Lessons from Hurricane Sandy

I’m sure you are probably sick of all the moaning and groaning about hurricane Sandy. Trust me. I hear you. I was getting sick of my complaining too. I was screaming in my head, “Enough already! So I have no power or heat but what can I do? Whining about it won’t help!” Try calming yourself while screaming at the same time. It’s pathetic.

So instead of rehashing my harrowing seven days without electricity (there are so many worse off people in my region that it’s embarrassing for me to whine about my days without internet and heat), I thought I’d bestow a few lessons I learned from oh-so-wise Sandy. These lessons are in addition to the usual list of things you need for an emergency.

What I learned from Sandy

  1. If you live in an evacuation zone and were told to evacuate, EVACUATE! - there are countless stories of people who didn’t evacuate and either died or had to be rescued the next day. Nothing is important as your life or someone else’s life. Would you risk taking away someone’s life because you were holding out to save your belongings? Don’t ask those first responders to come and rescue you if you had a chance to flee earlier. Nothing I own is that important to me. I’d evacuate if my family’s lives depended on it.
  2. You think you are prepared for storms but you are never. really. prepared. Sure, the first day is novel and exciting (who wouldn’t like to eat and read by candlelight?) and second day is still cool to think of yourself as a pioneer and stay in “hunter gatherer” mode. But by the third day, you are cranky as all get out and trust me, you want nothing more than a hot shower and the internet, no matter how far off the grid you want to live. So be prepared. In fact, be over prepared because you never know how many days (or weeks) you’ll be without power. I lost power for just one week but there are others who are still without power on this 10th day, post Sandy.
  3. Do laundry before the storm so you have enough clean socks and underwear to last at least a week. What does your mom always say about wearing fresh undies when you leave the house, just in case you get hit by the bus and need to be rescued by EMT? You don’t want to be caught with dirty undies if you were in a “situation” during an emergency either. Besides, even if you can’t take a hot shower, if you change into clean undies, you’d feel a lot better.
  4. Don’t stock up on bread, milk, and eggs unless you are planning to have french toast 3 meals a day. But how can you cook anything without power? Besides, milk goes bad quickly, bread gets moldy and are you going to be Rocky and slurp raw eggs? Buy bagels instead of bread and freeze them. They’ll act as ice until they thaw out and they will be as good as new. If you have to buy milk, buy them in Tetra Paks. They can be stored in room temperature for a few days without spoiling. Buy cooked beans, tuna fish, and other proteins, also in Tetra Paks. And of course, a manual can opener.
  5. Don’t buy anything that takes “D” batteries. In times of emergency, “D” batteries are the first batteries to be sold out. If you are going to buy flashlights, buy LED flashlights that takes “AA” batteries. You can find that size easier and LED flashlights last longer and are brighter. Better yet, have rechargeable batteries that you can hook up to your car to recharge. Have some alkaline batteries on hand, just in case you can’t use the car. I had a hand cranked radio from Red Cross that didn’t need batteries and that saved battery consumption. It was our only connection to the outside world for a week. It was a God sent. My fingers were sore but my kids had fun cranking the darn thang.
  6. Get a portable gas tank (or two) filled with gas before the storm. This is a tricky one since storing gasoline can be dangerous. So don’t take my advice on this one. This is just my own mental note. But …while I hate to rely on gasoline at any time, in an emergency, gas is what you need to get out of harm’s way. If you can get a siphon, that’s great too. If gas lines in my area is any indication, gas will be scarce when power goes down. No electricity means no power to pump gas. And when ports are damaged and tankers can’t dock, as it was with Sandy, gas stations can’t get delivery. Some people are reporting 10-15 hour wait for gas. :( Hubby brought gas for someone at work and he was shoving $50 bills into his pocket for a mere 5 gallons of gas. Of course he refused but people are desperate for gas. Also, some gas stations only wanted cash, so yea, have cash on hand too, just in case ATM’s don’t work. You hear about these scenarios and you don’t think it’ll happen to you but it sure heck happened to us last week. It was surreal. Again, do this only if you feel comfortable about storing gas.
  7. Speaking of gas, have at least one diesel car. I know this is a tall order but in times of an emergency, having a car that takes a different type of gas can help a great deal. When there are gas stations with no “unleaded” gas or long lines for gas, even if they had unleaded gas, it helps to have an alternate option. We were able to fill up our diesel car with no problem when everyone was fighting to get unleaded gas. And it gets great gas mileage so we didn’t need to worry about running out of gas. I was curious about electric cars before we bought the diesel car but in NY, electric car is useless, even if there is electricity since electric rates are so high.
  8. Have a butane gas tabletop burner with enough cartridges. Even if you have gas stovetop, which we don’t, there is a chance the utility company can turn off the gas if there is gas leak. And during storms, anything can happen. At least with butane stovetop, you can make coffee and prepare small simple meals. Oh, and have a percolator if you are a coffee drinker. My neighbor has gas stove but had no percolator for coffee because they have the Single Cup Keurig machine that uses electricity. :(
  9. Stock up on plenty of healthy snacks that you can munch on. Being in the dark, during and after a storm is stressful and stress can make you want to eat, as the New York Times reports. So if you can help it, don’t eat junk, especially since you can’t burn it off because you are stuck in the house without power. I swear I think I gained 10 pounds since Sandy and I ate healthy! But I just ate, did the dishes, then, prepared for the next meal since I had to cook while it was still daylight. So without  my normal activity, I felt like I was constantly cooking, eating and cleaning. After about fifth day, I needed sweatpants.
  10. Buy a generator. Enough said.

There are more but I won’t bore you with them. But the biggest lesson of them all is this.

Climate change, global warming, extreme weather … are all REAL. They are all here to stay and WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

In fact, we have to do ALOT about it. We have to conserve, save, care, and reserve. We can’t bury our heads in the sand anymore. Would these natural disasters happen regardless whether we contribute to global warming? Possibly. Would they be this fierce? May be. But the fact is, we are contributing to the atmosphere getting warm and oceans to rise. We are contributing to the extreme weathers from happening more and more. We have to cut our consumption of fossil fuel and reduce carbon footprint. We have to cut carbon emission. We have to reduce natural resources consumption. We have to protect the environment. Simple.

Lastly, I want to leave you with these humbling images. I can’t upload the images because I didn’t get their permission but you can click the links and see them yourselves.

The Devastation

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) – these images were taken by teams of NOAA aviators flying above the disaster area at 5,000 feet before and after the storm. Bring the cursor across the images and you can see the devastation. Really sad to see communities wiped out, sand dunes gone, and inlets no longer. Our coastal lines are forever changed. And people’s home washed out to the sea or totally destroyed.

MSNBC.com – these up close and personal images of New Yorkers digging out of mud and sand broke my heart. Boats on lawns, submerged cars, furniture strewn about, roofs blown, trees down, boardwalks destroyed…

Treehugger – this was a great story of communities helping each other and coming together to support those in need. This personal account of a newly transplanted New Yorker biked 16 miles in each direction to help those in need in The Rockaways Queens, NY and lived to tell about it. People and organizations like Rockaway Surf Club and Affinity Cycles make me proud to be a New Yorker.

How to help

  • Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund – managed by the wife of Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie
  • Occupy Sandy Relief – coordinated relief effort by multi organizations with various drop off locations for supplies and donations throughout the tri-state area. A list of items needed are on the site with a link to Amazon’s registry where you can buy and donate items towards their efforts. It also has a form you can fill out to physically volunteer. Very well organized site for volunteering and sending supplies.
  • List of places to help and donate can also be found  here. You can send money, supplies, or volunteer. Whatever you can do will be helpful.

Here are some images from my immediate neighborhood and as you can see, we were spared. While number of trees that went down and made our main road impassable for a day, we were lucky. We still have our houses and no one got hurt. And while living without electricity for a week proved to be challenging, I can’t help but to be humble. So many others have it worse.

Impassable and blocked roads were everywhere.

sandy's aftermath

Trees are on top of where my little ole veggie garden used to be on the left.

 Leaves were everywhere but no damage to the houses. Neighbors checking out the scene, the morning after. I guess the guy with coffee has a generator.

the day after Sandy

Then, to make matters worse, we were hit with a Nor’easter yesterday and we woke up with 6″ of snow this morning. But we didn’t lose power. Thank Goodness. I feel for those without power and heat in this cold weather.

Nor'easter

On a final note, Climate Reality project will start at 8PM on November 14th and end with Al Gore’s speech the next evening at 7PM in NYC. Ironically, this annual global event is taking place in the epicenter of the latest climate related weather phenomenon. The event will host numerous panelists and discussions all over the world and highlight the dangers of what our planet has become, how we’ve contributed to the changes and what we must to do to make it better.

As I type this in my warm house, my thoughts go out to all those who are left homeless in my state. I will do whatever I can to help those in need and I hope you will too.

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10 comments
Auriette
Auriette

Oops, I forgot something! I wanted to remind anyone who may have to rely on a generator at some point to be very careful when deciding where to set it up and how long to run it. Almost every time there's a natural disaster, someone dies from carbon monoxide poisoning. I remember after one of the storms that hit northwest Florida, a married couple died because they had the generator on a screen porch right outside their bedroom window. How tragic is that, to survive the storm and then die from something so preventable? We did get a generator after Ivan, which we used following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (we lost power for 3 days, and we were on the outer edges of the storm). We ran a long extension cord out the back door and kept the generator under a covered (but not enclosed or screened) porch. We ran it for, I think, 3-4 hours at a time, twice a day, primarily so we wouldn't lose the food in the fridge. We never used it while we were sleeping. Sure, it would have been nice to have a fan at night, but it wasn't worth the risk. As bad as those hurricanes in 2004-'05 were for our area, at least we didn't have to deal with a blizzard afterwards! I'll take sweating over freezing any day!

Auriette
Auriette

I disagree with #2 "You think you are prepared for storms but you are never. really. prepared." - I believe you can be prepared, but it's something you have to do over time, *before there's a run on gas and the stores are sold out of supplies. Being prepared for *damage is a little different. You can still be prepared to deal with it (have a basic tool kit and tarps on hand, be sure you know where your insurance policy is), but it is more complicated to handle versus being prepared to survive without electricity for three weeks (which my husband and I did, sans generator, after Hurricane Ivan in 2004). I've never heard of Tetra Paks, but Publix, Walmart, and Dollar Tree stores here carry shelf-stable single-serving milk (similar to juice boxes). Sometimes you have to hunt around for it; it never seems to be in the same place twice. I found shelf-stable Silk in the Greenwise section of Publix last week. Make sure you have a manual can-opener in your emergency kit. I know plenty of people who went to open their canned goods only to realize that all they had was an electric can opener.

Anna@Green Talk
Anna@Green Talk

Last time I was caught in Oct 2011 storm with my clothes in the washing machine. We had to rig up a line from my car battery to get the darn washing machine door open otherwise the clothes would have smelled awful! Boy, was that youtubish worthy!

nancy
nancy

So glad you are all right.I can't imagine being on the East Coat and losing heat and power.Being off the grid I am used to losing power but at least we are warm.I am hoping this tragedy will help to open more people eyes to the bigger issues. Stay safe and warm everyone!

Tracey Ceurvels
Tracey Ceurvels

Wow, what a great and thorough list to have on hand for when the next hurricane hits. Thankfully my neighborhood wasn't hit too hard and I didn't lose power, but my heart goes out to those who are suffering post-storm.

Condo Blues
Condo Blues

After our last storm related blackout, my husband and I bought a gas grill for our patio. We also have a camping stove we can use to boil water in a tea kettle to make coffee in our French Press. Another tip: If you have solar garden lights bring them inside during the evening for extra light.

Kathy
Kathy

So glad you and your family are safe! My heart goes out to those who are still suffering. Thankyou for sharing. Your neighborhood looks like a beautiful place to live! Every one of your suggestions are great, and I would add purchasing a source of heat, like (gulp!) a kerosene heater. Even those little hand/foot warmers that you can find at a sporting goods store are sources of comfort in the cold and dark. Keep jugs or cases of water on hand at all times. Learn how to take a sponge bath, and believe me, they are wonderful after the 3rd day...And yes, gasoline is essential. You can purchase a fuel stabilizer at your local auto parts store. A small gas powered chain saw will definitely make your life easier. The most important thing about generators, is to determine, well in advance how it will be used. If you plan to run an extension cord into your house, that works great. If you plan to plug it into your power box, it is imperative that you have a switch installed by your local power company to shut off the lines from the power company. If you have a generator running thru your power box, there is the possibility that your generators' power will electrocute a lineman who is working on local lines and is unaware of your power source. And those hand cranked radios rock! A simple thing is to pack an 18 gal tote box with a Coleman camping stove and fuel, a perc coffee pot and a few garage sale pans you don't mind ruining,as well as a sealed can of coffee,teabags, evaporated milk and sugar. Keep some warm clothes and boots (and they don't have to be stylish or sexy) in the attic, as well as extra warm blankets. The main thing to be prepared is to think of everything you won't have with power lost, no fuel, are stuck in your home and plan accordingly. Play with different scenarios and make plans. It does take a little time and effort, but being prepared is part of being sustainable and independent, so the safety and basic neccessities of your family do not depend on outside sources. FEMA is not all that reliable... If you have good friends or neighbors, consider making a team effort with storing things and helping during bad times. Friendship is essential. And probably the hardest thing to face is that sometimes in extremity, our usual concerns and commitments go bye-bye in the need for basic necessities. Pragmatism is essential in some situations, so be prepared for that, most of all. We installed an off grid propane cooking stove a few years ago. (Americana, by GE $299.00) Then, the day after, we had a huge snowstorm and had no power for 3 days. I made baked ham and twice baked potatoes. Made brownies. Kettle corn. Made perc coffee. Heated water for sponge baths...It was awesome! We use 25 gal propane bottles and have about 6 of them on hand. Yes, it is inconvenient to load those up and get them refilled, but I am independent and am able to take good care of my family in an emergency.

Myra
Myra

Love to hear that I'm not the only one who preps - I do it far in advance. I keep a stock of Peanut butter and crackers as well as tuna, mayo, pasta, rice and beans. I was also so happy that we had some reserved fuel for the generator because gas stations were running out of gas - insane. Glad we made it through this one.

Cheryl
Cheryl

I'm still so amazed at the power and size of that storm. I'm glad you're ok. Those are a lot of great lessons and things to keep in mind. Thanks for sharing them. Take care.