Lessons From Hurricane Harvey

Are you ready for the next inevitable disaster?

It’s been two months since hurricane Harvey hit.   I can’t believe it, time really seems to fly.  The farm has settled back to normal.  For almost three weeks after the hurricane, we didn’t have a drop of rain which is great for those that needed to dry out.  It’s weird how fast things dry out. You wouldn’t think that after 51” of rain you would need to water plants, but here we are.

While our little farm didn’t suffer any damage, there are many close by that are still putting their lives back together.  If you drive down many surrounding streets you will sees people’s lives piled up alongside the road.  It’s a surreal feeling.  There are those that have moved back into their homes and businesses only to find that they have to contend with poor air quality and mold.   Schools have started back only to close again due to safety concerns.

Image result for piles after hurricane

We have been blessed.  We only lost a few plants and fruit trees.  There is only so much water a plant can take on before it dies.  Honestly, I am surprised that any lived.  The Malabar spinach and sweet potato plants seemed to have thrived but all of my herbs are gone except the basil plants and a few struggling mints.

A disaster like this may make you start to question how you live.  Harvey left damage in this area that people were not prepared for.  With 51” inches of rain (19 trillion gallons of rain over Southeast Texas alone) dropped in such a short amount of time, areas that never flooded before did this time.  All this water put pressure on dams that threatened to burst.  When the government released the water, further flooding occurred.  The cost of damage is unprecedented, and will have ripple effects for years to come.  Many people we know did not have flood insurance because they just never thought that where they lived would flood.

There has seemed to be numerous disasters this year; floods, hurricanes, fires, droughts, earthquakes, etc.  Life can change in a blink of an eye, and you have to be ready.  While it is easy to forget what is happening in the rest of the world when you are trying to survive a disaster yourself, it’s important to realize that epic disasters can happen anywhere.  Please note:  This video blames climate change, which is something I don’t completely agree with (for more scholarly information on the topic I recommend climatedepot.com), however it is a good video that shows what has happened all over the world in the last few months, not just in our little corner of the planet.

That being said, we have been preparing for disasters whether it be natural or economical.  It was part of the reason why we started this farm, to be as independent as possible and not to be so completely reliant on other sources that may not be available in times of crisis.  The goats, chickens, and garden provide us with food.  I have been learning what herbs to plant and how to use them.  I have been teaching myself to forage for wild edibles in my area.  We freeze, dehydrate, and ferment food for long term storage.  We have been collecting first aid supplies, canned food, and essentials like toilet paper, feminine supplies, etc.  We specifically chose properties that were near the water where we can fish and crab (we live on the Gulf of Mexico) so we have a canoe, two kayaks and fishing supplies.   We hope that we are on the right track to being able to help ourselves, families, and neighbors if needed.

When you live through a disaster like this you learn where you weaknesses are in your plan, and shortly after Harvey, Puerto Rico, experienced the worst natural disaster in my lifetime, and they are still suffering the effects of it today with some places still without power.   To think that something like that could not happen here is naïve. Will our plan stand up to other natural and economic disasters? What is our back up plan? Here are a few of the questions we have started asking ourselves and the lessons we have learned.

  1. Are we prepared to not have power for more than a week? We lost power for 4/5 days (honestly, I can’t remember…the days ran together). We ate the food in the fridge first, then the freezer.  I have a gas stove, so I was able to cook, but what if the gas lines were cut off?  What would we do then? We did have fresh eggs everyday and if need be we could butcher chickens.
  • How much food do we need to have saved up?
  • Do we have enough fishing and crabbing supplies?
  • Are we able to purify water for us and the animals?
  1. We had always thought we would not evacuate, but now we are considering that possibility.
  • Where will we go?
  • How do we transport the animals?
  1. What if there are no supplies coming in to our area and we can’t leave? We are by no means isolated and live within city limits, however, we were land locked.  There are only two access points to our city.  Both of these roads were flooded for more than a week.  The one local grocery store in town was flooded for more than two weeks.  The local Walmart (which is not a super Walmart) lost power and had to throw out perishables.  Although, living in the city can give you better access to food and supplies when disaster strikes, it’s by NO means a guarantee.
  • So what if you can’t get in or out of town once the disaster is over?
  • What about gasoline?
  • What if someone gets injured and needs medical assistance?
  1. What about feeding the animals long term? We went and purchased goat feed before the hurricane hit.  This was a good thing because we would have ran out after the storm with no way of getting to the feed store; and if we could have, there was no guarantee that they would have been open.  Luckily, the goats and chickens have lots of pasture to forage, however, if this is flooded, it poses a problem and thus, this begs the question:
  • How much feed should we have on hand?
  • What about our exotic animals like the snakes, tortoise, and sugar gliders? How do we prepare for them?  The snakes eat frozen mice.  I purchased a year’s worth of mice at one time to feed, but if the electricity goes out, those mice will thaw and be worthless.  The tortoise and sugar gliders can eat veggies and fruit from the garden, but what if a flood destroys all that food?
  1. What if we can’t work? Businesses are reopened, some went longer than a week before reopening.  What if you suddenly lose your income while your company has to rebuild and you don’t qualify for any sort of benefits?

While I don’t have all the answers to these questions yet, we are working on it.  What we do in our neck of the woods may not work for you.  Each family and situation is different.

In the meantime here are some useful tips from Daisy Luther, the Organic Prepper to get you started on your road to preparation:

  • Preserve the food in your fridge and freezer when disaster is near. In situations like a hurricane, when you know it’s coming, you can take action to preserve the foods in your refrigerator and freezer. Canning is probably the best way to put these foods back, as dehydrated foods wouldn’t do as well in a damp environment. Check out this book for instructions on preserving the food you have on hand.
  • If you can’t preserve it, consider getting rid of it. If you are expecting a monster storm that is likely to take down the grid, you won’t want to sit there in a house full of spoiled, rotting food. Eat as much as you can before the storm hits, and consider disposing of what you can’t consume. This is especially true if you plan to evacuate. Returning home to the stench of rotting meat would be awful.
  • Store important things like food and documents up high. If you live in an area where flooding is a possibility, reorganize where your food is kept. If you have a second story or an attic, consider moving non-perishable foods up there. Same thing goes with documents. Also, consider waterproof pouches for important papers.
  • Have a plan for staying cool. One of the most miserable things about this power outage is the extreme heat. Plans for staying cool might include battery operated fans, cooling cloths (these work very well), a kiddie pool with non-toxic water if any is available, Make sure to stock up on plenty of batteries.
  • Have cash on hand. One thing to note in the information above is that credit and debit machines are inoperable. You will need cash, preferably in small bills, to be able to purchase things in the aftermath of a long-term power outage.
  • Stock up on well-packaged emergency food. I recommend buckets with mylar pouches. They’re lightweight, can be easily moved, and can store a lot of food in a small amount of space. Go here to see the huge variety of products that are available.
  • Have a way to cook that doesn’t rely on the grid. If you can go outdoors, a barbecue can work well to cook food. For the first few days, while it’s still safe, focus on the things in your fridge and freezer. Once those foods are no longer safe, move on to your shelf-stable foods. Another good option is this little emergency stove, which is safe to be used indoors. Be sure to stock up on plenty of additional fuel in the event that the power outage lasts a long time.
  • Have extensive water storage. Water treatment plants have also been dealing with power outages, which means that they aren’t able to purify water. As well, many were inundated with millions of gallons of toxic floodwaters. The tap water is still not safe to drink in many parts of the state. Water filtration may not be enough in situations like this, so it is vital that you have a lot of water stocked up. I’m a fan of these 15-gallon water tanks, which are a bit easier to manage than the 160-gallon tanks, which won’t be able to be moved once they’re filled. Store these above flood levels, so in an attic or on an upper floor, if possible. If that isn’t possible, at least place them on shelves, counters, and tables when the floods are on the way.

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