were - and in the case of Lower Manhattan, still are - effectively cut off from the outside world. Moving forward, most SurvivalBlog readers like myself who either choose or are forced to reside in cities should perhaps (re)consider their long term plans and preparations given the recent tactics on display here in NYC.

Thanks and best, - KTC in NYC

 

Dear Jim:
Sheeple no more here. Sandy came and went. Our area is Bucks County about an hour north of Philadelphia. We border the Delaware River. Power here went out early and and only came on today.

I think we weathered it well. I was one of the last minute "run to the store" folks. Bought a gallon of milk. Everything else was in place. As soon as the power went out, I fired up our generator and hunkered down for the 70 MPH winds.

We did lose a couple of shingles and some aluminum trim on the house. Those unprepared suffered flooded basements, many areas will not have power for a week or more. Lots of trees down, snapped telephone poles, sink holes in the road. The emergency services were running 24 hours for two days. Constant sirens all over the place.

Where did I come up short? I never got around to getting my ham radio license or programming my Baofeng UV-5R. It would have come in handy to keep in touch with the others in my group. I have some Uniden walkies and they proved worthless.

At the end of the storm my wife she thanked me for being prepared. Up until this happened she kind of went alone with my "hobby". Always a little smile on her face. It's different now.

What I need to do:

  • Get my ham license.
  • Run a dedicated electrical line to the crucial items in the house. Pumps, freezer, frig, security lights.
  • Replace my burned out chainsaw.
  • Read "How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It" for the 12th time and update my (your) lists of lists.

Take care and God Bless, - M.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jim Rawles published on November 1, 2012 12:09 AM.

Letter Re: Keeping Cell Phones Operational During Disasters was the previous entry in this blog.

Family Continuity Planning, by John from Virginia is the next entry in this blog.

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