During the winter of 2007 Western Kansas and Eastern Colorado had a major winter event in the form of a blizzard and a wide ranging ice storm.
Saturday morning came and no weather, by that afternoon, Eastern Colorado and Western, Kansas was in a full blizzard and ice storm. Within hours the ice was over 3 inches thick on power lines and was popping power poles in every direction. Then the wind picked up and we went black and quiet. The storm took down cell towers, radio towers, internet towers, emergency communication towers.
The small rural communities were shut down. No vehicle gas, no grocery store, no trading at all. Everything was closed, banks, grocery stores, and convenience stores. They had no electricity. They had no way of selling anything.
We work in agriculture, so we had to be prepared. We are also home canners and put up a years worth of food in jars and our freezers. Our town was able to keep the water on because of diesel engines. They were also able to keep our sewer on because of diesel generators. We were able to cook because of propane grills. We were cold in our homes.
There was a shelter opened with generator heat, but no blankets, beds, or toilet paper, they asked that you bring your own. They also asked that you clean out your refrigerator and bring it to the shelter for food for the group that was there. We were trapped in an 8 mile radius because of down power lines on the highways. We were stuck for 3 days and went without electricity for seven days.
Means of communication was almost non existent. We did not know about the shelter which was two blocks from our home because we were able to still work with generator power, and it was warmer at work than home. There was no central communication in our town. We had no idea what was going on in the world, our town or our area. We did not know how long we were going to be without electricity. Cell phones did not work; radio was out in our area. We had no land line phone or Internet. Our news was received at the post office window from handwritten posts. Most of those were people looking for other people or looking for firewood or a generator.
One day we came home from work and noticed everyone on our block had a new gas generator. We asked the neighbors where they got theirs and found out our county commissioners had asked a large box store to send two semi loads of generators to our county. They sold them at the courthouse steps, first come with $1,200 plus tax, no checks or credit cards accepted. We didn’t get one; they were gone by the time we got home from work. Many people did not have a five gallon gas can and there was no where to get gas as all the pumps were down. Our local farm coop brought out their bulk fuel truck to help fill the gas cans. Cash only and only five gallons at a time.
It took over four years for our electric company to finish replacing electric poles. Our electricity comes from a coal fired plant and with the blizzard, the train tracks were shut down for three days. It was a good thing that the electricity was off or they would have run out of coal. No trains across Western Kansas or Eastern Colorado for three days. No freight, no passengers, no movement.
When the local grocery store reopened, they had to close the next day because the store had a run on fresh vegetables, meats, water and most everything else. Milk was gone in ten minutes; people were hoarding thinking it was going to happen again tomorrow. The store was empty faster than a truck could get in to replenish the store shelves.
What did we do for seven days? I cooked on the propane grill with my cast iron cookware. We pulled out every quilt we owned and piled it on our beds. We had a battery operated clock and we used our kerosene lanterns. We rounded up our flashlights and ate our food that had been canned in the summer. We got cold, took hot showers and dived under the covers. We got tired of being cold and we called around to find a hotel room even if it was 150 miles away, they were all full. We went to work and did our jobs. We were paid electronically, but could not find out if it actually made it to the bank or not. We had no way of getting cash. We stayed at home and did not go to the shelter as it may have been warm, but who wants to sleep on a concrete floor with people they don’t know. We tried to find a radio station, use our cell phones, find a newspaper and waited for the electric company. We watched as our trees were trimmed off the electric lines and watched as most all of our trees fell over with the ice. We were lucky our small town was able to keep on our water. Our pipes did not freeze. We communicated with our neighbors. We gave food to those who had none. We thanked God for heat on night six from a very expensive rented generator. We told our kids to remember this storm and always be prepared. We found out we rely on electricity way too much.
We now keep our gas cans and propane bottles full. We installed a wood stove and keep firewood. We have a gas generator for the freezers and refrigerator. We keep water on hand. We continue to can our garden and can up meats and other items. We continually work to have our life as it is with electricity even if we have no electricity. We keep cash on hand as well as dry good items, like flour, popcorn and toilet paper. We are working to have two years of supplies.
Did FEMA ever show up? Yes, eight days after the storm, and that was after electricity was restored to our town. Did the National Guard show up? Yes, four days into it with cases of water for the residents. They gave one case of water to each household that they could get to. The National Guard stayed at our high school for three weeks, there was no school in session. They patrolled our town day and night, they helped with people rescue, water distribution and passing out information.
Many people in the county were out of electricity for over a month. They were able to survive because they still live off the land and depend on their selves to help themselves.
The two things we learned during these seven days were: we had a lack of communication locally and world wide, and lack of heat. We installed a wood cook stove and are looking into other means of communication.
There was no run on the gas pumps or the stores in our small town because there was no way to exchange money for product. When electricity came on in the large regional town, everyone that could get to town was there. Then there was a run, everyone was looking for the same thing. The first to go was small propane bottles for gas grills. The next thing to go were all forms of heat, generators, inverters, gas cooking and heating stoves, wood for fireplaces, extension cords and accessories, batteries, matches, small electric heaters to hook up to generators. Other things like, flashlights, toilet paper, ice scrapers, gloves, blankets, cast iron skillets, metal spatulas, kerosene lanterns, hand can openers, crackers, popcorn, soda, cheese in a can, bottled water, paper items, bread and lunch meat. The large grocery store had no electricity for three days, but because people were hungry they bought what they could and then complained that it was spoiled, the milk, cheese and meats were not good, they had no refrigeration for three days, but people still bought the items. People complained that the shelves were empty even though they knew there was no transportation for three days, in or out.
When electricity was restored to our one regional town, people from three different states came from far and wide, which meant people were driving 100’s of miles to come to this one town. Vehicle gas was in short supply; firewood went for a premium in a few tree country. Batteries were non existent. There were lines at the fast food restaurants, and banks, water and ammo disappeared. Three days and people were hungry, cold and wanted a change.
There were also those who wanted someone, anyone, to come fix this problem and give them food, water, and heat. They didn’t care who it was, they just wanted their life as it was before the storm and only in their home. They would not go to a shelter, but expected someone to provide them with their lifestyle. They had no provisions.
Hospitals, long term care homes, prisons, sheriff departments, all were on generator power. Schools were not in session. Businesses were closed; city and county offices were closed. Banks and ATMs were closed. Convenience stores, gas pumps, grocery stores, restaurants, closed. No pizza delivery. No street lights, no noise, just dark silence.
The amount of reliance we have on electricity is amazing.