Thursday, November 1, 2012

Surviving Extended Power Outages - Part 1


We moved to Connecticut in 1999 and purchased a generator as backup should Y2K turn out to be an issue.  Many people expected an apocalyptic even, some people thought there might be short-term issues and most people just blindly trusted their government to continue to take care of the essentials of life: electricity, water and the food supply.

We tended to be in the middle with little preparations but did buy a generator.  Y2K came and went with nary a flicker of problems.  And we had a generator.

The following June we moved to our permanent home after being in temporary housing for 9 months.  We purchased a home in rural Connecticut on the east side of the Connecticut River in an area that still had reasonable home prices.  A small town of less than 6,000 residents, our choice was a dream come true.

Two months later in August of 2000 we experienced our first power outage.  I don’t mean the kind where there is a thunderstorm, you lose power, pull out the candles and play board games for a couple of hours, maybe go to bed and wake up to electricity.  I’m talking about extended power outages of a day or more.  This one was 26 hours long and a first for me. 

Well, that handy little generator set us apart from all of our neighbors.  We turned that baby on, plugged it into the house (which was wired for a generator), and we had electricity, albeit limited by the size of our generator.  It does not power the well pump.

Fast forward to 2011 where soon-to-be ex-husband is now in Tennessee working on a big government energy conservation project with our 18-year-old in tow.  I am in Connecticut with the 15 year old and 11 year old, never fully recovered from Lyme disease (infected in 2006) but strong in spirit and determined of will.  I had survived Lyme disease, survived losing my husband, and my oldest children had left home as they should.

The summer of 2011 was interesting to say the least.  Up the coast comes Hurricane Irene, a force to be reckoned with, an angry storm bent on soaking, flooding and blowing down trees.  She was a Category 2 then a Category 1 as she bore down on New York and Connecticut.  She dragged herself along the east coast, stalling sometimes, dumping outrageous amounts of rain on cities that were already dealing with storm surge and flooding.  She hit New York City as a Category 1 and was downgraded to a Tropical Storm hours before hitting the southern coast of Connecticut.

What occurred next was unprecedented.  Most of the state’s residents lost power.  Businesses lost power.  Everyone lost power.  Trees, tree limbs, and debris brought down miles and miles of power lines.  What happened next is even more unprecedented.  Everything seemed to come to a standstill.  We were stuck at home because the town’s roads were blocked with downed power lines and trees.  There would be no power restoration until the roads had been cleared.

Having grown up in Miami I had prepared for Hurricane Irene.  It seemed like I was the only one.  Yes, people bought water and food but only lackadaisically.  There was no feverish preparation.  Most people did as they always did here in Connecticut: declared that it will blow over, nothing will really happen, and they laughed at me.

I have always taken storms seriously.  I took to heart what happened with Hurricane Andrew in 1992 in Florida.  And I took to heart what happened with Hurricane Katrina in 2006.  I took to heart the fact that my grandparents had lost everything in a hurricane that hit Corpus Christi. 

And having grown up in Miami I knew the drill: water, nonperishable food, matches, batteries, flashlights, and in my case full gas cans for the generator.  I was still the only one on my street to own a generator.  None of our friends had generators.

Then Hurricane Irene hit and everyone wanted generators.  As many stores as could get them had them shipped in; they were gone within minutes.  It was a frenzy for generators. 

Mine was purring along keeping my food cold and providing us with electricity for our entertainment and cooking (microwave worked). 

After two days I realized something: I certainly had not stored enough water and it was not easy to cook using only a microwave and a tiny heating element for water. 

Yes, we had stored water in tubs for flushing toilets, but not enough, and not enough drinking water.  It wasn’t a huge deal because water was available at the high school but I didn’t have any good containers for transporting water.  I didn’t have any way to take showers.  I didn’t have enough nonperishable, easily prepared food.  We got sick of cold food and canned food really fast.  We ended up eating out as the days went by.  It was very expensive. 

I did end up taking a shower at the high school one time.  But the water was cold and there was no privacy and the shower curtains were too small for the showers and . . . all of the school shower nightmares returned and I did not.

I had connected with my town’s emergency notification system and was receiving emails, texts and calls on my smart phone, my only connection to the outside world after we lost internet and phone. 

What was truly unprecedented was how long it took the town and the electric utility to restore power in our state.  It took out of state line crews days to get here.  It took the town days to clear the roads.  None of these organizations really knew what they were doing.  This was all new and there was a lot of delay in decision-making, poor leadership, and a poor response. 

We were without power for six days after Hurricane Irene.  Six long days.  Many were without power for 9-14 days in Connecticut.  Some only lost power for a few days.  But we all struggled with an unprecedented event, loss of power and water afterwards.  No one was laughing now.

This is not meant as an “I told you so!” but as a post on what could happen and how we can’t trust “them” to take care of it.  At some point we might all need to care for ourselves, and if we are not properly prepared we and our families could suffer greatly.

In my next post I will share what I did after Hurricane Irene to truly prepare for the next big event.  What I did differently, what I bought, what I learned, what worked better because you know what?  We had a huge snow storm hit the state just two months after Hurricane Irene, the infamous Halloween snow storm of 2011 which knocked power out to a huge percentage of the population and left its citizens, government and electric utility once again with a huge mess.  We were fortunate that we didn’t lose power but many of our neighbors did.  And a lot of those people had generators this time. 

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