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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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