This is a guest post by Rick Burner. He’s a member of the Living Freedom Commentariat and one of several Florida residents who kept us posted before, during, and after Hurricane Irma. He was kind enough to write up this after-action report, which I’ll post in several parts (of which this is the second). Rick blogs occasionally at The Working Fish and Being Renewed.
Click here for Part I.
AN ENCOUNTER WITH HURRICANE IRMA, PART II
By Rick Burner
Heat indices (H.I.) are from the NOAA Heat Index Calculator. They are in degrees Fahrenheit at mid-afternoon, in the shade. Add 10-15° for direct sun. The danger zone starts at 104°.
Monday, September 11 (H.I. 91°)
I slept in till 8 AM. 4-1/2 hours of sleep would have to do. I had no electricity but, thank God, the water was still running. I went for a walk and talked to my neighbors. There was a lot of damage to trees and fences – but the houses all seemed to be intact. Kevin, who owns a lawn and tree service, had trimmed my oaks only a couple of months earlier. I only had two large limbs down – right on my driveway. Sure glad I moved the van.
My neighbors, on the other hand, hadn’t tended to their trees. Both my front and back yards were filled with limbs. The branch that I’d heard go down had taken out a corner post of my fence. About one third of the fence was down. No great loss – it was quite old and needed to be replaced.
It was still raining and still very windy, so I went inside and cooked brunch.
I have a lightweight backpacking stove (or two) but they are rather small and flimsy. For emergencies, I had bought a “Gas One” butane/propane stove styled like a hot plate. It’s low, stable, and can handle the biggest pots I own. Then I put it on a shelf and never tried it.
It worked perfectly on the first try, but I shouldn’t trust to luck. Skills are more important than equipment (though one does need both). I cooked up some eggs, bacon, and couscous. And, of course, a pot of coffee.
If you don’t have a wheat allergy, couscous (a kind of pasta) has much to recommend it. Cooking it requires much less time and energy than, say, rice (I dislike oatmeal). I had a whole pound of bacon in the refrigerator, so I cooked it all. Not crispy – I like my bacon flexible. I knew that if I left a coating of grease on it, it would be fine at room temperature for days. I ate the last of it the following Sunday.
Raw eggs, unless the shell is cracked, are also fine at room temperature. I’ve had friends, both European and Caribbean, tell me that refrigerating eggs is an odd American custom. A neighbor told me that, when her refrigerator stopped working, she threw out all her food. This included eggs, because “they have an expiration date on the carton.”
I sat on my back patio to sip my coffee and have a smoke. The weather was pleasant, overcast and 75° (100% humidity). My yard certainly looked a mess. Though I gave it no thought at the time, the downed fence panels all had 3-inch spikes sticking up where they had peeled away from the posts.
I had a view of all my neighbor’s yards except directly north – his fence had stood up. I had never met the family that lived there – they are on a different street and there’s a power line easement between our properties. But I was aware of them – they have an auto-start whole-house generator. On more than one occasion, in the past, it had woken me from a sound sleep.
Kevin has a small generator – luck, rather than planning – and he managed to get it running. The neighborhood was less quiet than usual. Kevin’s house was full of refugees – a couple of cousins, their wives and kids, and a friend from Miami. Since he had a working refrigerator, a window air conditioner, and a television, they showed no signs of leaving.
Cell service was spotty but, via text, I managed to get in touch with most of my nearby friends. Those living 14 (or more) miles south of me still had power; the entire north end of the County was dark. One family of four had little of food besides snacks. I decided to make a big pot of chili – before the food in my refrigerator and freezer went bad – and share it with them. I set it to simmering about noon.
Chili, if handled with care, is another of those foods that will keep at room temperature for many days. Each time you need some for a meal, reheat the entire pot. Scoop out what you need, then cover it while it’s still simmering on the stove. Set it aside, but don’t take the lid off until the next mealtime.
While the chili simmered, I built a huge brush pile out by the curb. The wind – twenty mph gusting forty – sometimes made that a little difficult. But, by 4:30, I thought I had done a pretty good job. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my water heater had retained quite a bit of warmth. A shower was refreshing.
A note on clothing: during the initial stages of a disaster, you will have little time or energy for doing laundry. You may even need to construct the resources to do it. Morale can be greatly improved by having two weeks’ worth of clean underwear.
In addition, wear the same outer clothing every day for working. Yes, it will get nasty – but you won’t notice too much. Here in Florida – with the heat and humidity – my work clothes were smelly and clammy every morning. After an hour in the hot sun, I couldn’t tell how they had started out. They had been washed clean by nice fresh sweat. After your evening shower or sponge bath, put on clean underwear and a set of clothing reserved for “lounging.”
After my shower, I put a few pounds chili in a plastic container and drove to the next town to see my friends. None of the traffic signals were working and absolutely nothing was open. Few police were in evidence – though there was plenty of traffic. That was the smoothest trip I ever made on city streets; everybody was cooperating very nicely.
When I got home I made my own supper – a chicken and veggie stir-fry with a little rice. I was determined to use up as much of the food in the freezer as possible. Note to self: add more water to the rice than usual – the camp stove doesn’t “simmer” very well. The rice was a little crunchy.
I spoke with Kevin for a few minutes just at sundown. He, along with two helpers, had been working since dawn. Clearing debris and cutting down trees in the aftermath of a hurricane is good business. He was making money hand over fist.
The nights are too long in September. Without electricity, it’s pitch black by 8:30 p.m. Between tiredness and the pleasant 77° evening air, I had no trouble falling asleep.
Tuesday, September 12 (H.I. 95°)
Which means I was wide awake at 4:30 AM. That left 2-1/2 hours of darkness for reading, praying, thinking, and making coffee. I have an LED battery lantern, a Rayovac sportsman. Modern LEDs are marvelous – they use so little energy that batteries seem to last forever. Unfortunately, their light is as cold and soulless as a government bureaucracy. I’m determined to get my hands on a couple of Aladdin oil lamps. I don’t care if they are nearly $200 apiece.
Speaking of lamps, buy some 100-hour “candles.” These are pre-packaged oil lamps. They are rather dim, but kept me from stumbling around in the dark. They really do burn for more than 100 hours each. To make them harder to blow out, get a couple of the little snap-on chimneys. I did, but have no idea where I stored them. I placed the candles in very protected areas.
These candles were the only “prepper” supplies I actually used. If I weren’t a camper, I would add a gas stove, lanterns, and fuel to the list.
I repeated my morning routine of breakfast followed by coffee on the patio. It wasn’t as quiet as the day before. Kevin has a two-year-old bulldog, Karma, which has never been trained and will not come when called. Karma escaped out the back door and came trotting into my yard – over the fence sections with nails and spikes sticking up everywhere. She was followed by Kevin’s latest girlfriend – a young redhead who has never been trained and will not come when called.
She chased Karma, barefoot over the same fence sections. Thank God, she didn’t wound herself. I had thought that I could ignore the fence debris until the power came back on. This was no longer an option.
Since I am getting up in years, and have had a desk job for the past thirty, I’m not in as good shape as I ought to be. Fortunately, I do a lot of sea kayaking so my upper body and back are okay. Not a lot of strength, but plenty of endurance. My legs – not so much.
The eight-foot long sections of fence were too awkward and heavy for me to move very far by myself. I got a couple of hammers and the prybar out of the shed and completely disassembled one of the sections. That required too much time. Next, I got out my rusty trusty 18-inch handsaw to cut them into manageable pieces. The saw was made by Stanley; it has a bimetal blade with very hard teeth. And it only cost me thirteen dollars. It was perfect for cutting up used lumber where I occasionally ran into a hidden nail.
That went much more quickly – but I learned another lesson. It took a while before I got the hang of using a handsaw again; you must think things through a little more thoroughly than you do when using a power saw. I realized that I should have spent more time practicing with hand tools before “The Day.” I had gotten lazy.
Cutting up the sections and stacking them took most of the day. I had also been spending an hour every day helping various neighbors. I was so exhausted and nauseated that I couldn’t make any supper. I ate some cheddar cheese with butter. And began to doubt the value of survival. Why bother?
I also noticed that – by working outside all day in a short-sleeve shirt – have gotten a slight sunburn. Stupid.
Once again, in bed at 8:30 PM. Only 78° at bedtime; at least I could enjoy my unconscious hours.
To be continued …
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