Why We're Never Prepared Enough

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey--which affected us only with a huge amount of rain--people on the coast are waking up to a terrible realization that regardless of their preparations, it wasn't enough.

I know. I've lived it.

Since moving more inland, we don't worry about hurricanes anymore. Tornadoes are more prevalent here and far more unpredictable. It seems we traded one sort of natural disaster for another. Tornadoes are fast and wicked, but hurricanes are generally slow and very thorough with its destruction.

After Hurricane Rita we learned the hard way we were never as well prepared as we thought. We didn't anticipate weeks of no power, no water, and no communication. And we were starved more for information than for food.

You don't realize what it is to be cut off until you live without any connection to the outside world. All the the radio towers but one were down and every able-bodied announcer, regardless of their station, manned the single booth to keep the people informed on where to find water, gas, or medical supplies.

Food, even good food lost its appeal if it came from a can or box. There were days when we preferred to go hungry than eat another can of whatever.

Water was at a huge premium. Water for washing, for toilets, and for making you feel human again. Nothing felt as good as being able to go to bed clean. Without water, you don't have that luxury.

It humbles you like you wouldn't believe. I learned a lot after living through Rita. I learned you can never have enough water, that a portable generator is worth its weight in gold, and that food is the last thing on your mind.

There's so much to do after a disaster's aftermath. Unless you've gone through it, you can't wrap your head around the amount of work involved. I'm glad we were a bit younger then, and tougher than we looked.

People who live near areas where natural disasters tend to occur are generally well prepared. It's not their first rodeo and they know the drill. Water, batteries, flashlights, med kits, and canned goods.

People who live in areas rarely afflicted are like deer in headlights. They're goofy, thinking the government will step in and make everything right within a few hours. It doesn't work like that.

It'd be great if your electric company can return your power after a bad storm, but what happens if it can't? Don't get mad at them. They're working as fast as they can, sometimes in really horrible conditions.

The poor linemen they sent to Texas after Rita were riddled with mosquito and tick bites. They slept in trailers and ate preserved food like the rest of us. It was miserable living, and they had to work long hours in it.

Regardless of where you live, power outages happen. We lost hundreds of pounds worth of food when power couldn't be restored within a couple of days. I was bagging food for disposal and bleaching out our freezers by lantern light.

Here are extra tips if you get caught with no power:

• Fill plastic bottles with water and store in your freezer. If the power comes back right away, you can always take them out and use the thawed water on plants.

• If the power stays off, DO NOT open your freezer/refrigerator unless your need is dire. The less it's opened, the longer your food will stay safe.

• If you know a disaster is headed your way, buy a couple of extra bags of cubed ice and store in the freezer. If you have to live off a chest cooler, you can use the ice to keep the food you're going to eat cold until needed.

• Charge all your electronics, even old laptops. They could come in useful as the hours roll by.

• If you have a little disposable cash, invest in a solar powered charger to keep your cell phones and pads charged. This one has great reviews and three USB ports.

• Gather all your supplies into one centralized location. You don't want to be scrambling for supplies if you have to evacuate at the last minute.

• Get cash. Don't expect stores to have their credit cards machines working. After Rita, Greg was led through Walmart by a flashlight-wielding employee. They led a few people in at a time to pick up the essentials. Cash only.

• Water. Store more water than you think you need. Fill your tub or buy a WaterBOB.

• Gather your medications for every member of the family. If you're running low, get a refill before disaster strikes.

• Board games. Believe it or not, after working all day clearing brush, if exhaustion doesn't get you, boredom will. Have some board games handy. It's nice to break up the monotony and it saves your cell phone for important uses.

• Candy. I really missed something sweet. If you're stuck eating out of a can, have some candy or cookies in reserve. It keeps you from reverting into a Neanderthal.

What's the longest you've ever been without power? Have you ever lived through a natural disaster? I'd love to hear how you coped.


So scary! Our thoughts and prayers are with all those dealing with Harvey.

We've experienced hurricanes living in FL, and we've been very lucky in making it through them all okay.

These are great tips, Maria. Making a note of a few I hadn't considered.
Maria Zannini said…
Madeline: I think in the end, even though Corpus got smashed, it's the Houston area that's going to suffer longest. That water has very limited avenues to run off. Once it does, it'll flood every home along those paths.

The last time I saw the news, they're expecting the area to receive 50 inches of rain alone.
Marianne said…
We lose power here regularly... the worst for us was a week after a particularly bad ice storm. We have a generator now, and keep at minimum 20 gallons of gas in the garage. We have a wood stove for warmth, but the absolute worst thing about not having power was the lack of water. I HATED not being to flush the toilet or wash up. Thankfully, our generator runs the well pump, so that's a thing of the past. I really feel for folks who aren't prepared -- it's horrible.
Maria Zannini said…
Marianne: Oh, ice storms are rough. It's not bad enough to lose power, but it's cold to boot. And I agree with you. I will put up with almost anything, but by DOG there better be a running toilet system. LOL!

Since moving to north Texas, we lose power regularly too, but I think that's due more to our location. The only bad incident was when we lost power for a day and half after that killer tornado a couple of years ago.

We have a generator, but now we also have solar power. Short of a tornado ripping that out, we should be able to save the freezers and fridge. Greg has been tinkering with the idea of building a portable solar array too, something we can trailer to anywhere on the property.
rmacwheeler said…
The 2005 storms put two on our roof. Sigh
Maria Zannini said…
Mac: I don't think the majority of the population understands upheaval the way we do. LOL. We had to call out the heavy machinery operators to take the trees off our house.
Mike Keyton said…
We lost power from 6am to 9pm one Tuesday. Had to do without my morning cup of tea
Jenny Schwartz said…
I've been really lucky and haven't had to live through any disasters. Watching the news on Houston, my heart goes out to the people there. Having candy in the house is a good tip that I hadn't heard before.
Maria Zannini said…
Mike: How did you ever cope? :D
Whenever I think to complain, I always remember that someone else has it worse.
Maria Zannini said…
Jenny: They're having a bad time of it. The rain simply won't quit.

re: sweets
I really craved cookies back then, especially those cookies with apricot filling. --And now I'm hungry. LOL!
Stacy McKitrick said…
The longest I've been without power was when Ike came through. I think we lost it for 24-36 hours. My daughter lost it for 3 days. Not fun.
Maria Zannini said…
Stacy: I didn't realize Ike got all the way up to you guys. That was one rough storm.
B.E. Sanderson said…
Ack. I'm so sorry you had to live through Rita. :hugs: I hope all the rain from Harvey doesn't effect your homestead too adversely.

I grew up being aware of tornadoes in our area of Michigan, but nothing ever hit close to home. I lived in FL for a while, but only had one brush with one (Ivan, I think) and I lived on high enough ground to not worry about that either. The closest I've ever come to having to deal with disaster was this past spring when we had a couple EF1 tornadoes tear through about ten minutes north and fifteen minutes south of here that knocked out power for us for 17 hrs. We didn't have any advance warning, but Hubs is ultra prepared for all eventualities. He even made me coffee on the grill. We have loads of bottled water, a go-pack of emergency supplies, candles, flashlights, an LED lantern, matches, batteries, etc.

You're right, though. You're never as prepared enough. If it had been really bad, we probably wouldn't have had enough to keep us good for more than a few days without trekking out for supplies.
Maria Zannini said…
BE: Tornadoes are so unpredictable. One house could be smashed to splinters and the one next to it could be left pristine. A lot of the older homes in our area have storm shelters. Sometimes I wonder if we shouldn't have one too. That last tornado was too close.

re: grilled coffee
lv2trnscrb said…
You brought up so many good points on being prepared. I can't imagine the horror of living through any hurricane and how long afterward things may return to normal.

Longest we were without power was back in the San Diego area back in 2011. Someone made a mistake that knocked out power from areas of Southern California all the way to the Arizona border. Hubby is always prepared for things like this so he had everything we needed. Commutes were horrendous to get home that night but thankfully I work at home and he worked close by and hadn't gone into work yet and then when everyone realized how long the power could potentially be out, he just canceled his guitar students he was teaching at the time. Hardest thing we had to work out was how to give our dog his diabetes shot in the relative dark. Best lesson I learned was to eat the ice cream in the freezer regardless of how long you would think the power would be off. It melted and of course it was ruined. All in all our power was out about 12 hours; some people shorter, some a bit longer. We ended up throwing away a lot of food. I had gotten guidelines about what to throw away based on what the temps were in the freezer/fridge (we had a thermometer in both). If something didn't meet the standard, it got thrown away. Better safe than food poisoning.

Maria Zannini said…
Betty: I'll bet the dog was nervous. ;)

When we lived in Chicago, we never worried about storms or disasters. Maybe we were too young to fret. We had a few bad blizzards but the city always managed. Down here if a disaster strikes it's too much for the infrastructure to bear. You just hunker down until it's over and then rebuild.
LD Masterson said…
We're lucky,we've never been hit by a major disaster. But in my Red Cross days, I worked disaster relief at a lot of them and there's really no way to prepare for watching your home, and the rest of the neighborhood, washing out to sea. I'll give the Red Cross a plug here and say they've got some good disaster preparedness advise on their web site Redcross.org (under the Get Help tab). It's worth checking out. A couple items you didn't mention that leap to mind are a manual can opener - many people only have electric ones - and a hand crank emergency radio. Preferably with a good built-in flashlight and a USB port for charging your phone. Everyone should have one of these in their home.
Maria Zannini said…
Linda: I love those hand-cranked radios and flashlights. They saved our bacon during Rita.

I'm so old school I didn't even snap that people wouldn't already have a manual can opener. :)
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