The Hard Way
It was mid July a few years ago in the little village of Cahokia, IL. And very hot and humid. About 6:30 P.M. shortly after I returned home from work, the weather radio alarm 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. I turned on the TV to a local St. Louis, Mo. station and with an almost panicked meteorologist waving his hands in the air and telling everyone to seek shelter, a monster is coming. The Doppler radar showed a strong line of severe storms three states long! At that point they were about 30 minutes from my area. I’m not easily panicked so I grabbed a cold one and went out to the patio to watch it coming.
Twenty minutes later the western sky is purple-black and menacing, the thunder is getting louder and more frequent. Well, time for another cold one and watch this puppy from the safety of behind my double pane patio window!I thought to myself, yep… this isn’t going to be pretty! As the monster was about to arrive, with by now four cans of liquid courage under my belt, I stepped outside on the deck. It was so dark, still and calm, the smoke from my cigarette went straight up. Then a few large rain drops started to drop around me and without warning…
The monster reared its head and said hello to me with an estimated 50-60 M.P.H. gust of wind. It was a fast surprise that caught me off guard and blew dust and debris into both my eyes. Again, I went back inside to watch it from the safety of my double pain patio door. As I did I yelled to my wife and daughter to get into the basement, NOW! Fortunately they listened to me and went down stairs but I had to listen to the constant “get your butt down here too thing”.
Thinking to myself, I’m not going to miss this one, I quickly grabbed another can of liquid courage and stood at the glass rear patio door. While I’m standing there enjoying the trees bend 90 degrees and things hitting the side of the house, all of a sudden our heavy full size trampoline starts to levitate upwards, 5 feet, 10 feet, 30 feet straight up with absolutely no wobbling, then takes off like a Harrier jet toward me and over my split foyer home, so I thought. Well, my liquid courage failed me and 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 levitate a trampoline like a flying saucer and take off like a jet? In my 60 years on earth, the only thing stranger I’ve ever witnessed was it was literally raining small fish and frogs during severe weather as a kid.
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! Now, to make my way to the next room in the basement where I have my flashlights, candles and battery lamps perfectly stored in nice boxes in the “pitch dark”! Fortunately I had a Bic lighter on my person to make it to the next room and dig out a flash light. Fast-forward 15 minutes.
It’s now totally dark outside so not much point going outside to inspect for damage but I do anyway. I went out front briefly and saw plenty of trees down, limbs everywhere and bunches of shingles all over. Fortunately for me I didn’t see many brown shingles in the street or in the neighbors yards. Based on the severity of the storm I figured the power would be out for some time, like a day or so?
Now, time to put my action plan to the test. Got out all my heavy duty 12 ga. extension cords, electrical strips, Coleman battery lanterns, etc. etc. 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, ah life is good but where did this thumping headache and dry mouth come from? Well, it’s 10:30 P.M. now, time to go to bed because I have to get up and go to work in the morning after I inspect for any damage. Oops, have to run another extension cord and power strip to the bedroom for the fan and battery backup alarm clock that doesn’t work without electricity. In hind sight it keeps the time stored internally and does not display it. Finally, fall on the ole queen size, Mr. Busch does his thing and the next thing I realize is that annoying beep, beep, beep that gets faster and louder, and it’s day light.
Time to take my shower, blah, blah, blah, but first let’s look through the window outside. Wow! Got dressed rather quickly and didn’t bother to clean up. Walking through the front door you sure could tell a severe storm came through. Debris, shingles, trashcans, branches, lawn furniture, toys, etc. were everywhere. Looking on the front side (opposite side of where the weather came from) on the roof, everything looks fine in the front. Going around to the back of the house I look up and lo and behold, no sewer vent pipe, no wind turbine, shingles missing… I do believe I remember what might have taken all that out but, where might that trampoline be? We lived in a subdivision and we eventually found that thing 75 yards away where it struck the side of a house and caved the wall in pretty good.
Day One: Well let’s see… I need to call in 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 can get a roofer out, etc. etc. Wow, sure is awful hot out for 7:00 A.M. in July. The highs are forecasted to be in the upper nineties – lower 100’s on the extended forecast. Then the wife calls me into the house to show me the news on TV. Wow, very wide spread tornado and storm damage covering three states. Our entire regional area including St. Louis, MO. is 90% out of power. A gut feeling tells me we’re going to be without power for a number of days. Oh well, I’m a “prepper”, I’m ready? A quick check tells me I have about a weeks worth of gasoline for the Coleman 5,000 watt generator, plenty of bottled water and food up the ying yang.
Later on that morning we took a little drive around our village to see what’s up. Nothing is open, and I mean nothing. No Wal-Mart, no Kroger, no McDonalds and no gas stations, very little traffic, a war zone, stop lights out… Returning home around noon and walking into the house, a bitter thought screamed in my brain, “it’s getting warm in here”! Oh NO, I didn’t purchase that 5,000 B.T.U. window air conditioner I had planned to for the bedroom! Should I open the windows or keep the house closed up I’m thinking?
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 peek 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, TV, etc. I’m sure contributed a lot to the indoor temperature. Even with a couple of fans blasting away directly at us, it was miserable trying to get any sleep until about time to get up when the temperature in the house hit its low.
Day Two: One long continuation of day one, hot and humid! At least I have all the conveniences of home. Satellite TV, refrigerator, freezer, lights, coffee pot, microwave, fans, etc. With a 5,000 watt generator I can’t run everything all at once naturally, so I have to rotate them as needed. No one else in the subdivision seems to be as well off. 9:00 P.M. – Honey, let’s go for a drive and see if anything is open yet. We did, nothing open. Driving back into the subdivision I got an eerie gut retching knot in my stomach as I was approaching my house. The entire subdivision is totally black, except for my house; it looks like Christmas from the outside. The entire subdivision is totally silent, except for my house, where the blaring sound of a generator permeates the silence. I have a big red and white circle on my back! Get inside and close the curtains and reposition the lights. Not much I can do about the generator noise anyway. I do have it chained and locked to my deck beam.
Day Three: The days are getting hotter along with the inside of the house and today I have to report to work. The roofer will be here today. I got home from work and good news. The roof is repaired, the wind turbine replaced, and the vent pipe repaired, all for a very reasonable price, didn’t get gouged fortunately! I’m getting 24 hours run time out of the Coleman generator at 50-75% capacity and the oil now needs changed. To conserve gasoline I’m considering running the generator for only 4-8 hours a day, but the wife won’t hear of it, she likes her conveniences. I use full synthetic Mobile One oil all the time in case I needed to start the generator in freezing conditions, works great. Remember those big red and white circles on my back? Some neighbors 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 advised not to drink the water.
Sure no problem, I don’t let it be known but I have 10 cases of bottled water and two 55-gallon plastic food grade barrels full for emergency use. However, I do not have an icemaker, as we have never used much ice. I only have six of those cheap plastic ice cube trays. I gave them what I had and refilled the trays and back in the freezer they go. Gave them plenty of ice-cold bottled water from the frig. 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 out on their property. 7:00 P.M. Good news, the local Quick Trip gas station got an emergency generator and is open for business. Bad News: You can’t get on the lot, traffic is backed up two blocks to get gas and it’s a mad house! They are out of ice, milk, bread, bottled water and other commodities. I park a couple of blocks away and go in. Good News: They have plenty of cold beer, just what the doctor ordered. I grab a case of my favorite who cares what’s happening beverage with a smile ear to ear and head home and let the fools fist fight in the gas line.
It’s so hot and miserable we have been eating light the last couple of days so I break out some pork steaks and brats and barbeque them as the wife boils potatoes for potato salad on my propane Coleman gas stove outside. We invited a few of our neighbors over to share. Shut down that noisy generator for a while for a moment of some normalcy. It’s 101 degrees Fahrenheit at the moment and that case of ice-cold beverage didn’t last long, so one of the neighbors hops into her car and takes care of that minor problem. But, so far everything is cash only at the QT, anything plastic will not get it.
Day Four: You got to be kidding me! Another line of severe thunder storms, tornados, high winds and hail is coming at about the same time of evening as the first round. Well, my general location didn’t get hit as bad as the first round but got a substantial amount of hail damage to my roof and vehicles; much of it was golf ball size. Looked like we had two inches of snow in July when it was finished. Nothing I can do about it now, might as well try and take a nap in the 88-degree indoor temperature and go to work in the morning.
Day Five: Learned at work about more power outages caused by the latest round of severe weather, hundreds of thousands of homes out of power again. The electric companies are asking out of state workers for assistance. Still no definite time table to restore electric service. I work at a hospital and the emergency generators have fuel for a week or more. 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, can’t make it fast enough. Down to four cases of bottled water. Bad News: Something totally unexpected. In addition to still being under a water boil alert, the fire department is going door to door and handing out fliers. Hum, must be some sort of no burn notice or something. I grabbed my flier and read it. The village sewer system and pump stations do not have emergency back up power and blah, blah, blah. 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 the facility.
Day Six: Get up at 5:00 A.M. to get ready for work and brew a pot of coffee. Up earlier than normal because it’s so stinking hot I can’t get in a deep sleep. I’ve noticed the family and I are getting cranky at each other because we’re tired and miserable. Go to the shower to get my morning eye opener. You would think as hot as the inside of the house is this morning (82 degrees) a cold shower would feel good. NOT! Conserving hot water and taking quick showers in the morning, the three of us got 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 decide not to go to work mainly because I only have a couple of gallons of gasoline left but the 5 gallon generator tank is topped off. A few more businesses have reopened but it’s still a mad house trying to get into the two gas stations now open and it’s still cash only. With all my empty gas cans I trek off on I-64 for about 35 miles and find an open gas station and pulled directly up to the pump, fill up the cans with gas and the truck with diesel, a two hundred dollar bill. Upon returning home I really want a nice cold glass of ice water. Crap, the wife just emptied all our cheap plastic ice trays for someone up the street. The wife tells me the woman who asked for the ice was boarder line rude and even asked when the next batch would be ready. People around here seem to be getting more expecting rather than appreciative. More stores seem to be opening up but they sell out of ice and bottled water as soon as a shipment arrives. I hear tell you can’t buy a generator in a three hundred mile radius. Thinking in my mind, if this thing would get worse and/or goes on much longer, I can see formally decent folk turn into animals and demand, not ask!
Day 7 & 8: Hot and more of the same. Down to my last ½ case of bottled water, time to take a long drive to find more. I do have a Berkley high priced water filter but do not want to break it out until absolutely necessary. We’re all cranky, tired, sleepy and ready for civilized life to return. I’m tired of listening to everyone’s complaints. I’m tired of cold showers, shaving with cold water, taking a light into the bathroom to see, subconsciously after 8 days flipping the light switch and knowing after I flipped the switch they wouldn’t work. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. The very first thing I’ll do when things return to normal is purchase a room window a/c. The second thing I’m going to do is retire and move to the country and be as self sufficient as possible. The wife doesn’t really believe I’m going to do that after thirty years of marriage. I’m just blowing off some steam she thinks.
Day 9: Seven minutes after six in the evening, sitting in my recliner with sweat dripping off my sweat and thinking how I might make my wife and daughter’s life more miserable. The house lights momentarily flicker, and a brief smile was detected on my face. Then nothing… Thirty or so minutes later, the house lights come on, the a/c starts up and we all break out in applause, then five minutes later it goes out again. Bummer! Ten long minutes later, which probably was the longest ten minutes ever, it’s b-a-c-k! And it stays on and on. By 10:00 P.M. the house was down to a comfortable 78 degrees and as I pass by the thermostat on my way to bed, I accidentally bumped it down to 60 degrees!
I’m here to tell y’all, that was the best nights sleep a body could ask for. Later that day I had to replace my alarm clock because somehow it got smashed when it went off on the bedroom wall? The boss wondered what happened to me when I got up at noon and called in to tell him I would be in tomorrow to sign my retirement papers in HRMS. Have a nice day!
Update: What a world of difference living in the country with a few acres compared to the urban setting. Note to wife: Surprise! That alone gives me piece of mind that should TSHTF 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. I wouldn’t even consider my experience as a disaster, but a minor inconvenience compared to an actual disaster. A disaster is a large hurricane, an earthquake or wide spread disastrous event.
The ten major things I learned from my experience were:
Until you actually experience a major inconvenience / disaster, even though mine was relatively minor in comparison to what has happened and may very well happen, you don’t know how your preps will fare and what you’re missing for the long run until you’re forced to use them.
Under stress, hardship and extreme environments, people change, and in my experience not for the better.
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 to out buildings instead of all of them in one area of the basement, as I live a spitting distance from the New Madrid fault line. If we get the “big one” and my house is severely damaged or leveled, I’m S.O.L.
Cash was King. As the business’s finally got generators to open and pump gas and sell goods, the ATM’S, credit / debit systems were not functional. As a matter of fact, the merchants were requesting “exact change” for your purchases. Ice was limited to two per person but they were out seconds after delivery.
Had the electrical power outage continued on, as it did for three weeks in many other communities, I was ill prepared. By sharing some of my resources I soon became short of potable water. Gasoline for the generator also became a major concern. A generator is only as good as the fuel you have stored for it. Reflecting on generators, I believe they will not be viable for a long term disaster unless large quantities of fuel, parts and oil have been stored and maintained?
In a densely populated urban setting, you can’t keep your preps a secret very long, as evidenced by the lights in my house seen from the street and the loud generator. It didn’t take very long for word to get out I was the man to see for your wants and needs. Did I mention #2 above?
Alcohol clouds your decision-making ability. Alcohol and an emergency situation could be a recipe for tragedy. You always lose with Mr. Booze.
It didn’t take long for polite society to go south. When people go from being polite and asking for assistance to being rude and I want it: Houston, we have a problem!
You’re never to prepared! A benefit of my new country location, in addition to my increased stored water; I now have well water, a large pond, a creek and a system to collect rainwater and a septic system. As sparse as the population is in my new “hood”, I will be able to assist without climbing into the same boat, I hope?
A larger generator tied into my home with a transfer switch would have been nice. My 5,000 watt Coleman did just fine, however, I had to constantly keep unplugging and plugging in appliances to keep from overloading the generator. The spider’s web of electrical cords running all over the floor was a trip waiting to happen. I’m in the process of getting a 250 gallon free standing fuel tank next to the pole barn.