So a hurricane has hit your town or a major flooding event. Your family survived the disaster and it’s time to go back into your community and rebuild your lives. Here’s some of the realities that we didn’t expect about our lives after Hurricane Katrina.
- EVERYTHING takes longer, and I do mean everything. Why? Because everyone else in the community needs the same things, too. You may have been to the propane place a hundred times, and never waited for more than 10 minutes, BUT when everyone else in your community also needs propane for their FEMA trailer, the line is going to be long.
As you stand in those ridiculously long lines, you will swap horror stories. “I got 1 ft of water.” “My roof was completely ripped off.” You will be reminded that everyone has it better and worse than you.
- Unexpected problems will arise. If the flooding is more than about 18”, it will get in your outlets and damage your electrical system. It will also damage the motor in your washing machine. “No problem,” you think, “I’ll just go to the laundromat.” Except the one down the street got flooded, too. You drive across town to another laundromat. On the front door, there’s a big sign. “No flood clothes”. They are concerned about the mud and mold damaging their machines.
IF they do accept flood clothes, be prepared to wait a REALLY long time because see #1. “No problem,” you think, “I’m a prepper. I”ll just do it by hand.” Except, you have spent all your time and energy gutting your house, scrubbing mud and mold off what you could save, and driving around to find a laundromat that will take them. Believe me when I say this won’t be appealing.
- Waiting in lines will be an excellent source of communication about resources. It is how you will find out what is open and what is not, which grocery stores have been restocked. Be prepared to swap tales and chat. This is where you will glean some of your best information.
- Flood water isn’t just water. It is water, mud, car fluids (think about all the cars stewing in the flood), mystery chemicals from people’s garages, and worse mystery chemicals from businesses like pest control and contractors. IF the water does not drain right away, but instead sits in your house for days, there are things in your home that you will not be able to save that you expect to save. Pots, pans, and dishes can’t be just washed off. The stuff in the water will permanently etch and damage their surfaces. As an aside, my husband was working in a used video game store after Katrina. The water may damage the machines, but the games themselves MIGHT be okay with a rinse off, IF they didn’t sit in the nasty water for weeks.
- Expect months of things not being readily available. The more commonly used the item is the easier it will be to replace. My oldest son had just crossed into the “young men’s” shoe sizes. It started to get a little chilly in late October. He was wearing sandals when we evacuated in August. I drove all around town trying to find him a pair of slip on or velcro tennis shoes. No one had them in his size. “No problem,” I think, “I’ll order them online.” By this point, it’s the beginning of November. Shipping is 5-7 days. Not a big deal, the mail, FedEx and UPS were running again. I would check the tracking.
My package would make it an hour or two away from me, then I would see a message, “Delay due to disaster zone” My package would then turn around and head north. I would call FedEx and plead for my delivery to be delivered. It would get an hour or two away and the cycle would repeat. We didn’t get those shoes until the beginning of December, by which point we had already experienced our first freeze. ( I put my son in 2 pairs of socks with his sandals. Not pretty or stylish, but his toes were warm enough.)
- Forget about restocking things at thrift stores. They got flooded, too. When they restock from out of town, everyone else will be there too.
- Ever dreamed about when you retire that you and your spouse will hit the open road in an RV? Yeah, the reality of being forced to live in one is much different. First, if it’s a FEMA trailer, you don’t get to pick it. You don’t get to choose the decor or style that would make the most sense for your family. You get what they give you. Second, you will be storing precious mementos and remnants of your old life for “When we get our house back….” Third, even the items that you replace won’t necessarily be designed for the trailer, because you will be planning for “When we get our house back….”
- As businesses begin to reopen, you will have to return to work. No extra days off to deal with your home because the business needs to be cleaned. There will be less time and more work. Any and all conveniences will be appreciated. Be prepared to eat lots of MRE’s, TV dinners, etc… Remember, the fast food place down the street got flooded, too. Everyone will be in the same boat. Everything takes longer, but everyone wants businesses to stay open longer, which in turn means, that you will have less time to do the things that you need to do.
- The hardest thing for most of us will be saying “YES” to help. People from all over will want to help. They will reach out to your church, school, homeschool group, etc…. They will want to help. The self-sufficient person that you are will look around and think. “I don’t need donations. I have insurance,” “I have savings,” “I have family,” OR “Others have it so much worse than me.”
Learn to say “yes, thank you so much” You see, this person found YOU. They didn’t find that other person that you know needs more help than you. They want to help. When you say yes, you not only let them help but you are given choices. You can use the donation yourself. Believe me, in a flood you will be “nickel and dimed” to death. There are so many hidden expenses.
Maybe you could replace your towels yourself, but since towels were given to you, you can afford to replace an extra pair of shoes. OR you can give it to the person that you know needs the help more than you. You can never repay the person who helps you. The $10 that is given when you really need it isn’t just $10, it’s $10 plus hope and the ability to go on. Thank people who help you profusely, but pay it forward later, when to someone else it is $10 plus hope.
- Government programs and big charities are very much fill in the blank organizations. You need food. You get standard issue food boxes. If you have food allergies or picky eaters, tough. The saying, “Beggars can’t be choosy” takes on new meaning. We began to refer to FEMA as “Fix Everything my A$$”. You are told to take the help you get and be grateful.
But when you need shoes, and all they have are pants, how grateful can you be? The number one lesson is to be prepared for anything and everything that you can be. Nothing will turn out how you expect it to in a disaster situation.
In a flooding disaster, the first inch of water is the most devastating. The water ruins floors and everything that touches the water as this man discovered a few years back in a major flood in Calgary:
One of my husband’s very favorite customers is a wealthy gentleman from Canada. This fellow has an impressive collection of custom-designed and hand-made motorcycles. Heck, he designed them himself. Mr. Motorcycle.
He has two other homes in addition to the one in the Calgary area.
Calgary, the one that was nearly washed away by flood waters, and that’s where our survival story begins.
This fellow knew about the flooding but like so many of us, he lived a very comfortable life. One in which, “It won’t happen to me, or if it does, I have plenty of money in the bank to handle anything.” In fact, when Calgary police came by his house and suggested he evacuate, he figured he’d be fine. The last time his home was “flooded” he ended up with a muddy front yard.
You know, I don’t fault that line of reasoning! It’s worked for millions of people quite well over the past few decades. We have insurance of all types, money in the bank (or at least most of us used to!), and lots of other resources. It’s hard to imagine going from having plenty to having nothing. No, not just hard. Impossible. See “normalcy bias“.
But let me tell you what happened to him.
He took a few precautions, such as moving his motorcycles from the basement to the first floor of his home, and then he went to sleep Thursday night, safe and sound in his beautiful home. During the night he woke up to some loud sounds coming from downstairs and when he went to see what was happening, it was flood waters coming through his windows!
He managed to escape through a backdoor, got in his Lexus, and began racing down the street, only to have his car flip over in the rising waters. For a short while, he was trapped underwater until the car rolled back over.
Fortunately, he was able to get out but at that point, he had only one thing with him: his cell phone. His wallet, ID, passport, cash, absolutely everything was left in his home, and he had just watched that float down the street, along with a valuable collection of original art.
So, here’s a guy who has been phenomenally successful, wet, on the street with nothing but the clothes on his back and a cell phone. Just like everyone else.
At some point in a crisis, even the very wealthy have to find the basics in order to survive: shelter, water, food, warmth. It all comes down to that.
You probably don’t have millions in the bank or a collection of designer motorcycles, and maybe that’s a good thing if it brings with it a sense of perpetual security.
Do you have a few hundred dollars, in small bills, on hand in your home? If so, you’re better off than Mr. Motorcycle who now has to find a bank that hasn’t been flooded, convince someone there that he is who he says he is, and get some money to cover the basics.
Do you have an emergency kit, packed and ready to go? I really wish my husband had given this customer a copy of my book! Perhaps he would have grabbed the kit and his cell phone and would have been better prepared. On the other hand, since he also lost his car, maybe the kit would have floated away along with it.
Have you put together important documents in a Grab-and-Go Binder or something similar? Our customer now has to track down insurance policies, basic identification, bank records and so many other details to start putting his life back together.
Do you keep really close tabs on local weather and news when you know something big is hitting, or will hit, your area?
Have you talked with family or friends who live in outlying areas of the possibility that in a really big emergency you might have to bunk down at their place for a while? If so, have you considered packing a bin or two of supplies to store there, just in case?
Other than having cash, none of these costs much of anything. You don’t have to sell your custom Indian in order to pay to be prepared! Now, at some point in the journey, it will cost something to set aside extra food, buy a water purifier or two, but just to cover the basics? That’s pretty cheap.
Going back to Mr. Motorcycle, thank God for good friends! As of yesterday, we learned that he was staying with a friend and recovering from the whole incident. Several of his employees were trapped on the top of their office building, and I have no doubt that Mr. Motorcycle is moving heaven and earth to make sure they are rescued and reunited with their families.
What does he have left? Well, most importantly, the personal qualities that have made him successful in the first place, and then his assets in the bank and elsewhere, and friends.
Whether it’s wildfires, flooding, a devastating earthquake, or something even worse, all of us are left with the same things, aren’t we? It all comes down to what’s inside us, whatever physical assets we have, and the people we can count on when we’re left with only the clothes on our back and the cell phone we use to call them.
Be prepared, as well as you can, but expect to find that you weren’t as prepared as you thought when a flood happens. Until you experience one yourself, it’s hard to understand how destructive they can be.