Today and tomorrow we are wrapping up our mini-series with a pointed personal account written by a friend who lived through the experience of the Derecho storms that ravaged her home state of West Virginia. She is a “prepper” at heart, and by experience, having seen and lived through much already….”prepper” being the term used when you choose to prepare ahead of time for just about any kind of disaster—storing food, water and toiletries, learning how to grow and preserve your own fruits and veggies/meat, planning ahead and packing a bag to run out the door with if you have to leave your home due to a natural disaster…I could go on and on.

   It is a term that often gets sideways glances, or poked fun at, only because up until the last couple years, those people were “different”–choosing a way of life that most Americans had no understanding of when food, water, and everything is as close as the nearest grocery store.
(By the way, did you know that most grocery stores are bought out within hours of an emergency, or impending natural disaster, especially of anything remotely resembling food or water? My husband works as a manager at a local store, and they estimate that the entire store would sell out in just under 12 hours if a real natural disaster were forecast for the area. If you don’t believe it, just come up here when a prairie blizzard is put on the news as heading our way in 24 hours. It is plain crazy at his store. People even get in fights over the last cans of Pringles. Seriously.)

   Now things today are just a touch different, aren’t they? We are facing the worst natural disaster in our nation’s carefully kept history records, a drought of enormous proportions, which has wiped out a large amount of our basic necessities in grain…and will have an impact on our food supply in the very near future from cereals to meats, to milk. And all this at a time when most families are stretched to the max to afford to feed, and clothe their familes, pay their bills, and keep the roof over their heads (although sadly, many can not do that any more even now.).

   In talking with friends who are farmers today I became aware that even in our area, farmers are already having to feed their stock hay they have just baled for winter feed because there is nothing else available. What happens when winter and snow comes to the prairie and there is nothing to feed the cows, hogs, sheep, and goats? The farmers go out of business, the animals go to the slaughterhouse, and next year there is nothing left to start with. The impact of this drought really is far reaching, folks.

   But back to “preppers”….

   In reality, preppers are really nothing more than people who choose to live in a very similar fashion to the way our grand parents and great-grandparents lived, relying as much on themselves to provide and take care of themselves in any circumstance, versus waiting for someone else to step up and help. Our dependence on government help and support, in many ways, is only as recent as a couple of generations, and also in many ways, it has crippled us as a nation. If you want a stark reminder of what can happen to people who wait around for the government to help them in a disaster I have two phrases for you.

Hurricane Katrina
New Orleans

If you have no idea what I am talking about because you are one of my youngest readers, or perhaps you just crawled out from under a rock, or beamed here from Mars, Google it, read it, and then come back here.

The 80-100 mph Derecho straight-line winds that roared through so many states somehow concentrated on Freda’s home state of West Virginia more than anywhere else. In brutal temperatures, many people waited as long as 13 days for power to be restored so they could slowly return to life as normal. Freda thought she was amply prepared for anything with her research and planning. As she soon found out, to quote one of my favorite all time movies:

“Life is like a box of chocolates.
You just never know what you’re gonna get.”
Here is her amazingly written story, for you.
Hello, readers. Freda Bradley here. Heather recruited me to give you all a first hand account of my experience with the Mid-Atlantic Storm Disaster they’re now calling a Derecho Storm (or Land Hurricane) and how my prep fared in practice. I’m a 51 year old mother of two adult children. My dear hubby and my daughter both have worked in the disaster management industry, so I honestly thought I was fairly well prepared, but I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was. I will be sharing what I went through and learned along the way in hopes you will learn from my experience.
I live in rural Appalachia; West Virginia to be precise. From what I’ve seen of the after action reports, my state was the hardest hit of all. Over 300,000+ homes without power in my state alone. Thirteen days in as I write this and some are STILL without power and many without water. Think you are prepared for two weeks in brutal heat without electric or water? Bet you aren’t. This thing hit suddenly and with a vengeance. No build up or easing into it…just WHAM…80 mph straight line sustained winds (read: no time to prepare or run to the store). We fled to the cellar. In the end, our house was fine, roof was fine, and more importantly WE were fine. However, from the start the electricity went out and the problems began in earnest as all 55 of our counties in my state were affected, many severely.
Day 8 we finally got our electric back on, though not reliably. By day 10 it seemed more reliable, though it is still flickering off and on occasionally. We found out through the linemen that all our transformers were blown, most of our lines were down, poles broken, but the real issue was the power station and substations had ALL been damaged and had to be repaired before anything else could be done. So, in 100+ degree heat we waited…and waited…and waited. No one can prepare you for the tedium or the wide range of emotions from fear to anger to frustration and depression. I hope you enjoy who you live with and have a lot of boredom busters around, because it’s difficult in the best of circumstances. It was literally the longest week of my life.
You have to understand, and thankfully I did, that the government is NOT going to swoop in to save you. They’re not filled with stockpiled food and ice and water just waiting for you to need it. Our ice didn’t arrive till day 6 and it was from pretty far north and south of us (like a 20 hour drive away). FEMA has no resources of its own. They MANAGE those resources located in your home area (and not every home area has what you “believe” they have). That’s why they’re called the Federal Emergency MANAGEMENT Agency. If your resources are damaged as ours were, then you have to sit and wait for outside resources to become available…..and in this case, they were already being used in Tropical Storm Debbie and the mid-west wild fire areas.
So, lesson ONE: Plan on being ALONE…and I mean really alone. I found that disasters such as this make your community feel very insular and isolated, and it’s a bit scary. To offset that, you must learn to RELY SOLELY ON YOURSELF and your preps, hoping they work well. Generators may not be usable, so don’t count on them. In this area, there was no gasoline after day 2 and generators were being stolen from people’s lawns at an alarming rate. We didn’t have ice till day 6 and felt lucky to get it. Batteries were gone within hours and stayed scarce throughout the blackout. Now, I’m not saying there is no help coming to reconnect your electric or there’s not someone trying to orchestrate some ice for your area, because there are. It just takes a herculean effort to make it happen for 300,000+ people.
So, let’s talk about what I had available. I’ve always kept a minimum of a month of food available at all times, but I usually have much more than that. MORE is always better and variety is KEY. I have three water sources on my property. I have a well with an extraction bucket, the city water source and my creek. Your well pump will NOT work without electric, city water won’t pump without electric, so you can’t depend on those things to be there, but you MUST have potable water to survive. I’ve just ordered ceramic water filters for my food grade buckets to ensure I can always filter enough water to survive.
We also had three ways to cook. We have cast iron stuff for fire pit cooking, we have a camp stove with extra propane, and the indoor gas range. It was TOO hot to cook inside, so by day 4 we were using the camp stove. We cooked only two meals a day. It was too hot to eat much late in the day anyhow, so we ate some fresh things from the garden, but be aware….you may not always want to cook those beans and rice in the heat.
You’ll also need CASH. Not debit/credit cards…not checks….CASH. People quickly found out that in our local card readers and check confirmation machines were damaged in the storm, so only cash was being accepted. Even hotels (IF they had openings) were only accepting cash and there was no guarantee of any food. Our local Bob Evans used three days of food storage in one day due to so many people eating out since they had no food preps. Do not depend on hotels, gas stations, restaurants, and the like. They may not be available.
The heat was brutal. Heat indexes were well into the 100s every day with the worst day being 125 in my area. That kind of heat is really hard to deal with. Several times, we realized we weren’t thinking clearly or rationally. We drank far more water than I’d anticipated (about 3 times the recommended amount).
Now, about the bathroom…..well, if your water is out, you cannot flush. You cannot wash your hands in the sink afterward. In short, hygiene is disrupted. Be mindful of this. Poor hygiene in the bathroom leads to E.coli, salmonella, typhoid….and do NOT use untreated water to even wash hands or cool yourself. It’s not safe. Store enough water, even in a rain barrel if you have to, to manually flush your toilet and continue proper hygiene. Purell stuff won’t help in this situation, nor will baby wipes, or Clorox wipes. Be prepared.
All our food in our refrigerator was ruined (though I store very little in there). Do not try to eat improperly stored food because it can KILL you. FEMA, your homeowners, and your county WILL NOT reimburse you for ruined food. Be aware and put as little as possible in your refrigerator or freezer. You cannot rely on generators. Remember, in my area, gasoline was non-existent. Also, the government, your homeowners, and your county will NOT reimburse you for generator gas money spent. So, again, prepare properly and realize that your conveniences will not be guaranteed. We do not use a generator (or a large freezer) for just that reason—it’s unreliable.
Finally, communications will be disrupted. We had no phone (either land line or cell), no internet, no television, nothing until day 4 when the land line was restored. Even our mail service was somewhat disrupted since the hub for our mail had no electric and was unable to sort the mail until day 3.
Well, that’s probably enough for part one to make you think. Part two will be what I ultimately was able to do about my situation and what I learned. At the end of part two will be a link to a document I wrote on things I need to work on and do better. Stay tuned for part two.
   ~~We will be back tomorrow with part two of Freda’s story plus an amazing resource that she put together for anyone to download and/or print off to have on hand at home. She told me this evening that even though power was partially restored on Day 8, they are still have problems with consistent electric power due to “tree damage” that will take some time to completely fix. Would you stop for a moment and pray for her family, and the thousands of others in the same spot tonight?
   Tomorrow she chronicles all the things she became aware of as needs that she had overlooked, how they passed the time, how her neighbors fared, etc. Seriously great stuff.
   Dont think it cant happen to you. Better to be safe than sorry, right?
   See you back here tomorrow!
Many Blessings to you and yours,