We are preppers. I love reading the prep/survival books. There’s so much information out there and so many people involved in prepping now, there’s just no reason to not do it! We learned from experience that you can never be over prepared. Since 2004 I’ve learned how to store food for the long term, how to filter water (okay, I’ll give credit to my Berkey on that one), I’ve learned about bug out bags and how to build a fire with a flint, but what I learned the most from was living for more than two weeks without electricity after hurricanes Frances, Jeanne and Wilma. Even though we were only thinking hurricane preparedness then, we were still leaps and bounds beyond most of our neighbors.
The obvious things that one can’t miss are non perishable food and water. You’d be surprised how many people wait until a hurricane warning to stock up on these basics. Once a hurricane is within 3 days of hitting, the stores get crazy and empty out. Shopping during that time is no longer an option for us, we’re prepared far in advance. The only food I can see getting right before a storm is bread (although we stock up and freeze bread when it’s on sale) and fresh fruits and veggies. When a warning is issued water is the first to go, then canned soups, tuna, Spam, etc. Let me tell you folks, eating soup when its 98 degrees with 98 percent humidity is not appetizing. We have to think about what we’d normally eat and work with that. I stock up on canned meats and fruits and veggies. We have an extra freezer stocked with meat. Unfortunately, during Hurricane Frances the storm lingered for 3 days over our area. We could not run the generator during the storm. The power went out immediately and all of our meat was lost by the time the storm passed. So stocking up the fridge and freezer’s a great idea but in the end you could lose it all. We regularly eat tortillas of all kinds, so I have a stock of masa and a tortilla press. Tortillas can be cooked on a skillet over a grill in no time at all. Speaking of the grill, we have at least four ways of cooking outside and only two of those require gas. We have many propane tanks (I’m not even going to tell you how many, it’s almost embarrassing!). But we also have a charcoal grill and a fire pit, with wood stocked up for fuel if needed. The wood needs to be covered or brought in during a storm so it doesn’t get soaked or blown away.
So food and water, obvious, but how to live without electricity? Well folks, that’s where the rubber meets the road. The everyday little things soon become a chore. Take brushing your teeth for instance. When no water comes out of the faucet it’s a little more complicated. Not only is there no running water, but because we are on city sewer (and remember, no electricity) only minimal waste can go down the drain. Basically because whatever you put down the drain could potentially come back into the home once the power goes back on. This happened to several neighbors, but not us. The water that we store is not just for drinking. After a storm we take a 5 gallon bucket and fill it, halfway or so, cover it and put it on the back porch. This is where we get water to brush our teeth and wash ourselves. All the dirty water is poured into a corner of the yard.
We did allow for toileting inside but only flushing when necessary. Again water is needed for flushing and you can see our supply dwindling as I type. Washing not only ourselves but dishes also needed to be done outside. We set up a table and again a 5 gallon bucket of water for our outdoor wash area. We used a lot of paper and plastic but some things still needed to be cleaned (pans, pots, etc). Whenever possible I used just cold water, soap and bleach, but with very grimy stuff we’d boil water on the grill and wash dishes in that. I added bleach to every wash load just to keep the germs minimal. That’s just breakfast folks. Now, I’m going to admit, after a few days my husband hooked the generator up to the water pump and we were able to bathe and have water from the outside faucet but it’s very hard water, normally used for irrigation only. It’s not potable but can be used for bathing and washing. Again, it had to be done outside which was fine because we actually have an outside shower. Only cold water though. We were able to have a little warm water by hooking up a hose to the faucet and laying it on the roof. The heat from the sun warmed what was in the hose. It was good for a quick shower and I do mean quick.
A normal day was extremely hot and humid, we were inundated with biting flies and mosquitoes and we were typically dirty and very tired. Having decent screens on the windows was crucial as they were open all of the time. Bug spray helped but it made us feel dirty and grimy. I was not up on hand washing clothes at that time and the laundry pile was a nightmare. If I have to go through it again I would do things differently. I’d have two 5-gallon buckets, one for washing, one for rinsing and a hand washer. They look something like a plunger and are sufficient for hand washing shorts, underwear and tank tops. I’d also re-wear whatever possible so not to create so many dirty clothes. Now you may be wondering why we didn’t just hook up the generator to help take the edge off of the misery. We actually had the generator hooked up most of the time. It ran the fridge/freezer and a window air conditioner at night. Generators are great but they’re expensive to run and it’s important to be of the mindset that you may be entirely without electricity. Even the gas stations took several weeks to get up and running.
Being that the inside of the house was miserable, we spent a lot of time on our porch. It’s actually more of a deck, with privacy fencing surrounding us but no roof. My genius husband rigged a shade screen from material we had stored. That worked for giving us a shady area in which to clean and eat but it didn’t help with the bugs. I now have two mosquito nets stored away. If we have to do this again my husband can surely hang those to give us a protected area.
In the end we made it. My neighbors made fun of me when I washed our dishes outside but when the power came back on sewage didn’t back up into our house. We both missed a lot of work but managed to feed our family of four (my husband, myself, young teen daughter and a handicapped adult) and keep us clean and entertained. We played games at night before it got too dark. Bedtime came early. I put cute bandanas in our hair to keep it back and my daughter loved that. We put stickers on ourselves so as we tanned up (in the sun much more than usual) we had silly designs all over. We had a stash of special snack foods and kept our spirits up by joking around and not taking everything so seriously. When the power came back on after the first storm we had been over two weeks living primitively. I have to admit, I cried.