Last week I returned home, after being away for a few days, to find a good portion of my preps under 30 inches of scuzzy water due to a flash flood that hit my neighborhood. They were stored in my unfinished basement that also housed a permanent sump pump installed in one corner which was supposed to prevent such flooding.
When I started down the stairs to the basement I was met with a really strong musty smell. I couldn’t get down the last 3 steps due to the high water. I noticed a couple of my #2.5 cans of freeze dried food floating nearby and fished them out of the water. The cans were slimy and smelly but the labels were still somewhat intact. I sat down on the step and used a powerful flashlight to illuminate the room.
Floating in the water were a lot of my canning supplies, #2.5 & #10 cans of freeze dried food, vacuum sealed bags of food, pieces of cardboard boxes and some trash bags that stored other prepper type items. A good number of boxes & Tupperware containers at the back of the room had tipped over with the contents now in a huge wet, mushy amorphous pile of gunk. It looked like the wooden shelves they were originally on were broken or had become unhinged. The heating unit for the house was 3/4 of the way under water. Good thing its July and not January.
Tears of despair started to well up in me but I quickly started doing some deep breathing and was able to push them back down. I knew immediately I wouldn’t be able to afford to replace the items let alone a new heating unit. I was laid off a few years ago from corporate America and had not been able to find a full time job yet. I had gone from making $40 an hour to $10 an hour part time with no benefits. My 83 year-old mom had been sending me some money to help me keep the bills paid and food on the table. There was no extra anything. I had bought the food and preps years ago while I was gainfully employed and they had given me some sense of security these last few years.
I made myself get up and start working the problem. I went to the shed and grabbed a couple of small submersible pumps but only had garden hoses to put on them. I then started moving some furniture out of the way so I could run the hoses up the stairs and out the back door. I laid down towels to protect the antique oak wood floors and started pumping. I only got 6 inches pumped out before I had to pull the pumps and hoses in order to shut the back door for the night. 24 inches to go.
Next morning I set everything back up but noticed that the water level was back up to 28 inches. I went and talked to a good, like-minded neighbor and he came over to look at it. He gave me a quick education on water table levels and sump pumps, specifically the difference between pedestal (which the old one was) and submersible ones. He told me the 2 smaller submersible pumps I was using could handle a much bigger hose than the 5/8 garden hoses. A trip to Home Depot and quick installation of bigger flexible hoses allowed me to start pumping larger amounts of water out.
After a day of pumping I got the water level down to 6 inches and could see that the old pedestal style sump pump had come up out of the barrel sunk into the floor of the basement and was sitting on the floor. Which, of course, meant the motor was trashed and a new one was needed. I shut everything down for the night and took another 1200 mg. of Tylenol. My back was seriously hurting from moving the furniture and lifting sump pumps with long hoses attached in and out.
Next morning started out with me walking around fairly bent over from back spasms so I switched to Advil and headed to Home Depot for a new submersible pump with a float. Back at home the water level had risen over night to 19 inches so I put the two small pumps back to work. I almost took a header into the water while trying to wrestle the old pump out which was to the left of the staircase. I was standing on the stairs bent sideways trying to get the old pump out so I could put the new one in the barrel. Lost my balance, whacked my head on a floor joist (which kept me from doing a face plant in the water) and did a wicked twist to my ribs but I got it out. Installed the new pump and started to really move some water out.
Did I mention I am a small frame woman and sump pumps with big hoses attached are heavy and awkward? I was sitting in a lawn chair watching the water pump out into the irrigation ditch, nursing a wicked headache and spasms in my ribs, neck, back and shoulders when another good, like-minded neighbor I had told about the “event” came by. He walked up and handed me a hamburger, root beer and a big bottle of Aleve. A hamburger never tasted so good and I am now totally sold on Aleve.
The next day, with the new pump working and the water level down, I put a couple of big box fans in the basement to start drying things out and shut the door to the basement. I landed on the couch for the rest of the day with my new friend, Aleve, and gave my aches and pains a break. The following day I had recuperated enough to go down and start hauling stuff out. More heavy smelly stuff up the stairs and out into the yard.
Some good news, some not so good. The Mountain House #10 cans had already started to rust so they went into a separate pile to research later. The AlpineAire, Rainy Day Food from Walton Feed and the Gourmet Reserve #2.5 & #10 cans did not rust and still had their labels attached. The Yoder’s canned meats did not rust but the labels had come off so they went into the pile with the Mountain House cans. Nothing like a can of mystery meat to look forward to. Canning jars, lids, and pots were dirty, smelly and slime encrusted.
All would need to be washed and disinfected but I don’t want to start that process until I research the best way to disinfect stuff. My initial thoughts are one bucket of hot soapy water, then a bucket of Lysol and water, then a bucket of Clorox and water. I don’t know if the Clorox will fade the writing on the labels and I know I probably only have one chance at this since the labels would all be getting wet again. I don’t want more mystery food to contend with.
I had broken up other items such as rice, oatmeal, noodles, beans, etc. into smaller serving size bags using a food savers vacuum sealer. I had written expiration dates and general instruction on each bag. Did I mention that writing with permanent markers is not so permanent when submerged in water for days? A lot of the writing is now a very light purple. Thankfully, I have a full inventory with expiration dates and should be able to piece the puzzle back together. Most of these bags faired fairly well, other than the handwritten notes on the outside, but would have to be thoroughly cleaned. A number of them had been poked by something and water got in. Those went into the trash.
The pressure cookers and food dehydrator had been under water for days and I put them in the pile to do more research on. Then I got to the pile that had been in the Tupperware containers. Took more Aleve and started to dig in. Some of the contents had come completely out of the containers and others were just drowned in the Tupperware. Items such as Ace bandages, slings, Israeli bandages, bandanas, cloth flour bags, parachute cord, bungees, and ropes went into a pile to be washed and hopefully salvaged. Other items such as books, paper products, feminine hygiene products and band-aids had turned to mush and went into the trash.
In the Tupperware containers I had put a good number of the items in Zip loc bags or vacuum-sealed bags. I found some had been poked with something that put a hole in the bag and scuzzy water had got into them. I got to looking at the contents and think I found the culprit. The bottom of tubes such as toothpaste, antibiotic ointment, sunscreen and various other first aid ointments have very sharp edges to them. I think these sharp corners poked holes in other nearby items. I made a mental note to self to duct tape the bottom of tubes in the future to hopefully prevent this. I also think some of the loose items such as screwdrivers, utensils, tent stakes and various other tools had done their fair share of hole poking. Another mental note to self to look for small Tupperware type containers such as those used for food storage to use for housing sharp items in the future. I found the vacuum-sealed bags can have really sharp corners to them when they are fully filled.
Items in bottles and jars such as vitamins, over the counter medications, creams, spices and the like had label problems. I opened a couple of them and found that the safety tab under the lid had kept the contents dry. The cotton at the top of the containers of vitamins and medications was dry and did not smell. I think they are okay….just have label problems. I never really liked all those safety tabs in the past and thought they were a pain in the butt. Now I’m thinking I like them.
Construction items such as tools, wood, nails, screws, saws, nuts & bolts, hinges and the like had water damage and had started to rust and bow. I put them in a pile by themselves to be gone through later. All the cardboard boxes that the nails, screws, nuts and bolts were mushy and had pretty much disintegrated. I know you can get rust off tools and I think it is steel wool you use. Added rust elimination to my list of items to research. I know some of these items were responsible for hole poking and would need a different type of container in the future.
Items such as first aid, fire starters, survival type stuff, etc. were a mixed lot. Some were mush that went into the overflowing trash, others went into a pile of possible salvageable and another pile of OK but needs cleaning and disinfecting. With items such as gauze, bandages and the like, it would depend upon whether the item was packaged in plastic with a paper label slapped on. Also depended upon whether they had gotten holes poked in the packaging. Did I mention that there are all kinds of sharp stuff that can poke holes in things if they get all shifted around? Cloth type items went into a pile of their own to be run through the washing machine numerous times.
I discovered items such as dish soap that has a pull top opening don’t always stay closed. Items such as shampoo and lotion that have the lid where you push down on one part of the lid to get the other side to pop open also doesn’t just magically stay closed if they are shifted and tossed about. They leaked out onto items and created their own kind of mess. Fortunately, the guns, ammunition, scopes, cleaning kits, and other expensive vital items I had stored in a spare bedroom and were spared. Yea!!
My neighbors are awesome. A good number of them dropped by in the days of hauling, sorting, throwing out and brought homemade baked goods, quick meals, soda, words of encouragement and hope. I had set up the yard in the back of the house for laying things out to dry, for sorting and for making piles of stuff to figure out. OPSEC was definitely blown but the good, like-minded neighbors were the only ones allowed into that area. The nosy neighbors were headed off at the front of the yard. Some of the good neighbors noticed my trash cans were full to overflowing and I had begun putting stuff in large black contractor bags. They offered to take the trash in the contractor bags and put in their trash cans. Did I mention I have some awesome neighbors?
All the old Christmas decorations had been submerged and needed to be pulled out to be dried. I found this to be kinda depressing because it reminded me of better times when life was good. Back then I was making plenty of money and a high electric bill in December wasn’t a problem. I used to go all out and decorated both the inside and outside of the house with festive lights and decorations. I had stopped celebrating the season after I got laid off and just couldn’t find the spirit to decorate anymore…. not even a tree. I wound up throwing the majority of the lights and decorations in the trash. The small indoor nativity scene got me though. My mom had given it to me years ago and it was trashed. I saved the wise men, sheep, a camel and the star that went over the scene.
The last Tupperware container to go through was one I had been avoiding because it contained all the Christmas tree decorations…some which held sentimental value to me. The container had been knocked over and rattled a lot when I brought it up out of the basement. I opened the lid and my heart sunk. Scuzzy water had gotten in and most of the items were trashed. The ornaments were crushed and broken. I sifted through the mess and found a couple of special ornaments that had not been broken but had crusted scum on them. Tears started pouring down my face and I tried to suck it up but I couldn’t stop the flow. I just sat there crying silently thinking of times past.
I picked up a few things and added them to the small pile of items I had put on my desk. The pile now contained a canning jar full of rusty nails and screws, some bailing wire, a can of Yoder’s mystery meat, a bottle of Aleve, a tube of Neosporin, 2 wise men, a scuzzy Christmas ornament, and a camel. As I sat there trying to stuff my emotions back inside I found I had taken one of the bigger nails and a smaller one out and was turning them over and over. I grabbed the bailing wire and fixed the smaller nail 1/3 of the way down the bigger nail. I then attached a bailing wire loop at the top and put the rusty nail cross around the camel’s neck. I don’t know why I did it, I just did. There was something appropriate about my rusty nail cross-held together by bailing wire.
I wish I had something poetic or profound to say at this point but my thoughts and emotions are like the jumbled piles of stuff sitting out in the yard. I feel like I am sitting in the transition zone between the good times of the past, the current challenges and the possible future SHTF scenario. The 10 years working at Outward Bound gave me knowledge, skill, courage, toughness and strength. The 12 years at corporate America challenged me intellectually, gave me financial security and showed me how cold the world can be. Now I am financially poor but happy. A little down but not out. I recovered my true spirit that had led me to work and teach people about nature and the outdoors. Some things were gained and some things were lost. Along the way, much was learned and much is still to be learned. Even though I am human and my emotions come out occasionally I do have the ability to suck it up and continue on. The sun does come up each day and life does go on. I don’t know what it all means yet but I think I will be keeping my cross made of rusty nails and bailing wire with me for some time to come.
Keep your socks and powder dry (and out of unfinished basements). Take care and may you be surrounded by good, like-minded friends, family and neighbors.