Hurricane Juan - Practice makes perfect

By Christine

We had heard reports that Hurricane Juan was headed toward us at least 24 hours before it hit.

We made sure we had all necessary medications in stock, as well as first aid equipment. We had lots of spare batteries on hand, in a variety of sizes. We also had conversion kits that changed smaller batteries into larger ones if our supply ran out. We have several antique oil lamps, and some new ones which we geared up with new fuel. We checked all our flashlights, and had lots of candles on hand. Our portable radio was working well. We made sure our two propane tanks were filled up, and ready to go. We filled our two bathtubs with water, and also filled with water three clean garbage cans that we'd lined with fresh garbage bags. We are on a well, and planned to use the water in the tubs and these containers for flushing the toilets and washing ourselves. We had three large dispenser bottles of drinking water on hand.

We are a family of six - two parents and four teenaged daughters. We also had an elderly friend (92 years old) living with us at that time. Our friend was willing to stop shaving and washing himself, but that idea didn't go over well with the five females in the house! We heated water on the side-burner of the barbeque, or on our other propane cooker (which holds a big lobster pot, usually!). Everyone used small amounts of heated water, and recycled it by saving it for flushing toilets.

When our girls were small, we used to play "pioneer days" with them regularly. They chose to dress up in old-fashioned clothing, but the essential lessons we were teaching them were how to live without all the conveniences we enjoy today. They learned how to light candles, and how to light and trim lanterns. They found out how to lay a fire and start it. They learned how to cook over an open fire, and how to entertain themselves without the computer, television or other electronic gizmos. It was all fun and games back then, but the lessons they'd learned came in handy.

I always prepare big batches of foods that are easy to reheat, like chilli, spaghetti sauce and stew. These were in family-sized containers in the freezer. We kept making ice during that 24 hours, and bought four bags at the gas station. These we kept in the freezer in the kitchen in case the power failed. We moved all foods that needed to be kept frozen for a long time out to our deep-freezer. When it was full, we locked the door, so it would keep the food frozen as long as possible. We also had some canned foods, and dry, convenience foods in the cupboards for snacking and quick meals.

Overnight, the worst of the high winds and rains struck. We were safe and snug in our beds, but one of our daughters was sleeping in the front bedroom, and was nervous as the wind shook the wall and actually moved her bed further into the room!

We knew lots of debris was flying around outside as we would hear things smack into the house. Our first vision of the morning-after was of piles of fallen leaves that were still green, and appeared to have been shredded.

Then we noticed the numbers of trees that had fallen in our yard. We counted thirty hardwoods that had been uprooted, and several large evergreens with twisted trunks. Side by side, such trees seemed to have twisted in opposing directions!

We later learned that the scientists theorized that there were several tornadoes inside the hurricane, accounting for this phenomenon. In total, we actually lost over 230 trees! (The hurricane made some landscaping decisions for us!) A few shingles had blown off the roof, but our house was otherwise unscathed. We were lucky!

After the fourth day, friends a few blocks away recovered their power, and offered to take our freezer into their home until our power was restored. We thought it was a good idea, so unlocked the freezer to empty it and move it and its contents. When it was opened, we discovered that foods in the chest had begun to defrost. We had several packages of bacon, spareribs, pounds of blueberries and strawberries, and porterhouse steaks that had started to defrost. Some roasts and chickens and turkeys, although buried deeper, were in the beginning stages of defrosting too. Despite our best efforts to keep these foods well frozen, the balmy temperatures were starting to infiltrate the freezer in our garage. I removed all the melting foods, packed the still-frozen items in ice chests with some of our ice, and moved the freezer and the ice chests to our friends' house. We were lucky to have insurance coverage for the loss of the foods.

The bacon got cooked immediately, and we re-froze it that way for quick breakfasts, salad toppings, etc. We decided that some of the meats should be cooked right away, so we allowed them to defrost, then barbequed them for ourselves and the neighbours. We even had a neighbourhood dinner-party with lots of spaghetti for all - especially those who had not stocked food in preparation for a week without electricity. We gave some of our meat away to others who had no food accessible from their own stocks or from the grocery stores which were closed all over the city. Those just outside of town were experiencing shortages as the city-dwellers moved out to locate necessities. When the grocery stores ran out of bottled water, we were happy that we had stocked a supply in advance.

We used paper plates, bowls, cups, and plastic cutlery for a week. Luckily, the weather following the hurricane was unseasonably warm, so we didn't need to use the paper ware as fire-starter, but we had wood ready if we needed to light a fire in our fireplace.

We didn't own a generator then, but subsequently bought one. We wouldn't have enjoyed our week without power nearly so much had it occurred in the dead of winter! The motto "Be prepared!" isn't just for Cubs and Scouts anymore.

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