Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Real Life" Emergency Series - Ice Storm 2009

We are starting a guest post series sharing your stories about getting through emergency situations.  Today, we're sharing Brandy's story from when she experienced the ice storm in 2009.  Be sure to read at the bottom for her list of  things she wishes she had known - so informative!  Thanks for sharing, Brandy!

(Do you have an emergency story you'd like to share?  It can be short or something longer... we'd love to share it!  Please email it to us at safelygatheredin (at) gmail.com).

Brandy shares:
This year like lots of other people around the country, I made a resolution to gather my 3 months supply and rotate it regularly and also gather all of our emergency supplies.

Though money was tight, I was determined to start. I scrimped on our normal groceries in order to purchase items for our 3 month supply and emergency essentials. It is amazing how much I was able to gather in just 3 weeks.

On Sunday January 25th we saw on the news that a big storm was coming our way. Now, we get warnings like this all the time and nothing big ever really happens. Most of the time the community freaks out and purchases all the basics at the grocery store and you can't get milk, bread or eggs.

On Monday, I knew I had to do my normal weekly grocery shopping and knew that people would be rushing to the store to get prepared for the "big storm" so I went early and got what I thought we would need for the week.

I don't know why, but I was feeling like I should prepare for a power outage and made sure I had gathered all my flashlights and checked to see if they had working batteries. All of the flashlights had dead batteries except for one. I made sure I had batteries on my grocery list. At the store, I saw stacks of ice melt and ice scrapers for the car. I picked up those just to be safe. Next I realized I should get water (the shelves were getting bare) in case the power went off because I like the taste better than tap water and I knew that my fridge door water wouldn't work.

When I got home, I thought that if by chance the power goes off, I wouldn't be able to make bread and we were on our last loaf. I made bread that day too.

According to the weatherman, the first storm would come in about 6:00pm and go through the night. The second part of the storm would come Tuesday evening and go through the night. By the time we went to bed on Monday, nothing had started. When we woke up, there was a little less than an inch of ice on everything and a skiff of snow. Of course they canceled school because the counties out here are not equipped for snow/ice removal on the roads and so the roads were slippery. This was another time little results would happen after big hype. I managed to convince Cody to work from home because I like having him home and most of his co-workers were working from home also. It was a great relaxing day.

Through the day at work, people kept referencing to Cody the next part of the storm that was supposed to be coming. We thought nothing of it. Then later just before dinner, the storm started and our lights flickered. I told Cody that we should probably make sure all of the dishes were washed and put away and all the laundry I had just done should be folded and put away so we could find it easily if the power went out. Cody worked on the dishes and I worked on the laundry. We had the kids take baths.

Just to make it clear, we have never "prepared" this much for a storm before. I had been reading preparedness blogs and had seen different ideas on staying prepared in an emergency and just thought it would be a good time to try them out. I felt no impending doom. Sometimes the spirit works in mysterious ways.

Later after the kids went to bed and Cody and I were watching TV, we heard a loud cracking sound in the back yard. We both jumped up and went out on the deck in time to see a large branch from one of our trees fall to the ground. We knew then that it would be an exciting night.

Cody and I didn't go to sleep that night until about 1:00am because we kept running from window to window watching large tree branches fall. Every 1-2 minutes we would hear the loud cracking sound of wood breaking. Every 5 minutes or so the sky would light up with a transformer exploding.

At about 3:00am Cody woke me up and said that we didn't have power. This was early Wednesday morning. When we woke up that morning we were all a little excited about the storm. The entire neighborhood was covered in 6-8 inches of snow with 2 inches of ice under it. It looked beautiful. At first glance it looked as if no major damage was done to any of the houses in our neighborhood.

We started calling friends and the families we are responsible for at church on our cell phones. We knew that we needed to preserve our cell phone batteries so we tried to make it brief. We found out that 68,000 people were out of power in the tri-state area. After making french toast for breakfast on the stove (we have a gas stove top) Cody and I went for a walk around our neighborhood to see if everyone was OK. Lots of trees were broken and as far as we could see, only one person had any structure damage to their home. Everyone had ways to stay warm for the power outage. We all thought it would be on that day or the next.

Cody kept us warm with the fire place and we tried to keep busy. The kids really struggled with finding things to do. They are so used to having electronic things to keep them busy. Another thing, we all basically needed to stay in the family room where the fire was going as it was getting colder. The kids really wanted us to entertain them all day. Luckily we had work to do.

We made a game plan for the day. We brought in all of our wood from outside so it could dry and we wouldn't have to go in and out and let cold air in. We brought the little coffee table from the front room to use as a table near the fire so we could eat and play games in warmth. Next we had lunch. We had sandwiches, chips and soup. After lunch, we put up a tent in Josh's room. We figured they could sleep in the tent and keep their body heat in a small area so they would stay warm. We got all the bedding ready while it was still light out. We then gathered all light sources (flashlights, candles and kerosene lanterns) and put them readily accessible in the kitchen.

Then the boredom hit. The kids were a little wild and crazy and Cody and I had no real plan to entertain them. There was still work to be done. All dishes had to be washed by hand.

We played a game of Sorry and then played Charades. Then it was dinner time. We had mac and cheese and roasted hot dogs over our fire. The night before, we had told the kids they might want to charge their Nintendo DS's so they would have something to do if the power went out. Emilee followed our heed and Josh did not. After dinner we had the kids all go snuggle up in the tent with a flashlight each and look at books or watch Emilee play DS.

Cody and I were just getting ready to play a game when the power went on! It was 7:40 p.m. Cody plugged in his cell phone and I started to charge Josh's DS. We then hurried to watch the end of American Idol where the auditions were taking place in SLC. We only saw 2 auditions and it was over. We started another show we had recorded and in the first 15 minutes of that show, the power went off again. It was 8:20. We decided to go up to bed and snuggle in the warm covers while we watched a movie on my ipod. At 10:00 p.m. the power went on again. We slept warm that night. The kids were hot.

The next day Cody went to work and since the kids still had no school, we went to a friends house to play. We stayed most the day and did lunch together. When we got home that evening, we discovered our power was out again. We called a neighbor and found out it had gone out about 1:30 that afternoon. The house was a little chilly but not bad. We decided to go out to get something to eat since it was already dark in the house and we didn't have anything prepared for dinner. By the time we got home it was time for bed. The kids slept in the tent again and Cody and I in our room with the big down comforter. We watched the last of the movie we started the night before and then went to sleep.

On Friday morning, we went back to our friends house while Cody went to work. We took most of our fridge food over to keep in her fridge and to help with feeding everyone. That night we let Emilee, Josh and Becca sleepover while Cody, Jay and I went home to sleep. We needed to be with our dog and knew that Jay wouldn't sleep well at someone elses home. When we got home it was very very cold. We didn't know how cold because our thermostat doesn't have a battery option. We all 3 slept in our queen bed under the normal comforter and the down comforter. We were cold all night!

Saturday most people in our ward had power back and a generator freed up. We borrowed it and were able to hook it up to our house so that the furnace would run. Most people can run their whole house off a generator but because of the way our house is wired, we had to choose between the furnace, big deep freezer and one other outlet OR everything else. We chose the furnace. When we hooked it up, we saw on the thermostat that it was 39 degrees in the house!!! We brought all of the leftover fridge food home and put it in coolers and stored them on the back deck. All of the inside freezer food went in the big deep freeze that had power.

I went grocery shopping and saw that all emergency essentials were completely sold out. That first morning (Tuesday) the gas stations even sold out of gas. Generators, kerosene, wood... all sold out. I got some BBQ pork that you just heat and serve for dinner.

Sunday we all went to church and then to a friends house who was having a B-day party for her daughter. We ate dinner there.

Monday the kids had a 2 hour delay at school. I got them all sent off to school in mostly clean clothes and combed hair. Jay and I wandered around Target and the library to help us stay busy. Emilee had piano at 4:30 that afternoon. By the time she was done, I was out of energy and decided that we would go out to eat again because it would be dark in the house by the time we got home and I didn't want soup again because I didn't want to do prep work by candle light.

We got home at around 5:30 and the power was on!!! We still went out to eat and used it as a celebration dinner.

So, now I am sitting in a warm house with lights and access to the Internet on my computer and here is what I am glad we did and what I wish were different.

Things I am glad I did/had:

1. All the laundry clean and put away
2. All dishes clean and put away
3. The kids bathed
4. All flashlights with new batteries
5. A full jug of kerosene in my emergency supplies
6. Kerosene lanterns (these give off lots of light and the oil lasts a long time)
7. The kids sleep in a tent. They stayed nice and warm and the nights they used it, it didn't get colder than when we go camping.
8. An emergency weather radio. It is so cool because it is powered by a crank and even when we couldn't find a good station to give information, it was a nice distraction to just listen to music.
9. I put a full tank of gas in my car on Monday when I was out getting groceries.
10. I just happen to have cash on hand. I am glad I did. I was able to pay people who picked up stuff and delivered it to my house.
11. We keep lots of extra blankets on hand for guests and to snuggle in while watching TV. I am so glad we had so many. We hung them over windows to help keep the heat in and still had plenty for sleeping with.
12. A gas stove. If you can afford to upgrade it is not only much better to cook with, it serves well in a power outage.
13. A gas water heater. We had hot water the whole time.

Things I wish I did/had:

1. A corded phone. We had to be so careful to not use up all the battery on our cell phones and once we had a way to charge them, we had to watch our minutes.
2. Cody really wanted to have a way to see what the temperature was inside our house. We might upgrade our thermostat to one that has back up battery power.
3. Wood. We normally have a good wood pile in the back yard. We hadn't restocked it this winter and the weekend before the storm, our furnace broke and we used a lot of wood to stay warm through the weekend till we could buy the part that broke. We only had 2 days worth of wood when the power went out the first time. We won't let it get that low again.
4. A food plan. I had food. I am pretty stocked up. In planning my 3 month supply, I planned on using frozen food. I felt confident that the power wouldn't go out that long, and if it did we would have a generator to keep our food frozen. Well, luckily I was right and we did get a generator so we didn't lose all of our food. The problem is that for some reason it was so hard to make decisions. Things seemed harder to deal with. I never once remembered to take meat out early enough for it to defrost, so instead of normal meals, we had to eat with friends or eat easy things like soup and mac and cheese.

I am going to plan out 1 weeks worth of meals that can be cooked on our gas stove or in a dutch oven or BBQ grill. If I ever am in this situation again, I will be able to look at the plan and know exactly what to fix that day. I can get meat out in the morning. It is terrible to have no idea what to eat even though you are surrounded by food.

I would recommend easy to prepare meals because you will probably need to do most of the prep work during daylight hours and it seems those daylight hours go by fast.

5. A box of tricks. My kids were so bored. They really looked to us to entertain them. This quickly got old. I felt like the kids were wearing my last nerve most of the time. I knew I had things to do and didn't have a lot of time to entertain. We couldn't let them play outside because tree branches were still falling as was ice and power lines. It wasn't safe. Again, it was hard to make decisions or think creatively. Things like getting art supplies, play dough or games out didn't cross our mind. I would like to have a box of stuff to do in an emergency. Coloring books and crayons, card games, play dough, etc. Also, if we know it is coming, I will make sure all my kids get their portable devices charged up. I know Emilee is glad she had hers. I am also glad I had my ipod as a distraction.

6. We eventually borrowed a generator, and I know it is a big ticket item, but I am now bound and determined to own one. A 5000 watt one will power everything you could need. The one we borrowed had a 6 gallon gas tank and that tank lasted about 14 hours.

7. A big gas can. We have a little 2.5 gas can for our lawn mower gas, but when needing to fill up a 6 gallon tank 2 times a day, it can get old running to the gas station that often. Luckily one of our friends had a large one we borrowed.

8. A snow shovel. I know it sounds silly, but since we rarely get snow that sticks for more than 24 hours, we don't even own a snow shovel. It would have been nice on the day it all started to melt to clear off the driveway so it wasn't so slippery.

That is all I can think of now. Some little annoyances were running out of laundry. Jay who has just potty trained had lots of accidents because he didn't want to go into a dark bathroom. The disposal didn't work and my kids kept forgetting not to dump their food in the sink so I had to scrape out soggy food a few times. Hated that. Luckily the major things were taken care of so the worst things I had to worry about were things like soggy cereal. If we would have had enough wood, we would have been able to stay at our own house the entire time and not depended on anyone. That is a good feeling.

Thanks for sharing your story, Brandy!


fairydogmother said...

Rather than changing your thermostat - buy a basic thermometer from the hardware store that you can use indoors or out (I sometimes use mine to check the fridge). They usually have alcohol coloured blue or red in the bulb, so no worries about mercury. Cost - $5-$10 in Canada, probably a bit less in the US

Anonymous said...

If it is below 32' outside, don't waste your fuel in the generator to keep your food frozen. We had an ice storm here in Kansas in 2005 and I put all my food from the freezer into plastic totes on the back porch. Never pay to do what mother nature will do for you for free. You just have to keep an eye on the temp outside.

Amanda Morris said...

I love this post and I am happy that it will be a continuing series. It really helps to hear the real-life situations. I especially liked the way Brandy broke it down at the end of the things she was glad she did and the things she wish she had done.

Misty @ Survival Kit Ideas said...

What a great idea for a series! I will be following and linking to it often. I don't think there is any better motivation for preparedness than real life stories. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.