Thursday, January 15, 2009

Guest Post: What I Wish I'd Known During the 2008 Ice Storm

Special thanks to my sister-in-law for writing this guest post for us! It seems like so many people all over the country have lost power this winter, so this is a valuable read for everyone!

What I Wish I’d Known During the 2008 Ice Storm By Shauna Siebach

I always thought of myself as a level-headed person who deals well under stress. I thought if I knew a disaster was coming, I’d make the necessary arrangements to ensure my family and I would be comfortable and safe. However, I did not deal as well as I thought I could during the ice storm that slammed New Hampshire in December.

I feel most of problem was that I was not prepared for it to be worse than I thought it would be. The weather report prior to the ice storm notified us there would be a snow storm that would mix with ice and freezing rain. Upon hearing this I planned to do my grocery shopping the day before and then hunker down at the house keeping the wood stove going during all day.

The night before the storm I went to bed as usual expecting to do my cleaning the next day while I was stuck inside for the day. We lost power around 10 p.m. but this had happened before and I thought it would come back on shortly as it had done in the past. My husband Mike woke me up around 2 a.m. to say he thought we weren’t safe in the house and needed to go to my parent's home or to a hotel. When I looked outside I saw that most of the trees surrounding our house were either doubled over or broken from the weight of the ice. There was also a fire truck in front of our property clearing away a fallen tree. Looking at the conditions I told him I thought we’d be safer inside rather than traveling anywhere on icy roads. For the rest of the night we were kept awake by crashing branches and trees.

The next morning Mike drove into town and told me that everything was without power and said he was nervous leaving us at the house without a phone or way of contacting him. After he left I got things ready to head to my parents house because I knew they had a generator and a land line phone so I would at least be in contact again. I thought we would be there for the day and would head back home when we got our power back that evening. I packed enough clothes and supplies for me and my one-year-old for the day.

Once I got on the road, however, I realized things were much worse than I originally thought. There was no power in any of the towns I drove through on the way to my parents. It is normally a 25 minute drive and it took me an hour and a half to get to their house due to closed roads. When I arrived at their house (after walking the last half mile because their road was impassable by car) I was exhausted and the day had just begun. The news I heard was that I would most likely be without power for another 5-7 days and it was then that I knew I was very unprepared for this to happen.

While there are a few stories of compassion and brotherly love coming out of this, unfortunately there were many times when people took advantage of others. Generators especially demanded a premium. We saw generators and generator accessories being sold for 2 to 5 times their normal price. One man purchased the entire stock of an emergency essential item and auctioned them off outside the store exit. Fist fights broke out over who grabbed what first. The shelves where batteries and flashlights are stocked were bare early the next morning.

One other aspect of the power outage that my husband took care of was keeping the house functioning. We are on a well so we lost water pressure. Because we couldn’t keep our faucets dripping to prevent pipes from freezing, we had to keep the house temperature above freezing. Luckily we have a wood stove and we had a kerosene heater that we could keep running overnight. Our sump pump stopped working, obviously, so to keep our basement from flooding, Mike would fill 5 gallon buckets and use the extra water to back fill our toilet to keep that working. He also thought it was important to move our cars around the driveway to make it look like someone was always home at night, because there were some robberies in the area.

Knowing what I know now, here are some things I wish I’d done differently:

  • Take a shower the night before the storm. I wasn’t able to take a shower for a couple days after the storm because my parents’ generator was having trouble.

  • Not buy so many perishables when I went grocery shopping the night before. I thought I was doing a good thing going grocery shopping the night before, but we lost a bunch of stuff in our fridge and freezer because we were without power for so long. We moved the food to our porch to keep it cool, but we had a 50 degree day that spoiled the food.

  • Done my cleaning the night before. All my laundry was clean, but I wish I had it all folded, dishes done, etc. so I feel I could leave my house clean at least.

  • Have more menus/meals ready for this sort of situation. I have food in my pantry and in food storage but both my mom and I were completely unprepared to put things together into full meals. When you are tired, hungry and unshowered, it is not when you feel most creative.

  • Gather more emergency supplies such as batteries, candles and water. My mom, sister and I naively headed to Wal-Mart for these items when the roads were clear only to find the shelves completely empty.

  • Have 72-hour kits ready for all of us. I ran through the house in the dark grabbing what I thought we’d need but I ended up forgetting several things. If I had a 72-hour kit ready I could have just grabbed it and gone. I will also include entertainment items such as books, crossword puzzles and sudoku books because it is alarming how much we rely on TV or the internet for evening entertainment.

My main motivation for getting these things ready for next time is so I won’t be such a burden on other people. My parents were nice enough to have us at their house for the outage because they had a generator and a gas fireplace. I know they would be glad to have us back again in a similar situation but I would like to be much more help to them instead of depending on them for so many things.
Our Stake President gave a great talk at our ward preparedness fair about why it is so important to be temporally prepared for disaster. He said that when we are prepared temporally it allows us to continue to grow spiritually. In a disaster if we are continually only thinking of the temporal survival it doesn’t allow us much time for spiritual growth. I had never thought of food storage/emergency preparedness in that light. Having gone through my own mini-disaster of not having power for a full week I can attest that this principle is true. Not having all the comforts we are used to and being tired, dirty and frustrated due to lack of preparation made it difficult to feel like I was spiritually progressing. Each day we were concerned with very temporal concerns because we were planning life meal to meal and planning our activities hour to hour. The biggest lesson I learned for next time is to have a much better game plan and supplies pulled together so you are not rushing to the store with everyone else for the same items. I know that this goal is attainable and we will receive help from our Heavenly Father if this is a true desire of our hearts.


Joanna said...

This is a very good and sobering post from Hannah. I find that reading accounts from people who have gone through a disaster helps so much more in preparing us.

One site that I have found near invaluable is Listening to Katrina. It's a blow by blow account of what the author did (and should have done) when Katrina came through New Orleans.

Candace said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. I for one appreciate it. We have 72 hour kits. Maybe I will start a rubbermaid box with just supplies like flashlights/batteries non-perishable foods to bring out only when the power is out, etc.

Lewaina@cliffsideranch said...

Yes, thank you for sharing this experience with us. I live in Eastern Utah. Dry cold Easter Utah. An Ice Storm seems very far away from us here. I lived in Rexburg Idaho at the time The Teton Dam broke. (June 5 1976) Wow what an experience that was! For sure we need to be prepared, and your experience reminds me that I am shockingly low on flashlights with batteries and matches. My goal is to have some kind of kerosene lamp in each room of my house. We heat with a wood stove, and I cook on an industrial gas range, which does not have electric ignition. My husband is a lineman, and is always gone when there is any kind of emergency that involves power, and other than the huge massive Elm trees that surround our home, I feel pretty secure. I can cook and heat our home. We have a creek that runs on the north side of us, so we would have another means of water. But it’s time to gather together 72 hr kits again. Hannah, you have a great blog. Thanks you for this shot in my emergency preparedness arm! :) Lewaina

SydneyMin said...

Great post! It inspired me to get on the ball and buy some kerosene. My parents gave us a kerosene heater and shipped it to us last Christmas, but I haven't been able to find anywhere (well, at least Home Depot didn't have it here) that sells it. That is our goal this weekend! Keep up the great work.

Heatherlyn said...

That was a very good, very helpful post. Thank you!

Dianna said...

Thanks for the reminder! We had the power out for just an hour or two this week, and it got me thinking about so many things. We never have working batteries around, for example, because my two-year-old loves flashlights! I'd better get working.

The Scavenger said...

Wonderful information for all ears and eyes too. It makes me think of how important my 72 hour kit really is. We have one for each member of the family, we have never had to use them. But I sure feel better after reading this that they are ready for action if the need comes. Thank you for sharing this story.


Jen said...

First of all, thank you for this post. It always helps to get me going on preparedness when I hear first-hand accounts of emergencies.

Second, and maybe a bit weird, I noticed the name of the author, Shauna Siebach. Siebach is my maiden name. Since it is pretty unusual, we might be related. If she is at all interested in finding a long, lost cousin, click on my name and email me.

Thanks again for your great blog!

Lewaina@cliffsideranch said...

Hi Hannah, here I am asking forgiveness because I forgot to ask permission...............I enjoyed your post this morning so well that I added it to mine. I am still so brand new at this blog stuff. Do you mind if I used it? If so I will take it off. So sorry . Lewaina

Anonymous said...

I too went through the ice storm and this is the list of things we decided we'd learned that we typed up as soon as it was over. Our experience was pretty similar, as we were without power/phone/water for almost 5 days. While stores opened up, it wasn't really safe to be out on the roads. So we had to depend on the things we had already prepared.

Things we learned:

Generator is ideal to keep water supply and cooking abilities constant. There was a mad dash to buy generators the day after. Too late!

Candles over flashlights/led. Solar power really didn’t help much with a storm, and batteries ran out after 3 days. (the grocery store was out of D immediately. The emergency radios with lights ran on AA or crank, and did very well. But another few days and we would need to replace batteries.)

Wood Stove- Heat source made all the difference.

Containers for water- small 6 gallon containers would’ve been preferred, for sanitation and flushing toilets as needed (don’t fill tank, just pour in enough water to the bowl to get it down)

Food- fast prep and preparation that requires few dishes. While we had ingredients to make other meals, there wasn’t a lot of time or mental energy to spend on preparing them. As the sun went down there was so much to do, and there wasn’t really a way to prepare dinners in advance (no crockpot) so at dinner time it was hard to cook AND keep the kids happy/out of trouble (witching hour still was there, with or without electricity) Cans (pork and beans with Vienna sausages from 72 hr kit, chili, stew) and PBJ became the most popular. We snacked a lot on crackers, bread, and chips for time between breakfast and dinner.

Paper plates, bowls, and silverware conserve water. We had to decide which dishes we would wash not knowing when our water supply would come back. When we heard on the radio it could be another week I used some water to wash the pans to cook with, but left the dishes. I also rinsed out the cereal bowls and mugs right after use and tried to let people use there’s again without really washing.

Chocolate is a necessity- crunchy things like Twix went first. Candy really made a difference.

Keeping up with housework is part of emergency preparedness. I left the pots to soak overnight, and they sure did smell after a couple of days without water to wash them!

Don’t let your car’s gas tank go below half, have extra fuel can saved somewhere. Power’s out = gas station pumps don’t work either. Generators run on gas too so have some stored in the garage.

Don’t get down to one gallon of milk or last block of cheese. Luckily our milk had been delivered the morning of the storm. But if it had hit the night before, we would’ve been out of milk. Yes, we had powdered milk and evaporated milk. But it was a nice comfort to have it, and we kept it in a cooler in the garage.

Chips, Crackers, Peanut Butter, Salsa are all good to have stored.
Crunchy things really did help!

As part of your emergency plan:
Know what powers water tank, water supply. Think consciously about what you would NOT want to do as soon as the power/water supply is cut, not knowing when it would go back on (we both flushed the toilet without thinking after it first happened) and what you would want to do immediately (gather rain water, contain heat, move fridge articles to cooler, shut off water to prevent pipes freezing)

Have ideas of activities to play after dark in a dimly lit room. Hand games, sitting in a circle, guessing games, song games etc…

Realize that your schedule changes with the sun. Be prepared to finish days activities, including dinner and clean up, before sun goes down. And your day will start early (and cold)

The kids did NOT like sponge baths. Our 6 year old didn’t mind, but our 4 and 2 year old hated it. I think next time I would just take their warmed bottle of water and pour it over their head while they stood in a basin, instead of trying to actually clean with a cloth. Or I might keep them wrapped in a towel as you would bathe a newborn, one limb at a time.
Also, after a couple of days we relented and designated one bottle of water for brushing teeth. It was such a luxury!

Just had to add my list. I realize that every emergency is different, but I hope we will be more prepared in some ways next time.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, thank you so much for sharing your experiences & lessons gained from them. I think it will be of help to a great many people. I have often thought about the 'ready to go' meals also. Although I nearly always cook from scratch I think there will be situations such as this when we are stressed (or sick & unable to cook something nourishing and enjoyable). Thats when really will need nice food from our storage that is ready to eat(& treats too !). Its a good time to prepare now & try out different things whilst the going is good.
Blessings to you all,

Melonie said...

Great post and the comments are just as educational too!

I found a good article about dealing with Katrina over at Your Family Ark - a good read, but in combination with this post and the link above, even better!

karen said...

Thanks for the ownderful tips. I live in Oklahoma and though we haven't had any yet, we are subject to several ice storms per year. We have been luck so for to not have been ones without power for a significant amount of time. I do find however, that using a dutch oven (or several) is helpfus, as you con sue them in or on your woodsotve, in your fireplace or build a fire outsode. You use them as you would camping. Paula Deen even had a show about using them in your fireplace. You can cook almost anything in them. It takes minimal clean up because it is ideal if you just wipe them out and not use alot of water and soap.

Robyn said...

Reading your account was almost like reliving my own. We experienced the ice storm that hit in late December of 2007 in Oklahoma and surrounding states. The tree limbs falling on the roof was the worst because we just never knew how much the roof would be able to sustain. Thankfully our two young kids slept through the entire night and never knew how cold it was. I knew a storm was coming and so had bundled them up really well before sending them to bed. I just never dreamed it would be as bad as it was. We were blessed to have been able to find a hotel room about an hour or so away. We stayed for two nights, others were there, too. My MIL's electricity was restored first, so we went over to her house. That turned into a week and a half long stay, that's how long it took to get our own power back on. Thankfully we had no real major damage and our trees bounced back, amazingly.
But that experience and somehow coming across this blog has helped give me the motivation to start getting stuff together. My husband thinks I'm silly about it, but after eating some bad food the first night at the hotel and throwing up for about 36 hours, and then just being displaced, even though at my MIL's, with two small kids was not something I'd like to repeat. I felt so unprepared and what if our MIL's electricity hadn't come back on? We couldn't afford to stay at the hotel more than those two nights. We were going to have to tough it out in our house. Thankfully we had a gas stove, but that couldn't heat the whole house. And we had very little food and no stores were open.
Anyways, I say all that to say that I'm motivated now. Thanks for this blog and the information you all share.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a great post! I made a new goal this year that I'd like to share- hopefully it will help someone in a similar situation. I realized that I had 2 weeks worth of water stored and have been diligent about 72 hour kits, a 3 month plan and longer-term storage but I started to think about the very scenario you have described and felt prompted to gather a 2-week supply (to go along with my water!) for a long- term power outage. I put together enough paper plates, cups, bowls, baby wipes (to clean when we can't shower regularly!)- etc to last 2 weeks and then made up very simple, Ready-to-eat meal plans. Actually not all ready to eat but very quick to prepare with only my camping stove and using a minimum of cooking water- (minute rice, ramen,canned meats, canned soups, Peanut Butter and crackers, cold cereal, canned milk etc.) I put it aside from my usual rotation of food storage items so that it doesn't "disappear" when someone needs a quick lunch. Now I know I could feed my family with quick, nourishing meals as long as my stored water supply holds out. I figure, that if we don't have water after 2 weeks- we are going to have to move anyway! This would be a great "start" on food storage for young people and those with very limited space.
Now, if only I could manage the money to get a generator!

Love your site! thanks for all the great ideas!

Unknown said...

I really appreciated this post- especially since I used it to prepare for our wind storm hitting us in Hawaii right now- gusts up to 60 mph! Wind usually means power outages, so these were good reminders.

Regina said...

Thanks for your post. I really relate to the everyone running to walmart and cleaning out the shelves. I've seen it several times. Good reason to be prepared.

Anonymous said...

My in-laws in Milton had a generator, but were scared of thieves, so they cracked the door open. They kept the TV and fridge running, and heated with a wood stove. I'm so glad I missed out on all of this, but it does remind me that I need to get my things in order.

BPOTW said...

Thank you for this post! I think many of us live in denial that anything like this could happen to us, when in fact it could happen at any time--natural or not.

I'm going to show this to my husband!

Anonymous said...

Great post! We are in western Massachusetts, and were without power for 7 full days, and no phone/internet for 11 days. We have generators, but it still got old after awhile. I won't reiterate what has been said here, but the number one lesson we learned was - You are on your own. You cannot rely on the local or atate government to bail you out during a natural or man-made disaster. It is critical to be prepared, and to also help your neighbors out.

M said...

Great post, Shauna. Thanks for posting this, Hannah. It's good to hear someone's perspective that has recently been through a disaster. I'm going to go and double check what we have in our 72 hour kit, as well as double check our battery and candle supply.

And good ideas about puzzles, games, and having menus prepared!

Cheryl said...

Thank you for being honest in your post. I came here because my daughter, Melonie, told everyone on her blog we HAD to. She even waited patiently until we all came over here and read your post.
I'm sorry you had to learn how to be more prepared this way, but it could have so much worse. I learned many things during my times in NC, SC, MS, and Germany. WA state hasn't been quite as bad, but we're been without power for 10 days and more. We're much better prepared than most.
Hopefully everyone who comes here will take your words to heart! I admire your "red" list. You are doing an exception job to prepare yourself for the next time. Keep up the good work!

Unknown said...

Lots of GREAT advice! I don't have kids but noticed a couple of you out there mentioned your kids playing w/ your flashlights & wearing out the batteries. Would it work to put tape over the on/off switch? I imagine duct tape would keep the sliding kind in place, & for the push button kind, maybe cutting out a piece of cardboard to place over the button & taping it in place would help? For the twisting kind, tape could be used to keep them from twisting the flashlight on/off.

Yvonne Fraraccio said...

Stories like this one give me every reason to be prepared for whatever! We do not know what disaster may come our way, but we do know to be prepared. We have been instructed to be prepared many, many times. I am also lacking in areas of preparedness, but I am working on it. I appreciate Shauna's story because stories like her's awakens my spirit even more.

Thanks Abby!!! We need encouragement like this because encouragement like this keeps our minds focused on the right path!!!