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, of which this is the third and final part. Rick blogs occasionally at The Working Fish and Being Renewed.
AN ENCOUNTER WITH HURRICANE IRMA, PART III
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°.
Wednesday, September 13 (H.I. 93°)
I wake up with a sunburn headache. Pop an ibuprofen.
Coffee on the patio was unpleasant – again. The pounding of the generators was getting old. So was “The Red and Karma Show, Act 2.” This time, Red managed to trip over my wheelbarrow and fall headlong. How does one not notice a wheelbarrow? I knew I was going to have to do more work.
I delayed as long as I could – I wasn’t feeling very energetic. But, eventually, I went to work scrounging usable fence panels and posts. I had erected three panels – 24 feet – when Kevin appeared. He wasn’t working – he’d lost his helpers.
His cousin was called back to his full-time job as a roofer. They, apparently, were also doing quite well in the aftermath of the hurricane. And, on Tuesday night, his Miami friend found an open drinking establishment. He decided to convert his cash into refreshments – in liquid and pill form. Afterwards, stoned out of his mind, pockets bulging with forbidden substances, he fell asleep in a stranger’s car. As a result, he would be spending the rest of his “vacation” at the Pinellas County Jail.
Kevin agreed that the fence had to be rebuilt, to keep the dog and girlfriend in their own yard. Between the two of us, we set up a couple more posts and got the last three panels hung. Afterwards, I lent a hand to Faye, my neighbor to the west. Today is her eightieth birthday.
I realized that, after a disaster, there is always going to be much more work to do than anticipated. This made personal – physical – preparedness extremely important.
There was another problem: regularity. I normally eat about three quarters of a pound of vegetables, cooked and raw, per day. After the first day, these weren’t available. Combined with the unaccustomed labor and the relentless heat, I was less “regular” than usual. I had anticipated this and, on Monday, started taking two doses of whole-husk psyllium per day. My favorite brand is Organic India, but you can buy Metamucil in the grocery store. I never became constipated.
I was exhausted and shaky at the end of the afternoon, but forced myself to have some chili and rice for supper. Everything from the freezer goes in the trashcan.
I had been in daily touch with my boss – and the power was still out at the office. I longed to go into work and relax in air-conditioned comfort. I fantasized about ice cubes. Did they still exist, somewhere?
At bedtime, the temperature was 81° and the heat index was eighty-eight. I tossed and turned for hours. Every time I fell asleep, I dreamed that the power had come back on; then I awoke to the rumble of generators. I guess not.
Thursday, September 14 (H.I. 105°)
My first order of business is the same as every other day – I take my morning “tonic.” This consists of a dose of whole-husk psyllium, half teaspoon of Himalayan salt, and one tablet each of potassium gluconate and magnesium citrate. (The links are to the exact products I use.) I’ve lived in Florida for thirty years – I know how to handle heat. Because I take these minerals every morning, I’ve had little to no problem with heat cramping.
Today I gaze with satisfaction at my yard. The important part of the fence is up. The downed branches have been cleared. For this job, my bow saw was essential equipment.
I enjoy a leisurely breakfast. (I am so sick of bacon and eggs; and the heat; and food; and everything).
My yard could really use some raking. There are lots of small twigs and branches everywhere. I work on this for a couple of hours. At noon, I decide that I’m too hot and nauseated to eat anything. I work straight through till suppertime. But, standing in the noon day sun, I become inspired to move all the sawed-up fence panels, stacked on my patio, out to the curb. To say that my brain isn’t functioning correctly would be an understatement.
I’m feeling really week and shaky, but very satisfied with myself, as I finish this task. It’s about 3:30. I’m going to reward myself with an early shower. The cool shower helps a lot but I should have stayed in there a lot longer. Afterwards, sitting at my kitchen table and doing something (I have no idea what), I noticed the sweat is still pouring off my body. And I’m panting. And nauseated. These symptoms aren’t unusual, but are more pronounced than every other afternoon.
Those of my readers who have a clue, unlike me, will notice that I have been suffering from heat exhaustion every single day. But this afternoon it’s bad. Dangerously bad. Here I’m going to pause and recommend another piece of equipment – one that parents of small children already have. A medical thermometer. If you live in an extreme climate – very hot or very cold – get one and practice using it on yourself. In time, we will learn to recognize the symptoms of hypothermia and hyperthermia in ourselves. But, for the short-term disaster, I needed a medical device to tell me to take care of myself.
What I should have done is climb into a bathtub full of cool water and stayed there until my body temperature came back below 100°. And I should have done this every day. But I was clueless. I was used to working in the hot sun – whether in my yard or in my kayak. I was so accustomed to heat exhaustion that I never recognized the danger. After all, in Florida, you just walk into an air-conditioned room, rest for an hour or two, and you’re fine. But when the heat index is in the danger zone …
Fortunately, a friend from St. Petersburg called me on the phone. She could tell – from my slurred speech and lack of focus – that I was in trouble. She ordered me to drive to her house where there was air-conditioning. I thought she was exaggerating, but decided to humor her. I climbed into my van, cranked the A/C to full, and headed out. By the time I had driven three blocks I knew she was right. It was as if I was drunk.
I finished my drive very slowly and carefully.
A couple of hours later, I felt fine. But I decided (at her insistence) to spend the night in air-conditioned comfort. Interestingly, I tossed and turned for hours before falling asleep. I wasn’t used to the A/C.
Friday, September 15 (H. I. 105°)
I arrived back at my house about 8 AM. At 8:40 I sent the following text: “City of Largo just emptied our garbage cans! Duke energy just started working on my street! The excitement is almost too much to handle.”
After a few texts back and forth, I discovered that I was the last of the north county crew without power. Everybody else had had their power restored by Thursday morning. I was glad for them – yesterday had been brutal.
I spent the day working hard at doing nothing. I chatted with neighbors and the power line crew (from North Carolina). There were still some tree problems in the easement. The line crew disappeared about 10:30. I began to wonder if I would get power back – ever.
I sat on my patio, reading, writing, and playing solitaire with damp cards. I had done some experimentation during the week, finding the coolest spot to rest. Sitting in my front (south) yard under the oak trees wasn’t bad – but there was a better spot. My north-facing, concrete patio. Right next to my house, the eaves give about three feet of shade. There are no trees blocking my view of the northern sky. That was the best spot.
Why? The northern sky has cold spots that allow your body to radiate more heat. I’d learned this as a boy; a local dairy farmer had pointed out that, on hot days, his cows always gathered, barely in the shade, on the north side of trees.
About 2 PM the tree crew (from the same utility company) showed up. Two Mexican guys with ropes and a chainsaw. They were impressive. They climbed two trees flanking the problem area and ran a zip line between them. One man hooked himself to the line in a horizontal (plank) position, face up. His buddy, on the ground, used a rope to slide the sawyer from one problem spot to the next.
Wielding the chainsaw overhead, the top man called out ¡fuera abajo! as he sliced branches, working within inches of the power lines and of his own support rope. After only a few minutes, the lines were clear. He unlocked his harness and descended rapidly to the ground, landing on his feet. The two then pulled a couple of unlocking ropes and the zip line came down. Minutes later, they were gone.
At 3:30 PM, exactly 108 hours after the power went off, my lights came on.
My lawn needs mowing, again.
What changes will I be making to my disaster preparations?
The worst problem, in the short run, was a lack of power – for tools, refrigeration, and air-conditioning. I am seriously considering purchasing a portable inverter generator. The biggest problem with a generator – of any reasonable size – is that it will use about four gallons of fuel per day.
Do I really want to store twenty gallons of gasoline, enough for five days, in my backyard suburban shed? Besides, gasoline goes bad, especially the garbage made with corn. I will be stuck with the chore of regularly emptying the containers into my van and refilling them. This is going to require some thought.
I might consider solar – except for the weird laws. If you are connected to the electrical grid in Florida, it’s illegal to use your solar panels during a power outage.
One piece of equipment that I’m certainly going to get – and practice using – is a hammock.
I live in a concrete-block house that was designed before air-conditioning became common. It has lots of openable windows. But it holds heat quite well. Before AC, people used window fans to draw in the slightly cooler night air. Without power, that isn’t an option. And places that are both hot and humid, like the deep South, don’t get very cool at night.
I could have converted the scrap lumber from my downed fence into an open-sided backyard shelter. Something like a Seminole Indian Chickee – they understood long-term survival. With a hammock in the shade, but exposed to the northern sky, sleep would be much more comfortable. I could even have taken an afternoon siesta.
Living without power, long-term, would also require a modification of my lifestyle. People in hot climates tend to go to bed late, when the air has cooled. They also take siestas during the hottest part of the day. If I had done that, I would’ve had no trouble with heat exhaustion.
“Early to bed and early to rise” doesn’t work in the summertime in the deep south.
Storage food is all well and good, but a good supply of vitamins, minerals, and fiber requires vegetables. I do have a garden – but gardening, in Florida, is primarily a wintertime activity. Few things survive the summer heat and sunshine.
What I had thought about doing – but didn’t – was starting some sprouts. I will certainly lay in a larger supply of sprouting seeds – and consume them more regularly. In the Florida summer – or Minnesota winter – that might be valuable for anyone.
The next subject is the first one that most men think about regarding disaster prep: Guns.
During the aftermath, the only thought I had about my guns is that I have too many. With no power to control humidity, they must be cleaned frequently. That’s a big job. The only gun I cared about was my daily carry piece. At the beginning of an emergency, almost everybody is confident that the government will fix things, soon. They act in a law-abiding a manner; most are better behaved than usual.
Only after people begin to believe that things are not going back to normal will firearms become necessary. Even then, I’m convinced that taking a gunsmithing course, and buying spare parts kits, is a better use of resources than buying more guns. Learn to use, and repair, the few that you have.
My greatest realization was the necessity to have a team. For me – and I think most people – survival requires two people.
With two people, much of the outside work would have required only one quarter of the time. A teammate would have noticed my heat exhaustion – and taken steps.
A companion could have encouraged me when I was feeling overwhelmed.
Surprisingly, the food would’ve lasted even longer with two of us. We could have salvaged – by canning – enough food from the refrigerator and freezer to last us another week. We would have had the energy to start some sprouts.
It’s a tough lesson for a loner like me to realize – but people really are more important than things. Without them, survival may be meaningless.
Thanks again to Rick for writing this account and to Living Freedom blog readers (sensible people that you are) for appreciating it and adding comments. In most cases the Amazon links are to the actual products Rick used. In other cases I found suitable ones. But as always there are a lot of options. Enter Amazon through any of those links and no matter what you purchase during your visit, you’ll be supporting this blog.