Feb282012

26 Comments

Lessons Learned from 9 Days Without Power

Guest post by Dennis A.

It was mid-July a few years ago and very hot.  At about 4:30 P.M. and shortly after I returned home from work, the weather radio goes off and announces a huge line of super cell thunderstorms producing tornados, softball size hail, heavy rain and straight-line winds in excess of 70 M.P.H.

image by Fellowship of the Rich

Less than an hour later, the monster hit. I yelled to my wife and daughter to get into the basement, NOW! Fortunately they listened to me and went downstairs.  I thought, “I’m not going to miss this one,” and stood at the glass window. While I was standing there enjoying the trees bend 90 degrees and listening to things hitting the side of the house, all of a sudden our heavy, full size trampoline started to levitate upwards.  It lifted 5 feet, 10 feet, and then 30 feet straight up and then took off like a Harrier jet toward me.  I went scrambling down to the basement with my family. I did not see any funnel cloud, and to this day I can’t see how a straight-line wind could do something like that.

 The storm lasted maybe 30-45 minutes and during the course of the storm we lost electrical power. No problem, I’m a “prepper”; I’m very well prepared! I made my way to the next room in the basement where I have my flashlights, candles and battery lamps perfectly stored in nice boxes.  It was pitch dark.  Based on the severity of the storm I figured the power would be out at least until sometime the next day.

 Now, it was time to put my action plan to the test. I got out all my heavy duty 12 gauge extension cords, electrical strips, Coleman battery lanterns, etc.  I fired up the Coleman 5,000 watt generator on the first pull and plugged everything in: the refrigerator, the chest freezer, the TV and satellite box.

The next morning, walking outside through the front door I sure could tell a severe storm came through. Debris, shingles, branches, lawn furniture, and more was everywhere.  I wondered where the trampoline had landed.   We lived in a subdivision and we eventually found that thing 75 yards away where it had struck the side of a house and caved the wall in pretty good.

image by dave hale

Nine days without power

Day One: I had a long list of thing to do.  I needed to call in to work and take a couple of days off, call the insurance company, clean up all the mess, cover the holes on the roof until I could get a roofer out, etc. It was awfully hot outside for 7:00 a.m. and the highs for the day were forecasted to be in the high 90s and lower 100’s.

My wife called me into the house to show me the news on TV. It turned out that we had experienced a very widespread tornado and storm damage covering three states. Our entire regional area including St. Louis was 80% out of power. My gut feeling told me what we were going to be without power for a number of days. I thought, “Oh well. I’m a prepper. I’m ready!”  A quick check told me that I had about a weeks worth of gasoline for the generator.

Later on that morning we took a little drive around our village to see what was up. Nothing was open, and I mean nothing. No Wal-Mart, no Kroger, no McDonalds and no gas stations. There was very little traffic and all the stop lights were out.   Returning home around noon we walked into a very hot house. Should I open the windows or keep the house closed up?

It wasn’t long before I had to make a decision. It was 98 degrees outside and 82 degrees inside and climbing. To make a long and miserable story short, I decided to keep the house closed up. At its peak the house would only get to 89 degrees inside max, and a couple of degrees cooler in the basement. The heat generated from the refrigerator, freezer, coffee pot, and TV, I’m sure contributed to a lot of the heat. Even with a couple of fans blasting away directly at us, it was miserable trying to get any sleep until it was just about time to get up and the temperature in the house hit its low.

Day Two: One long continuation of day one: hot!  At least I had all the conveniences of home: satellite TV, refrigerator, freezer, lights, coffee pot, etc. No one else in the subdivision seemed to be as well off. That night around 9 p.m. my wife and I went for a drive to see if anything was open yet.  Everything was still closed.  Driving back into the subdivision I got an eerie gut wrenching knot in my stomach as I was approached my house. The entire subdivision was totally black, except for my house.  It looked like Christmas from the outside. The entire subdivision was totally silent, except for my house, where the blaring sound of a generator permeated the silence. I realized that I had a big red and white circle on my back! We got inside, closed the curtains, and repositioned the lights. There wasn’t much we could do about the generator noise.

image by alycefeliz

Day Three: The days are getting hotter along with the inside of the house. I had to report to work, and the roofer was expected to drop by later. The roof was repaired by the time I got home, the wind turbine replaced, and the vent pipe repaired, all for a very reasonable price.  I was surprised that I didn’t get gouged!

I was getting 24-hours run time out of the generator at 50-75% capacity and the oil needed to be changed.  Remember those big red and white circles on my back? The neighbors on both sides of me came over shortly after I returned home from work and asked if I had any ice and/or bottled water to spare. Along with everything else going on, we had a water boil order and we had been advised not to directly drink the water.

I was willing to help but I didn’t let it be known that I had 10 cases of bottled water and two 55-gallon plastic food grade barrels full for emergency use. I only had a small amount of ice in a few ice trays but I gave them what I had and refilled the trays.  I also gave them plenty of ice cold bottled water from the fridge. I’m learning many of the people in the subdivision are driving 50-100 miles to get air conditioned motel rooms to escape the heat and sleep. Some are asking us to please try and keep an eye on their property.

That evening we had some good news.  The local Quick Trip gas station got an emergency generator and was open for business.  The bad news was that we couldn’t get anywhere near it!  Traffic was backed up two blocks to get gas and it was a mad house! They were out of ice, milk, bread, bottled water and other commodities. I parked a couple of blocks away and found that they had plenty of cold beer.  Just what the doctor ordered!  I grabbed a case of my favorite beverage with a smile ear to ear and headed home.

It was so hot and miserable that we had been eating very light but that night I broke out some pork steaks and brats and barbequed them while my wife boiled potatoes for potato salad on my propane Coleman gas stove outside.

We invited a few of our neighbors over to share. I shut down the noisy generator for a while to have a moment of some normalcy. It was 101 degrees Fahrenheit at the moment and the case of ice-cold beverages didn’t last long.  One of the neighbors hopped into her car to get more.  Everything is cash only at the QT.

image by heather

Day Four: I couldn’t believe it but another line of severe thunder storms, tornados, high winds and hail was headed our way again. This time my location didn’t get hit as badly as the first round but we still got a substantial amount of hail damage to my roof and vehicles; much of it was golf ball size. It looked like we had two inches of snow when it finished.

Day Five: I learned at work about more power outages caused by the latest round of severe weather, and hundreds of thousands of homes are out of power again. The electric companies are asking out-of-state workers for assistance. There is still no definite time table to restore our electric service.

More and more of the hardcore subdivision neighbors are stopping by and asking for bottled water and ice. My six plastic ice cube trays are getting a work-out round the clock.  I can’t make it fast enough and we’re down to four cases of bottled water.

Then something totally unexpected happened. In addition to still being under a water boil alert, the fire department is going door to door and handing out fliers. I thought it must be some sort of no-burn notice or something, but when I read it, I found out that the village sewer system and pump stations do not have emergency back-up power. Long story short, sewage is backed up and can’t be pumped. This can cause a back up in your drains / toilet and possible sewage explosion. Have you ever seen the aftermath of a toilet / drain sewage explosion? They requested minimal use of our bathroom facilities.

Six days later, things get ugly

Day Six: I got up at 5 a.m. to get ready for work and brewed a pot of coffee.  I was getting up earlier than normal because it was so stinking hot that I couldn’t get a deep sleep. I’ve noticed the family and I are getting cranky at each other because we’re tired and miserable.  Taking a morning shower was an eye opener. You would think as hot as the inside of the house was (82 degrees) a cold shower would feel good. NOT!  By conserving hot water and taking quick showers in the morning, the three of us were able to get three days out of the electric water heater.  I did not make provisions to hook up the hot water heater or an electric generator transfer switch because I didn’t expect an electrical outage of this duration.

image by grytr

I decided not to go to work because I only have a couple of gallons of gasoline left, although the 5 gallon generator tank is topped off. A few more businesses have re-opened, but it’s still a mad house trying to get into the two gas stations now open. With all my empty gas cans I drove about 35 miles to find an open gas station.  There were no lines, and I pulled directly up to the pump, filled up the cans with gas and the truck with diesel.

Upon returning home I really wanted a nice cold glass of ice water, but my wife had just emptied all our cheap plastic ice trays for someone up the street. She told me that the woman who asked for the ice was borderline rude and even asked when the next batch would be ready. People around here seem to be getting more demanding rather than appreciative.

More stores seem to be opening up but they sell out of ice and water as soon as a shipment arrives.  I realized that if the situation got worse or went on much longer, formerly decent folks might turn into animals and demand, not ask!

Day 7 & 8: It was hot and more of the same.  I was down to my last half case of bottled water. We were all cranky, tired, and ready for civilized life to return. I grew tired of listening to everyone’s complaints. I was tired of cold showers, shaving with cold water, taking a light into the bathroom to see.  I was tired of automatically flipping the light switch and then realizing they wouldn’t work. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I decided that the very first thing I would do when things returned to normal was to purchase a room window air conditioner. The second thing I’m going to do is retire and move to the country and be as self sufficient as possible.

Day 9:  At 6:07 that evening I was sitting in my recliner with sweat dripping off my sweat and thinking how I might make my wife’s life more miserable. The house lights momentarily flickered, and I smiled ever so slightly. Then, nothing.

Thirty or so minutes later, the house lights came on, the a/c started up and we all broke out in applause, but five minutes later it went out again.  Bummer!  Finally, ten long minutes later, which probably was the longest ten minutes ever, it was b-a-c-k, and it was on to stay. By 10 that evening the house was down to a comfortable 78 degrees and as I passed by the thermostat on my way to bed, I accidentally bumped it down to 60 degrees!

I’m here to tell ya’ll, that was the best night’s sleep a body could ask for

Update: I now live in the country and what a world of difference it is living on a few acres compared to the urban setting. That alone gives me piece of mind that should the S hit the fan, I don’t have to worry about close neighbors turning zombie.

No doubt different disasters will require different preparations and how people will react to them. The three major things I learned were:

(1)   Even though my disaster was relatively minor in comparison to what could happen, until you actually experience a disaster, you don’t know how your preps will fare and what you might be missing if the situation lasts longer than what you’ve planned for.

(2)   Under stress, hardship and extreme environments, people change, and in my experience not for the better.

(3)   Don’t put all your eggs in one basket! I have flashlights scattered all over the house now for easy access, even in the dark. I’ve relocated some of my supplies in out buildings instead of storing them all of in the basement.   I live within  spitting distance of the New Madrid fault line and know that if we get the “big one” and my house is severely damaged or leveled, I’m S.O.L.

Do you have a first-hand account of surviving a disaster of some sort?  Email it to mystory@thesurvivalmom.com

 

 

 

 

 

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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 5 years. Come join me on my journey to becoming more prepared to handle everyday emergencies and worst case scenarios.

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(26) Readers Comments

  1. Amazing story! Inspirational too. My family has a lot of of things ready for situations like this, but it's hard to prep for every possibility. Thanks for sharing.

  2. This is a great story. I always imagined that if anyone had any idea that you had anything that they wanted, they would absolutely expect you to hand it over because you have it and they want/need it.

    I am fairly reclusive. I am sure one of my neighbors sees me with wierd stuff and would expect me to give it to him, but if someone came to my door asking for something, I would ask them if they had some because I didn't have any either and if they find some, please let me know.

    I know it is tough, but when they are eating their steaks and etc now, I don't go ask for some. On the other hand, i have some beans, bottled water, and all my other wierd preps that I am sure they gossip about.

  3. Great reading! Makes one think about more than just the physical prep things. I think an angry desperate mob could be quite scary.

  4. I've done 9 days without water and electric during an ice storm, never in the heat of summer, and I live in tornado ally! It was nice to see the information from a different perspective (cold vs. hot) because I wouldn't be prepared necessarily for that. Thanks for the share!!

  5. Great story! I like to hear about "real world" experiences when TSHTF.

    I wonder if you didn't use your generator if you would have been less of a "target" for those in your neighborhood looking for help. Perhaps this is an argument for not bothering with a generator, simply adjusting to life without electricity as soon as it goes off? Just a thought…

  6. Great story, thank you for sharing!

    A small town not too far from us had a week long power outage during a winter storm in 2010: http://www.mtshastanews.com/news/x1878079113/McCl

  7. You have to think that if any of us are lucky enough to have food to cook, the smells will alert neighbors and those wandering the streets. They will head our way. No lights. No hum of a generator. Even the gardens we are growing to feed our families will be in jeopardy.

    • I have thought about that a lot. I would seem to me that when the SHTF indoor cooking with a propane camp stove, not using a generator for the overall house, would be in order till things settle down and, frankly, a good many people starve. Gruesome but true.

  8. I was only without power for a few days a while back. Luckily it was not widespread so I was able to bring the stuff in my freezer over to friends to store for me. What killed us was the heat. This is SoCal and the temps in Aug. are in the 100's. We were miserable. We didn't have a generator but our neighbor did and you could hear it going. Made me wonder what would happen if the event had been widespread. Another time we were without water for 36 hours. That was a real eye opener. Could not believe the amount of water a family of 4 could go through in that short length of time. We all cheered when the city finally fixed the problem. I immediately got more water for storage but I know it won't last long in a SHTF situation especially here in a desert climate. Can't afford to move away from the job though.

  9. Interesting how pushy neighbor asked when the next batch of ice cube would be done and just assumed that they were for HER!! Maybe the prepared family was going to keep them for themselves or maybe the were for the 90 year old great grandma two doors down who has no family in the area. Amazing how selfcentered some people are even today when things are good, just imagine how they will be when things are really tough.

    • I would have told that rude neighbor that was the last she was getting.

  10. Good point about whether to have a generator or not. I have a small 2500 watt genny and have built a box insulated with styrofoam to baffle the noise . It us pretty quiet and with the box you can still hear it , but it is so quiet it sounds like it is a loud one a few blocks away, and if anyone else has one running you can't tell at all. I have only ran it a hour a couple times of day to keep the frezzer and refrigerator going. When I get my place in the country I plan a small propane frezzer and refrigerator as a backup to help on sound. As for the water I would claim I had only a case or two for the family and would have only given any to very close freinds or family. Besides those lazy mooches could have driven the 30-40 miles just like anyone else.

  11. Wow. Good story.

    Within a few months of moving to our farm (1998) we went through the first amesville, oh flood. We lived on top of a hill, so we didn't get flooded even though the people in the town had water to 17 feet.. (one story was of a resident waking up as his air mattress hit the ceiling of his bedroom and he had to dive under the door frame to get to the upstairs..) but anyway, even though we didn't flood, we lost power for 10 days. This was pre-prepper times for me so I didn't even own a generator. After a day without power we realized that the food in the freezer was at risk and that we didn't have any way to pump water from the well. (115 ft deep)

    We ended up pulling out a topo map and taking ridge roads to columbus (about 120 miles away) to get the very last generator they had. (we bought it with a credit card over the phone so they would hold it). When I got there I bought enough gas and cans to run the generator during the day for a couple of weeks. You couldn't find a generator of sale in the tri-state for weeks after that.

    The short version of the story is that that was my wakeup call. It was spring, the weather was not hot so it wasn't bad, just inconvenient. We didn't even lose phone. It could have been way worse in so many ways..
    I remember telling my wife, this was a gentle "lesson" and we should take it to heart. Funny how that small bottle of lamp oil,some bottled water and the single 6-pack of TP becomes 'very' important in a hurry.

    The next 4 day outage, some years later, didn't even give us pause and that time the flood kept us from even leaving the hill. By then the generator was wired so it could back feed 220 to the house from the barn (proper disconnects) and by running it in a side shed at the barn it meant you could barely hear it running at the house. As far as you could tell, the power was just "on".. We also had a months supply of everything but fresh produce, and we had our own garden going.

    I read a quote somewhere that "if you are prepared, a hurricane is just a storm.." well, if you are prepared, a power outage is merely an inconvenience.

  12. My Experience is a little different.most houses in my Country are built on “stilts”no one told us the reason why this was done some of us thought that was a waste of living space so we all cover up the space and made it living quarters.No one knew that every 100 years because the records were destroy that the area is flooded with 4 feet of water .it took the authorities 5 weeks to pump the water from the area.I am an electrician and I had wires my place with the outlets 2 feet off the ground which at that time I got into trouble with the regulatary body because the the standard was 6 inches from the ground.I had seen a document but they was no one alive to confirm.Having comforts while others have non makes you a target and puts your family and life is serious danger.the same persons who had a nice smile 2 days ago becomes a mad dog

  13. 1) Use any ice furnished by nature to keep your freezer & refrig cold. Add salt just like you would when making ice cream. Cut the top out of a gallon jug to make a convenient container.
    2) Wrap the freezer & refrig in blankets (the more the better). While the power is off you can cover the condensor coils also, but be sure to uncover the coils when the power is on. If you cover all but the coils it will reduce the load on your generator (and reduce your power bill if you want to leave the blankets on your freezer all summer).

  14. I went to the prep schools given by 5 hurricanes in the last 20 years here in south Florida.
    Andrew took out my power for 14 days, Wilma took it down for only 5 (along with my roof).
    The most difficult task is doing laundry by hand in a sink!
    If a neighbor ever became SLIGHTLY demanding, they would never get another thing.

  15. We lost power for 5 days after a storm in Tampa, of course it was summer. 95 degrees in Tampa is like a 105 in other places . We slept on the floor in the living room with the most windows, we hung out in the ppool due to the heat, we lost all our frozen meat (Including my wild pigs) there was power a few blocks away but the power company fixed the lines with the most people on the so we were last. I would go to the Air Force base nearby and stay all day in the BX and gym, while other people who lost power stayed home the wife wanted to go to work – it was cool there! We read at night by flashlights and cooked on the grill. After we had power I bought a small generator and fixed up a guest house I used for storage to be a real guest house and I can run the TV, fans, and fridge with lights from the generator. I now have 2 or 3 weeks of can foods here and everyone is armed, if all else fails we can walk out of town with our guns and dogs or stay put. By the way I’m not sharing my food and water with anyone.

  16. The investment in a good quiet generator (Honda) is worth it in these situations. We were without power for 12 days last year and none of my neighbors knew we had the generator running. We made regular visits to our elderly neighbors to make sure they were ok but no one ever came knocking on the door.

  17. It is simultaneously scaring and amazing to me, how otherwise normal “decent” folks will turn into what they eventually are – sophisticated animals with deep desire for survival of their offspring and their own.

    I’ll try to remember that, when another fine old lady from the neighborhood tries to preach to me from a Holy Book of her choice…

    Selco (survivor of Yugoslavian war) talks a lot about this particular phenomenon.

  18. This is why I want to get a generator connected into my house’s electrical system so that it will automatically come on and be big enuf to run everything. Of course you still have the problem of buying enuf gas and/or propane, and especially the zombie neighbor problem. This was definitely good practice for an outage, but I think in this situation it would have been much much better to have shut off everything in the house, locked up tight, and gone to a cheap motel. I am in the city, but have 8 foot fences surrounding my house, which I suppose is the best in the city situation, but again moving to the country would be the best answer.

  19. Great Story! Thanks for all of the details. The demanding/unprepared neighbors really revealed what happens when communities are stressed. Thank you

  20. Being from and still living in the country, I have never stopped to think what happens in the ‘burbs when disaster strikes. After our derecho (sp?) in 2005, we were without power for a long time. Luckily, we know how to prepare, and being amateur radio operators helps keep us informed about local and occasionally, national events. A fellow ham from around the corner loaned us one of his generators until the power came back. We saw no one for days, but no one could get down the street. The author did a wonderful job of bringing that time back. And I’m very glad he and his family moved to the country!

  21. As unpleasant as hurricanes are, they do give the advantage of allowing us to prepare, including most neighbors. So I haven’t experienced what the author did as far as needy/aggressive neighbors, even though our power was out about the same number of days. Both hurricanes and the one major flood had all my neighbors helping each other, and sharing work and resources. After Ike, there were so many generators running, it’d be difficult for someone in a car to figure out which houses had generators (it was a cacophony LOL). Hardly anyone I heard about ran their generators non-stop though, due to gas shortages because so many stations were without power to pump the gas. So they’d run the generator long enough to chill the fridge and maybe run the AC in the middle of the day, maybe just a few hours.

    Some asked for gas for their generator, but they’d offer ice from their freezer in exchange for the gas. I didn’t hear any mooching complaints from my area. Favors were repaid in some fashion or another, charging phones, making coffee on camp stoves, sharing ice from work, last minute cookouts before meat went bad, ect… But I suppose much of this sharing mentality comes from so many prepping ahead of time (and possibly from the knowledge that at least half your neighbors probably have guns LOL).

  22. We were without power for 14 days due to an ice storm several years ago, but were able to find a generator (a loan from a friend of the family), and even though it wasn’t big, it was enough to run the heater, fridge and we would plug in a lamp or the TV now and then. Luckily our range/oven and hot water heater are gas, so we could cook and had hot water. I do remember having to drive about 30 miles to fill up our gas cans though. We never experienced greedy neighbors, but we live in an urban area, and not the suburbs, so I’m not sure if that has anything to do with the mindset/attitude. We checked on our older neighbors, and had some regularly stopping by for hot water or to cook something since most were eating cold food or freezing outside to cook on the grill, but always offered something in exchange. In fact, I would say that it brought our neighborhood closer together since we had to work together to clear debris from all of our old tree growth and not everyone had a chainsaw. I think people around here realized if you weren’t nice to the neighbor with the goods, you just might be out of luck. It was a learning experience for sure.

    I’d never thought about going through that in the heat, but to be honest we don’t use our A/C a whole lot in the summer. We have an attic fan though, and it’s fantastic for pulling in the cooler night air, then closing up the place in the heat of the day.

  23. Our family was stranded in our car in deep snow, miles from any town. We managed to trudge for miles until we found an empty trailer. We broke in by a window & found blankets, pans to melt snow on a gas oven and shelter.
    When we were able to leave, we patched the window, cleaned up very well & left a check for the window damage with a note telling the owners that their home may have saved our lives. Later they sent us a letter saying how glad they were that their place had helped us…they even returned the check!
    I always wonder if the S really hit the fan…would there be more tales of cooperation or would each neighbor really justify shooting their neighbors who ask for help?

    jj

  24. I learned not to rely on candles or batteries for light instead learned how to burn olive oil, learned to can instead of freezing food for storage, and figured out how to wash clothes in a bucket with a plunger!

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