Three Letters Re: Hurricane Sandy After Action Reports

James Wesley,
By now you probably know that the mountains of West Virginia got snow generated by Superstorm Sandy so our local disaster looks somewhat different than other areas. 

In our case we got better than 3 feet of very heavy wet snow dumped on us in short order.  Trees came down over a couple of day period in numbers great enough to make walking outside hazardous. One of the local farm families I know had to cut their way to the barn to care for the live stock and then cut their way back home.  Over a week later we are still without electric power at the house.

A couple of thoughts on the storm from our perspective: 

You may not be well when Armageddon descends on you. Prepare to be able to do what needs to be done in a diminished physical capacity.  I was just coming down with some flu like bug when we where hit. Being sick really complicated the situation. I managed everything except getting the snow off of the various buildings roofs resulting in the loss of several roof vent pipes when the snow avalanched on its own.

Having back up plans are nice!  We just moved into a new office.  I designed a full kitchen and full bathroom into it the which was appreciated by all the staff that lived out in the country and are also without electric power.  The new office is on the same block as our local hospital so guess who got power back on sooner than just about anyone else.  The office also has a couple of other things that may seem strange do the unknowing that are use to JIT delivery or have never given much thought to this sort of thing.

Having the ability to lock various interior doors makes you feel a lot better if you have to run cords out the door to the generator instead of out the window you planed due to depth of snow and the fact I was too ill to wade through chest deep snow on that side of the house.  I have lost track of how many hurricanes I have been through having grown up in the Gulf Coast region, but this was my first natural disaster to have a generator available so surviving without one is very doable for any who care to think about it a bit.  Having a generator seems to have spoiled us a bit however and I expect to have one big enough to run my whole house before too long.

An All Wheel Drive (AWD) is not the same thing as a 4X4!  Having driven a 4X4 for years the wife talked me into a nice AWD van with the birth of our son a while back.  It is pretty good for lots of things, but bucking heavy wet snow appears to not be one of them.  I broke out my old diesel 4X4 for the duration with much better results.

Coal stoves are God’s gift to a cold wet world!  I burned wood for over a dozen years in several different quality wood stoves and would not trade the lot of them for my anthracite coal stove.

PALights which I thought where probably the most foolish flashlight design I had ever seen when I first saw them several years ago actually rock in a disaster situation.  Their Always-On (Off) position is enough light if pointed at the ceiling to not only always be able to find and lay hands on them, it is also enough light to light up the room enough to see kids, wife, dog, weapons, high powered lights etc as well as enough light to see if/when someone steps into the room who is unexpectedly.

I suppose lastly if you remodel your house do so with it being as functional as possible with no/minimal electric input.  I switched out an electric water heater for a pilot light gas fired instant unit and was able to run everything water wise as normal except the dishwasher/clothes-washer which was very well received by all who benefited by the endless hot water even if the bathroom was lit by a barn lantern at the time.

Still digging out!, – S.D. in West Virginia


Dear Mr. Rawles,
I believe that we are not hearing about the situation in the worst hit areas of New York and New Jersey and it may be weeks or months until we do.  Survival blog readers from this area are without power, phone, water, etc. and are struggling to just get through each day. Let me tell you briefly about my cousin on Staten Island.  I managed to contact him last weekend on his cell phone.  We spoke only a few minutes; with him doing most of the talking and me listening.  What follows are his words.
He was not in an evacuation area but was hit by what he called an 8 foot tsunami; it was storm surge.  He and his wife got out of their house when the water was waist high.  They ran for it and are lucky to be alive.  Everything in the basement is gone; circuit panel, oil burner (furnace), his home office with computers, printers, external hard drives, furniture.  There is 2 inches of silt in the basement.  He had three contractors there at the house, working to try to get it in some kind of shape.  Everything has been soaked in corrosive sea water and there is debris all over.  There may be a mold issue to deal with.  The contractors broke open the sewer pipe to allow water to drain backwards out of the basement.  He had another contractor coming in the afternoon to fix the sewer piper after the water drained.  He said, “You cannot believe the devastation” and I could hear sirens and general commotion behind him as he was talking.  He thinks it will take $30,000 minimum to get the house livable again.  He would like to borrow the money from his pension but banks are closed, it is a long process, forms need to be notarized; all of which is unavailable right now.  His wife is going to take a short term loan from her life insurance policy to get the house fixed, and then he will work through the pension loan and pay the life insurance loan back.  He was juggling multiple issues at once and very stressed (contractors, cleaning up, and work calling him if you can believe that).  They were staying at his stepson’s house that lives more inland and did not get flooded. People were waiting in line for 6 hours near him to get gas.  He cannot get up to Yonkers (north) to visit his elderly mother to check on her.  It is a disaster.  He cannot believe what happened.

Closing thoughts;
1.     My cousin and his wife are in their 50s.  They did not need this at this point in their lives.  It will be a huge financial hit.
2.     They have no internet, phone, power, water; couldn’t contribute a posting to something like the web site and having shelter, food, safety, etc. is their top priority now.  We will only hear from people like this weeks or months in the future.  Their stories will wait until then.
3.     Flooding like this could wipe out all or a good portion of your survival supplies.  Re-think where you put them if you live in a flood zone.  The basement may not be a good choice.
4.     Even if the power comes back on, if your circuit panel or furnace has been flooded, it probably is damaged and won’t work.  What will you do for heat?
5.     I watched people on television looking through what is left of their house.  They were looking for photos; only sentimental value but something that people value highly.  I have to re-think what I am going to do with the boxes of photos I have that I took before digital cameras and have not been organized in books. Maybe put them in one plastic container that I could grab and go or put in the car.
6.     I am going back to re-read all those posting on this web site about what to put in a grab and go bag.  I have supplies in the trunk of my car in case of an earthquake but what else would I want to grab?  Photos?
7.     My cousin was not told to evacuate.  The “authorities” don’t know any more than we do about what the effects of a storm or other natural disaster will be.  Use the brain that the Good Lord gave you, make your own assessment and follow it.  Better to be safe than sorry.  You do not want to be running for your life through waist deep flood waters/storm surge.
8.     The US has had floods, record tornado outbreaks, wildfires, drought, unprecedented hurricanes, etc.  I live in California.  I am expecting an earthquake next.  What else is left? I hope I am wrong but this is how all these disasters are making me think.
9.      It appears that disasters are no longer confined to California.  This is the new normal.  Prepare, prepare, prepare. – A.S. in California

Here is Storm Update # 6, one week after Hurricane Sandy.
Margate City:  Not much to add… it’s a mess. Clean-up at the Shore continues, and incoming weather will exacerbate the problems. Mom is energized, edgy and emotional – can’t imagine why. I’ll drive down this weekend if she needs me.
Princeton: Power was finally restored on Sunday. I sent the promised Text messages to all those neighbors that had left for greener pastures. House by house, life returned. We are lucky. My understanding is that several hundred thousand PSEG New Jersey customers remain in the dark, including people in our township. This was also confirmed by an informal poll at school yesterday. The teachers had gathered the children to discuss storm experiences, and one of the questions related to how many were still without power. My wife reported about 25% raised their hands – the school had invited parents to stay for coffee and assurance that everything was safe. The estimate from PSEG is that everyone in our township should have power by Friday. For those counting, that would be twelve days from Hurricane Sandy’s landfall! Consider that reality next time someone mentions storm preparations.
The load of firewood that I requested on Saturday was delivered around noon Sunday. It was the largest “cord” of wood that I have ever seen…  I greeted the contractor warmly, offered coffee and overpaid for the emergency service. I then sorted and stacked for the next few hours. After that, I scooped the mounting ash from our fireplace (it went into our mulch pile), and then reloaded it with kindling and fresh logs – an old habit – I like it ready for the match after each use. During this time, my wife ferried the girls to quilting lessons and pottery. Gas lines at the local borough stations were fairly short – though we are still under the odd/even rationing order. As you travel to the main highways and north of here – gas remains an issue.
In the late afternoon, I serviced and filled the genny, and then stowed it in the garage. The five gallon safety cans will be topped off with gas today. That Nor’easter is coming, and I won’t lay odds on whether the shaken power systems in our area will hold.
On Monday, I finished returning the house systems to their pre-storm configuration. Cable is still down, but so what… we don’t watch much television anyway. Work – yes I do have a job – once the house Internet WiFi was operating as well as the office phone and my desktop computer… I began the process of catching-up on client communications and transactions. I also phoned my youngest brother at his office in New York City, and to my surprise, discovered that his entire team had procured a U-Haul, filled it with food, blankets, toiletries, etc., and had driven to Queens for direct distribution to folks. Well done little brother.
Halloween had been rescheduled for Monday night. My heart wasn’t into it, but our daughters were so looking forward to the costumes and fun. We all got dressed, and we were joined by another young girl who lives a few miles away – her dad was out of town. I took care of the shuttle service. I told the girls not to expect much and that we would only knock on houses with an obvious welcome mat. I also let them know that we would reverse the tradition in part – I was giving away light glow sticks (12-hour green chemical version) and a few bottles of wine for a handful of close neighbors. The night was abbreviated, but we had a nice time after all. I spoke with every family (renewing ties and asking as to status) and then gave them gifts. We all needed a break.
This morning, I have one eye focused on work, and the other on that Nor’easter. A penetrating rain with 50 mph wind gusts is not the prescription we were hoping to hear. Later today, we will take the girls to Vote as a family. They know about the Constitution and our voting system… we also discuss candidates and their parties – Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Tea, Green, Constitutional, etc., and even write-in possibilities. I make no prediction as to the Election outcome, and I truly wish for peace regardless of who wins.
The switch has been flipped – we have grid power – and yet, the events of this past week have made an indelible mark. Things aren’t normal. Folks are discussing house-wide generators, food supplies, solar energy systems, and water sources. Fireplaces that were either non-functional or which served as little more than interior decoration, are being inspected for duty. I don’t anticipate these sentiments will last… it’s so easy to fall into society’s Lotus-flower sleep… but for the moment, I’m encouraged.
Thank you for SurvivalBlog. I have gleaned much over the years. – Bill H.