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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Preparing For: ICE - Part Two

Part 2 of yesterday's post - from a first-hand survivor of the severe Kentucky ice storm a few weeks ago. A reminder of why it pays to be prepared.

Part 2 - by Invar
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Day 2 - Wednesday.

At some point in the wee hours of the morning amidst the sound of collapsing trees, I managed to fall into what can only be described as a rest. As a natural light sleeper, the audio war zone outside prohibited me from being able to sleep fitfully. I had thought about shoving my shooting earplugs into my ears at one point during the night, but I was afraid if I did shut out all the sound - that I might not hear if the tree out front came down and hit the house, probably taking the power lines with it. The rest of my family were deep sleepers, and if indeed the lines hit my house - I wanted to make sure that any electrical current or fire was dealt with quickly. I had our kitchen extinguisher set by the bottom office stairs in case of need. I was aware that with the sound of all those trees coming down, the roads were most likely blocked at numerous points and any fire truck might not get to my house before it burned down if a live line set my roof afire. (As it turns out, such things did in fact happen during the storm. Live lines coming down set many homes ablaze and they simply burned to the ground as no fire equipment could get through to many areas).

The dogs where whining downstairs and I heard the wife get up to let them outside. As a night owl I am almost always the last to bed, and my wife is the exact opposite. She is to bed with the chickens and up with the roosters. My wife is a chipper morning person, while I am decidedly - not.

Today was different.

I rose, feeling totally exhausted. I glanced at the alarm clock, and it was dark - so we still had no power.

The room was a gloomy gray, but no longer pitch so I knew daybreak had come. It was very muffled sounding outside. I could still hear the air split with the sound of another tree coming down, but it was not as frequent as it had been overnight. Something was different and at first I was not sure what it was.

Apart from the now familiar sound of toppling tree limbs and shattering ice and branches, something was missing. I could not place it at first, but then I remembered that the local radio broadcast last night said that the rain would change to sleet then snow, from North to South in the early morning hours..

It was no longer raining.

It was probably snowing, which accounted for some of the muffled sound and the lack of the constant drips and rain hitting the roof for the last two days.

I rose to take a look, but I still could not see out the windows due to fog and frost on the inside. I put on my warm robe and headed to the bathroom. While inside, I was not sure that what I heard was correct, but it sounded like knocking. It had to be another tree coming down, but then the knock was louder and more distinct. I heard my wife through the walls asking the knockee to hold on a moment while she unlocked the door.

I sighed a small sigh, figuring that Glen and Carol had come over to get warm or borrow something. While I could only hear muffled voices through the walls, it became clear that the male voice was not Glen's. This was a voice I did not recognize. For a brief second, I thought about whether my wife had her sidearm near her or not. Once, when we first moved into this house in 2003, we were visited by three men at two in the morning with apparent mischief on the mind. I answered the door with my own sidearm tucked in my back waistband, while my wife was further back, shotgun in hand. The men had begged my wife and I to give them a ride for gas, but my gut was screaming alarms and I offered to call the Law to lend them a hand upon which time they quickly declined and left. We had watched them walk down the road until we no longer saw them. We learned later that these same fellas came back and ended up stealing my neighbor's truck across the street that night.

After a few moments I could tell by the tone in my wife's voice, that she had no such concerns about the person she was talking to. As I was getting dressed I could hear that the fellow was a student from Murray University heading home to his folks, as the campus had lost power and heat the previous day. He had navigated through an obstacle course of fallen trees and power poles to make it as far as our house before he had run out of gas. He said nothing was open, and asked if we had any gas to spare. My wife assumed the only gas we had was in the tractor mower, which she knew I had Winterized. While I was stumbling over myself getting my legs into pants, she had sent him across the street to our neighbor Gary, whom she knew probably had some fuel.

After I heard the door close, my urgency of getting dressed slowed somewhat as I thought about whether or not I did have any extra gas in the shed out back. I remembered that during the Summer, when gas was going up to near $4 a gallon, I had filled up a few five gallon containers with $3.50 a gallon gas, in anticipation of $7 a gallon gas as some were predicting. I sat on the bed and thought about the situation. The news last night has stated that 90% of the area was without power. Without power, there was no way to pump gasoline. I thought that perhaps we might need that fuel for ourselves at some point, for whatever reason. I decided I was not going to chase down the lad that had run out of gas, but that if he came back - I would go and grab one of the containers out of the shed and get him at least enough gas for him to make it the eight miles he needed to go to get back to his folks.

I sauntered out into the living room to check on the Kerosene heater's fuel level - and took a gander out those windows.

A very light snow was falling, and we had what looked to be perhaps two inches of the white stuff on top of all the ice. The view just out front was surreal to say the least, as white now covered distorted shapes or arching limbs, branches and shattered stubs that pointed skyward. Snow had set another layer of resounding whiteness upon the already frozen landscape and I assumed most of it fell in the wee hours of the morning.

After I had filled the heater with kerosene, I set into the kitchen to take care of the coffee priority. My wife was already at the camp stove frying up yummy pancakes that she had tossed some tollhouse chocolate chips into for the kids. I asked about the fella who came to the door and my wife clarified what I thought I had deciphered from the bathroom. She said she saw Gary leave in his truck with the lad to drive towards Paducah, apparently on a search for gas. I mentioned the gas I might have had in the shed, and she said the same thing I told myself - that if he came back, I would go and fetch it for him.

I asked if she had slept at all, and she noted that she was having breathing problems and did not sleep very well. I hadn't thought about her breathing treatments at all since the power went out. My wife had several bouts with pneumonia over the past three Winters, and she was keeping her weakened lungs up and running this season with daily nebulizer treatments. With the power out, we had no way for her to use her nebulizer. Thankfully, I married a Hillbilly that always has a back-up of one sort or another to suffice in a pinch. She had stocked up with Advair and inhalers, as a back-up, and while Advair was no substitute for a nebulizer treatment - she was happy she did have something to fall back on.

I began to relay to her why I did not get any sleep. "It sounded like a military bombardment out there last night" I said.

"I know!" she replied. 'I am worried that tree came down on those lines and the house."

"One way to find out" I replied, and stepped out the side door to have a look at the tree we prayed God would spare the house and our lines from.

Two of the giant limbs had broken cleanly off and were on the ground on the driveway. I looked up and could see that the large main limb that we worried about was still leaning far over, but a section of it had broken off and was entangled in the lines, hanging from them suspended like a macabre skeletal hand. The lines themselves were still up - but the amount of ice on them sagged them much closer to our rooftop than I found comfortable.

Glen's large tree had two major limbs down, with one of them resting on the backside of his office shed. I breathed a small sigh of thanks to God that thus far, the tree we were worried about had not taken down our lines, or the house as we feared - but the largest drooping limb did not make me feel confident that our prayer was going to be answered in the way I wanted. Gravity is a pretty straightforward thing. God's Will be done I said to myself.

As I quickly surveyed our side yard and the front yard of our elderly neighbors. Everything was shattered and crumpled, entombed in ice and snow. I noted Glen and Carol's trailer home and a twinge of unease hit me as I worried for them in the very frigid morning air. Nanna's insistence that they were fine last night did not belay the fact that temperatures this cold could kill while one slept. I told myself that Carol had to be mistaken. Glen HAD to have rigged up something to keep them warm, considering the amount of old appliances and cars he would always buy at auction and fix up to sell. "Pessimist" I thought to myself, which is the usual criticism I get from my family. They would insist that they were fine, and that positive thinking was healthier than thinking negatively all the time. I made a promise to myself to get bundled up and check on them a little later, or send one of my daughters to peek in on them.

The sharp cold suddenly hit me hard, as I was in nothing but stocking feet and a flannel shirt and sweatpants. As I turned back towards the side door to head in and make coffee, I caught a glimpse of my flagpole and was struck by the odd sight. The two flags I had flying; the Confederate flag and the Gadsden flag, were encased in a sheet of 1" thick ice, and looked flash frozen during a mild breeze. I smiled at the thought of flags being frozen in mid-flutter as I headed into the warm house.

"Part of the tree came down" I reported to my wife as I got back into the kitchen. "Most of it is in the driveway, but that large top limb over the line is not looking good. There's also a big limb hanging from the line and it's entangled in it real good."

"We'll probably need to find a way to get it off the line" she said in her usual matter-of-fact tone.

"I'm not messing with power lines" I retorted. "The branches look to be caught in there real good. We will need someone with a bucket truck to pull that off the line".

"After we eat, I'll go out there and look at it" she shot back, which was her way of telling me that until she assessed it herself, she was going to ignore my usual pessimism in favor of her eternal optimism. I decided that this morning was not the time to make a mountain argument out of a molehill issue, so I returned to the needful task of making the hot drink that awakens brain cells from slumber.

When I gotten to the sink to fill up a pot to boil water, I happened to look out the kitchen window over our deck at the woods out back as I normally do without thinking.

I gasped at what I saw, and shook my head not comprehending what I was looking at.

The normal treeline that had filled my view for the last six years of my life was gone. Ten to twenty feet of every treetop was simply sheared or snapped off. The entire wood was bowed low or bent over kissing the ground, encased in ice and shattered as if a giant madman with a baseball bat had come swinging in fury at every living tree.

"Oh my God." I flatly exclaimed. "Look at the woods out back!" My mind was still trying to register the changed landscape. It wasn't that trees had lost limbs, they were shattered, broken and split.. The familiar was now gone and a huge space now existed where once treetops swayed in the breezes. I wondered if the shock I was feeling was similar to what New Yorkers felt like when looking at the lower Manhattan skyline after 9-11.

"Oh that's nothing" my wife replied without looking up from turning her pancakes, "you should take a look out front and across the street".

Addiction overrode the curiosity of seeing what she meant, and I got the pot onto the camp stove and the coffee into the filter apparatus before I permitted myself to go and take a hard look from the front porch.

The low hanging gray sky was lightening in pockets that were moving quickly Southeast. The lambent light began to glisten off of large and long icicles that hung like stalactites off the sagging power lines. The next door neighbor's huge maple trees were a tangled mass of large limbs encased in ice and snow. The main trunks stood up to about 15 feet from their former 25-30 foot height, while every limb and branch that once reached skyward was broken off and hung towards the ground in a mirror reversal of what the trees should normally look like.

The road out front was covered in snow and ice. A single pair of tire tracks from the East led to the car with the empty gas tank that sat silent in the middle of the right hand lane in front of our house. There were no other tracks on the road, which indicated no one was out traveling anywhere except this young student from Murray.

Across the street the scene was one of devastation. The vacant brick home to our left was buried in the limbs and trees that had kept the house in near shadow most of the year. For the first time I could actually see the yellow bricks of the house. The lady in the trailer across the way had lost every tree and shrub in her yard. One of them was literally snapped in half. One giant tree limb blocked half of her drive. To our right, Gary's homes and property looked to receive great wrath from old man Winter. His many trees were simply destroyed. Two of them were split and crushed all the way to the ground. His power lines were hanging into the ditch, solidly caked in ice. Smaller trees and bushes were arced over with the weight of ice and snow, like a fountain that was frozen. Branches and twigs were everywhere, spot frozen to the ground where they fell.

In my own yard, I noted the crazy and unusual looking 'alien' things poking up out of the snow. A closer look revealed that they were blades of grass or fallen twigs that were encased in a glass tube of ice, making my yard look like a kind of coral reef. As I scanned the horizon, like my back yard and woods, the landscape had totally changed. The row of 70 ft pine trees bordering Glen's property from his neighbor were almost all broken down to the ground. They were half the height they were. Glen's own large tree had all its three major limbs crack off and hang down to the ground. The wood swing set for his grandkids was 'crying' with hundreds of icicles reaching like daggers for the ground.

The sound of yet another collapsing tree could be heard to my far right, somewhere down the side road. Almost as if in answer, a fruit tree in Gary's yard across the street gave up its valiant fight to resist the weight of the ice, and gravity claimed another tree whose crack signaled death for yet another tree.

My gaze scanned the power poles and lines that were sagging under the weight of the ice. The multiple line levels were hanging low in the middle, covered in thousands of icicle teeth that looked to me as if the power lines were like a smiling shark. As my eyes scanned the lines down the road, the scene was similar. Huge trees squashed and entombed, bent low over homes or onto barns. The cascade of branches still breaking and falling around us, filled the chill morning air. Not even the shrubs and bushes escaped the loving embrace and weight of the ice as they were either crushed to the ground, or so laden with weight, they simply collapsed in on themselves.

As I shook my head in disbelief, I heard my wife shout that breakfast was ready to my two girls and their friend. I decided to head back inside to check on the water heating on the Coleman stove for my coffee.

The great thing about chocolate chip pancakes, is that you do not need syrup - or even a plate for that matter. After giving thanks, being the slob that I felt like - I was grabbing a cake at a time and happily munching them while watching and waiting for my coffee water to boil. A half hour and a sore arm later, I had my hot cup of joe and washed down those especially delicious pancakes.

I headed on down to my cold office to again turn on the radio to see if I could get any news. The local AM news talk station came in, but the signal was very weak and it required me to hold the radio while standing in a specific direction in order to hear it. It did not take very long to comprehend that we were dealing with something massive. The host was relaying information based on what he was personally hearing or experiencing. Power was out for most of the city of Paducah, and he assumed that was the case for all the rural areas like ours. Both Walmart and the mall area in the city was closed. Most roads were blocked by fallen trees and power poles. Most land-line phones were out. There was no cell phone service.

In essence, we were a dead area. Closed off, in the dark and isolated from the rest of the world. How bad was this? I wondered to myself straining to listen through the static.

I tired quickly of standing as a human antennae. I scanned the other AM and FM channels. Most of the local stations were not broadcasting a signal, and the ones that were, were playing rotation music or were from an outside area on the East coast. At this point I wanted information, and I remember many discussions with local victims when we went down to Mississippi in 2005 to assist with the Katrina cleanup, that not having any information beyond hearsay was the toughest problem to overcome at first. Not knowing, not hearing and only having speculation tended to breed more uncertainty and fear. As time wore on, they said that timely information was as valuable as clean water and food.

I began to understand their point.

The information I did hear, and the lack of local radio was telling me that this was a huge disaster, and not just a disruption or an inconvenience. My mind began to run a scenario of what if's.

What if we indeed were isolated and cut off for more than several days?

What if there is no power in our area for more than a few days with temperatures this cold? No power, no electric heat. No power, no forced air heat. Kerosene and propane heaters, woodstoves, fireplaces and so on would be the only sources for staying warm. I thought about all the folks that thought an extra loaf of bread and a gallon of milk was all anyone needed and what they would attempt to do if they had no way to endure an extended outage with no way to warm themselves. I knew there would be a mad dash at some point to the gas stations for propane, kerosene and gas.

Gas.

We had watched the gas shortage in the Nashville Tennessee area after Ike blew through, and how the locals, desperate for gas spread outward to outlying areas not directly affected by the shortage.

In thinking about limited supplies of gas, I suddenly thought about water..

It was a given that anyone with a private well had no running water unless they had a generator back-up or a hand-pump. I figured the local water commission had generators fired up to keep our water running. If the roads were as impassable as the radio had said, and gas stations were closed due to lack of power to run the pumps - the generators could run low and perhaps no longer operate. This meant we could run out of running water.

I had two 55 gallon food-grade water drums out back - half full from the Summer. They were solid blocks of ice now, and probably heavier than I could muster by myself to get into the house. If needed, I could use the dolly with everyone's help to get the drum into the downstairs office, but before we reached that point - I thought we should get some back-up while our water was still running.

I put the radio down and headed upstairs to mention my thought process to the wife. She happened to be on her cell phone with her mother who lived across the Ohio River in Metropolis Illinois. From what I could gather listening to one end of the conversation, they were also in the dark. They had natural gas, so they simply lit the oven and the stovetop burners and used that to keep warm.

"Make sure Dad cracks a window" I said, "so they don't get carbon monoxide poisoning".

When she concluded her conversation, she relayed the news that her family was in pretty much the same situation we were in. Roads were blocked, poles and trees were down everywhere. Nothing was open due to lack of power.

I told her what I had heard on the radio, and that we might need to think about filling up pots and pans and the bathtubs up with water, because if the power outage lasted more than another day - the three day supply of fuel to keep the generators running at the water district would run low and we might lose our water. I did not think she heard or comprehended what I said, because she waved that notion off to explain the situation with her sister-in-law and my single-mom niece, all whom live in Metropolis. Apparently, the neighbors who live in government-housing, dumped their kids off with my niece, who has four kids of her own, while they left for other places to stay. I was not sure if that was noble or foolhardy. It is one thing to offer help, and another to have burdens dropped off on you in a disaster situation.

But being neighborly, and outgoing by seeing to the needs of your neighbors far outweighs being dependent on someone else, and especially the government.

I recalled the aftermath of Katrina, and how some emergency officials mishandled that disaster with gross ineptitude. The mass chaos of the Superdome; the dependence of an entire population on government assistance. I had seen Youtube videos of looters and gangbangers running around rampant in New Orleans, while the police were busy punching old ladies to the ground in their homes and confiscating their pistols. I remember local stories from Martha, a saint of a lady who runs a food mission for the elderly in Paducah, who went down to the Gulf Coast to cook and serve the people left homeless by Katrina, and the horror stories of how FEMA and the Red Cross attempted to shut her down and commandeer her mobile kitchen for their own use. I remembered the stories from my nephew who lived in the next town over from Greeburg Kansas after the devastating tornado of last year, and the atrocities of police kicking some people from their damaged homes in forced evacuations and the missing household items and firearms residents discovered when they returned.

I had no allusions about the incompetence and the brashness of government officials and bureaucrats ordering disaster victims around and making a bad situation worse. I had witnessed firsthand the almost military precision of the churches and religious charities that aided the disaster after Katrina and Ike, contrasted with the absolute stupidity and indifference of so-called government aid. I had resolved of myself a long time ago, that I would remain self-sufficient in the event of a disaster. I would NOT be removed from my home, or end up in a community shelter. I was resolved to care for myself and family as far and as long as I was able to.

That is why I am a Prepper. And I was prepped for the near term as I ran an inventory in my mind.

I simply had no idea how long it would last.

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