Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Lesson's Our Family Learned Before, During, and After a Hurricane.....

Look at what a tangle mess of mighty Pine Trees this photo has.  You may be wondering how that is possible.  The source actually has a name, and many of you may recall this name......Hurricane Hugo and my family experienced it first hand.  I was inspired to share our experience with you today because of a post by Food Storage Moms.

Preparedness Lessons Learned From Hurricane Hugo....

This photo shows you what it looked like all over our neighborhood.  Many of these mighty pine trees fell into the houses all along the coast and the central part of South Carolina.  That actually happened to many of our dear neighbors.  When we went outside to look at the aftermath, it was like those huge pine trees just cut through the homes like butter.  

Due to the blessing of technology, we knew that South Carolina was going to be hit....and hit very hard.  The Media was sharing a lot of information on how to be ready and safe during this destructive storm.  My husband I tried to shield my children from the constant stream of media...I didn't want them to have unwarranted fear or anxiety.  Basically, I wanted them to be informed.  In actuality, we had put ourselves in a pretty good position to handle this or many other unexpected emergencies. We had food, water, fuel, tools, shelter....and SKILLS!  I can't stress enough how important skills are.  You can have all the gear in the world, but without knowledge and practice, they really may not serve you well.  

As I was new to the "hurricane" preparedness aspect, I found that I had to purchase a few things that we did not have.  I packed up my baby, and drove to the local grocery store.  I was looking for tape to put on the windows so that if they broke, they would not shatter into little pieces but rather would hopefully stay as close to 'one unit' as possible. Also, my husband and I decided that we needed more batteries.  

I parked in a very full parking lot, took the baby out of the car seat, found a shopping cart, and wheeled toward the store.  I was not prepared for the scene inside the front doors.  There were people everywhere.  The shelves were basically empty.  It reminded me of a scene from "The Flintstones" when Betty and Wilma went to a big sale which ensued in total chaos.  Thankfully, the store had masking tape and batteries near the front of the store.  I grabbed what I needed and got in line to check out.  It took nearly an hour to get to a register.  I was amazed at the items people were purchasing.  I saw roasts, donuts, hamburger, candy etc. Many people had items that required refrigeration. I wondered why folks weren't purchasing shelf-stable foods like Peanut Butter and bread.  However, as I crawled by the bread aisle...there was no bread to be found. After checking out, I started to drive home. At that point, the roads were packed with people. Some were attempting to leave and others were attempting to come into our area.

When I got home, the children were coming in the door as school was let out early due to the impending Hurricane.  All family members that were able went around the house and began taping the windows in a crisscross/star shape.  The kids thought it was pretty fun to put tape on the windows.  

Because our daughter was a baby, we had a 'playpen' (which people now call 'pack-n-play') in the kitchen. We started a basic 'treasure hunt'. We put sleeping bags, board games, backpacks with clothing etc and portable foods in the 'playpen'.  Our thought was that if we had to leave in a hurry, my husband could lash the playpen on the back of his truck (covered by a big tarp) and we could move quickly.  I need to let you know that my husband is a general contractor. His truck is like the clown car at the circus....stuff just keeps appearing out of it. He said it was our biggest preparedness asset...and I had no reason to doubt him.

When it came time for bedtime, we gave our children the option of sleeping on the main floor as their bedrooms were on the second floor. They wanted to sleep in their own beds, and if we felt things were getting a bit crazy, we would have gone upstairs and to get them.  If things did get too crazy, we had a safe place to go. Our home was built on a slope and we had 'under-the house-storage' that was a bricked-in area.  This was going to be our safe shelter if we need to access it.

On the news, we learned that the state had asked folks along the coast to evacuate and move to the central part of the state...which is where we were.  The USC stadium was being used as essentially a refuge camp. Folks were streaming into our area.

My husband and I did not sleep that night.  Not only were we trying to stay on top of things, but a hurricane is REALLY LOUD!  It really does sound like a Freight Train running through your home.  Add to that the loud explosions we heard from those mighty Pine trees breaking and cutting through other trees or homes near us.  (We did not have any large trees on our lot. My husband had them all removed before we built the house. I was so frustrated with him for doing it when we were building....but I was very thankful to him for his foresight when all the chaos was happening around us).  

We were listening to the radio all night.  I guarantee that some people were at their craziest when the hurricane actually hit.  People were calling into the radio station reporting that they were standing on 'such and such' corner of Charleston and watching roofs being torn off and big pieces of debris were flying right by them etc.  Really?  Who in their right mind would be out driving around during a Category 5 storm anyway?

During the night, our baby did wake up. We brought her into bed with us and she spent most of the night playing with our hair or poking our eyes.  This is another reason we did not sleep.  It became eerily quiet as the eye of the storm passed over, but the vengeance returned soon enough. 

In the morning, the phone rang. My parents were calling to see if we were still alive and well. Shortly thereafter, our young son came down and asked when the 'huwicane' was coming. Thank goodness all of our other children slept through the night....but I still don't know how because it was sooo noisy.

This is what things looked like all over town.  We were without power for nearly a week.  We were the only ones in our area to still have water.  We had people calling to see if we had water to share.  We ended up giving our entire water storage away and as well as letting people come into our home to fill up their own containers and take them home.  I met the parents of many of the classmates of our children as my kids let it be known (by phone) that we had water.

As we were without power, we ate as much as we could from our freezer.  We had steak etc that we cooked on the gas grill out on our deck.  We used the refrigerator as a big giant cooler. The little bit of ice we had we put in there to keep things as cool as possible.  It didn't last for the entire week, but we got a few days from it.

The kids played a lot of board and card games.  They also played outside on our swing-set and played some soccer. We used flashlights and lanterns in the house (the windows were open....because there was no air conditioning).  

Unexpected events....

We actually had friends call us and ask us for things. If we had it or could spare it, we did so willingly.  However, I was surprised by the boldness of some folks. People act unexpectedly during emergencies.  I remember fielding one call from folks we know.  Here is what they asked of us.... "Do you have a generator?  If you do, can we come and get it?"  I thought they were kidding...they weren't. They were concerned about their freezer and refrigerator and did not seem to have any difficulty asking us for a generator....which we didn't have at the time.  

Within a day, our Stake President (a local leader of many congregations in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) asked for as many men as possible to be ready to leave and go to the coast to help in the relief efforts.  This meant that as soon as the chainsaws in our area were able to clear the fallen trees from the roads, that my husband and our older son were going to leave for days to go and help those who were hit harder than we were.  

We made it a matter of prayer, they packed up and went.  The rest of us were totally fine.  We had food, water, old-fashioned entertainment, and a phone, which was my daughter's life-line.  The photo above was taken by my husband miles from the coastline.  This powerful storm had lifted boats and yachts and dropped them inland by miles.  (Even 3 years after the storm, I still drove by big yachts that had been dropped into the middle forested areas that were too difficult to access and remove). 

Take Home Points:

  • We didn't have a Generator....but we purchased one as soon as they were back on the shelves at our local store (for a reasonable price).  As you noted above, people were bold enough to ask to borrow one from us.  Also, you need to find a way to secure it to your home so that it cannot be stolen. Lots of things walked away during that time.  
  • We had too much of our Food Storage in our Freezer. We lost it all and it was very, very costly.  I now have a combination of frozen, canned, and dehydrated/freeze-dried foods in our food storage.
  • We had plenty of food to eat and had enough water to last us if we needed to live off from it. We also used our gas grill and our camp stove to prepare meals. Because we often went camping as a family, we all knew how and what to cook as if we were camping.
  • We had skills and tools to help ourselves and others.  My husband used his chainsaw to help free our neighborhood (along with others who had one as well).  He and my son did go to Charleston and helped repair roofs, close off open areas of homes, and help repair things that they could with the materials that were available.  
  • We had the opportunity to serve others in a time of need. We had water and we shared it. We also shared what was in our food storage and particularly our freezer.  One of our friends loaded up their truck with the contents of their freezer and went to a part of town where folks were in great need. They gave away their food to very grateful recipients.  We were able teach our children how blessed they were and also how to be of service to others.  
  • We learned to have 72 hour kits all put together. We were putting them together in anticipation of the storm with things that we already had. WE LEARNED not to do that in the future.  
  • Because we had water, hygiene was not as big of an issue as it could have been. We just has cold baths....which was a bit of a harsh reality. However, we were so grateful.  I had a baby and children for heaven's sake!  I was fortunate that I had finished the laundry before the storm hit.  After the power came back on, we had a mountain of laundry to do.  I now have the means to clean clothes without power.  
  • Because we had water, we could use the toilets. That was a major plus from a hygiene standpoint.  
  • People do unexpected things during an emergency.  Many rise to the occasion, but others certainly do not.  There was looting, and individuals posing as repairmen who took advantage of folks who were desperate to get their homes back together.  Others sold items for inflated prices etc.  Even those you know and love may put their needs above yours and make inappropriate requests/demands.
  • You need to have cash on hand.  Have a variety of currency/cash on hand because you most likely will not get change back.  I would suggest a lot of $20.00, $10.00, $5.00, and many singles. Have coins as well.  I also suggest that you have other items to barter as well. Medications, food, water, etc. Some folks suggest liquor for bartering.  
  • Gas, keep your tanks at least half-full. The lines at the gas station were long when the power came back on and initially gas was rationed.  There were also a lot of abandoned vehicles on the side of the road that ran out of fuel. We knew that we had a shelter that was appropriate for us, so we sheltered in place.
  • Power:  We used a lot of batteries. Now we not only have batteries, but some solar options, and a Biolite wood buring campstove.  The solar and the Biolite can charge our electronics.  One requires sunlight and the other generates fuel from burning wood.  These two options offer us redundancy. 
  • Protection:  My husband has several weapons, and the oldest children and I knew how to shoot them.  My son's had their own weapons and knew how to care for them. When my husband and oldest son were away, I knew how to use our weapons if I needed to. Thank heavens it was not required.
  • Entertainment:  We had a lot of board games and card games.  Although my children had a few electronic devices, they were not as available as devices are now.  I believe it is important to have a balance in the entertainment that your family is offered.  I love my technology....there is no question about that. However, as a family we were used to playing outside and playing boardgames together.  Although my kids did get bored and hot, they were so good to try to play and work together.
  • If we had to evacuate, we had the equipment, food, and supplies to do so. Our family is used to camping, so it would not have been a hardship for us.

So, learn from our experience. Now is as good of time as any to look at your Emergency Preparedness readiness.    Take inventory with your family.

How would you fare in such an emergency?


maggi g said...

this post was really interesting and I was glad to hear how well your family was prepared. i was especially glad to hear that you were able to help others. maybe they learned from seeing how your family acted during the disaster.

i lived off Galveston island in texas and survived a few bad storms. i was born, raised and am retired now back in tampa, fl and have seen a few bad storms come near but only one direct hit here when i was a child. my parents were preppers and raised me to follow that lifestyle. when my dad was 75 and living with me, he had a BOB in the laundry room all year round. our county govt has a program to pick up and transport elderly and medically needy people to special shelters when the need arises. my dad was on the list so i could send him off safely and i could stay at the house and batten everything down then leave to meet up with him. we never had to do this but i am now living in a small urban apartment and i am set up on the same program.

i just found your blog and will start reading and catching up on all your posts. thanks for having this blog and sharing all the info you have learned first hand. im looking forward to more good posts.

The Little Red Hen said...

Maggie G: Thanks for your comments. I think previous generations had more commons sense and desire to be ready for the unexpected. Hopefully we can all rise to that standard. I am glad you stopped by and hope you come back again.

LRH's Daughter said...

I remember Hurricane Hugo really well. (I also remember Hurricane Andrew hitting Florida and Hurricane Floyd hitting North Carolina when we were there for school) I remember church with flashlights, taping the windows and filling the playpen with supplies. I remember sitting in line for dry ice and the tree the was laying across our neighbor's attic floor.

Reading this reminded me that I wrote about the experience in my journal. Here is an excerpt from September 24th, 1989. I was 12 years old and in 7th grade.

"Thursday a big hurricane hit on the SC border. I was so scared. We didn't even have school Friday. There were no lights anywhere! Church Sunday was only an hour because we couldn't see. Hurricane Hugo destroyed Charleston! Everyone had to evacuate though some dumbys stayed. Seven people died. We only lost a few shingles and lights. I feel fortunate, some people went back to find NOTHING! But, I just don't have electricity. It's no good to have electricity if you don't have a house. The papers say that Charleston and the barrier islands look like a war zone. I'm glad I have a house."

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