By Bob Rinear
We have (had) a small house on the Jersey shore since the early 90’s. I was born and raised on the Jersey shore and spent most of my life chasing fish and crabs, digging clams and enjoying the wonder that is indeed waterfront. While I officially live in Florida, we’ve kept the northern home so I can visit friends and relatives. Well, we've been through 20+ good "Nor'Easters" over the years and some of them were pretty destructive. But we never had water in the house. Not once. But Sandy, she was a gal of a different color. Not only was she the largest Atlantic basin hurricane ever recorded, she brought along with her a tidal surge we've never seen. Knowing she was coming, we all "prepared" for her....well, at least we "thought" we prepared. To be frank, very few were truly prepared for this nightmare.
I am not an expert on disaster survival, and don't pretend to be. But having seen what worked and didn't work, there are things you should all think about concerning getting by as best you can after a hurricane or tornado or what have you. No amount of preparing was going to save my house. When the eye passed over my area, it brought a wall of water with it some 11 feet above normal. With 90 mph winds and 4 feet of water bashing against it, it was a miracle it even exists. Granted there's no foundation, no back walls, and obviously it isn't something you could live in.
A storm like that however, does not affect everyone equally. The houses closest to the bay like mine which were only about 4 feet off the ground took the biggest pounding. Those up in the air on pilings did pretty well, just some wind damage, as many built in the past 10 years are up 10 feet off the ground. The water simply didn't reach the dwelling. Likewise the further back from the bay you go, the less water damage there was and even further inland the damage changed from water... to trees and poles coming down. For instance Jersey Central power and light says they have replaced 5200 power poles that were broken. Tens of thousands of trees came down, tearing out power for 2 million people. So, by the water it was of course water that destroyed...inland it was trees and wind.
You've always been told to load up with water ahead of a disaster. Truer words were never spoken. It became apparent on day 2 after the storm that water was the single most important commodity. Why? Because lets face it, if your house is still standing and you can "live" in it, having no power still means no pumping stations. No water. But your body is still going to function. You are going to produce "waste". Well, you can flush a toilet with about 1.5 gallons of water poured quickly out of bucket. But if you didn't save up enough water, by day 4 you're not concerned about anything BUT water. Trust me. It was not uncommon for me to drive 25 miles to load up on water. So, step one in being prepared for a major outage is to stock up on water. You don't have to have bottled water to flush a toilet, load up some drums with your garden hose, and toss a bunch of chlorine in it so it will store for a long time. Two 55-gallon barrels would let a family of four "flush" for a long time. Certainly having 20+ gallons of bottled water is necessary for drinking, sponge baths, boiling water for coffee etc.
So, water is job one. Job two? When it’s as bad as Sandy, they had to turn off the Natural gas, because all of the ripped off meters were creating fires all over the place. With no power, no water and no gas, the simple act of making food becomes a challenge, and keeping warm is also high on the list. As you can imagine, a generator becomes a valuable commodity, but ONLY if you had the foresight to store enough gasoline to run it. For the first week of no power, there were no gas stations because they couldn't pump. A generator is a pretty worthless item if it has no fuel, so... be smart. Get yourself a generator, a good one with a lot of "watts". Then find yourself a gas station that sells "recreational" fuel. This is gasoline that does NOT have ethanol in it. Ethanol gas does NOT store well, it will go bad, and in high humidity environments it can actually phase separate in 3 months. Recreational gas can last up to two years stored properly. Store up more than you think necessary. One five-gallon jug isn't going to make it. An 8000-watt genny will consume half a gallon an hour with no load on it. Five gallons doesn't last long as you can imagine.
I have always been a big fan of having a wood stove in your home. They require no power, and give off tremendous amounts of good quality heat. When we lived in the Pocono Mountains and downed power was common, many times the neighbors would be over to "warm up" because our wood stoves would be crankin and it would be 80 degrees in there. Well, Sandy hit in November and nighttime temps have been in the high 20's and low 30's. Tens of thousands shivered long nights because they had no alternative heat other than the "grid" and the grid failed miserably. If you are totally against a wood stove, consider a propane ventless wall mount heater. A single 100 pound propane cylinder and a decent propane heater as a backup will keep you warm for a long time.
Here are some other observations you should really consider. Inland, the biggest damage wasn't the wind, it was trees. Thousands of homes had huge oak and pine trees crash through their roofs. As much as you might like that stately oak a few feet out in your yard, consider where it could end up. I would clear any tree that has the ability to reach my house if it falls over. Next up, BUY A CHAIN SAW and learn how to use it. True story... the night of the hurricane we were evacuated from our neighborhood. I scurried 20 miles inland and hid out with my In-laws. They have a beautiful home, that they were smart enough to clear their lot of any tree that could hit the house. Sure enough the next day, two huge trees were down, but nothing that could touch the home. Their house came through it 100%. But a week later we got hit with a "noreaster" that brought not only 50 mph wind, but wet heavy snow. A FOOT of it. As you can imagine all the trees and wires weakened by Sandy, went down with the heavy snow. Well, the lovely Christmas pine they had along their driveway came down... right across the driveway. There was absolutely no way out of their yard if we didn't have a chain saw to cut it up.
Your outdoor grill becomes your best friend when there's no power to cook with. A propane fired Barbeque grill with a spare tank will indeed make you coffee and tea, grill the steaks you kept in the freezer which are fine because you had the generator running... right? You see the point. You have to consider what it takes to live fairly comfortably when the entire grid is down for 10+ days. That's power, water, natgas, gasoline, everything. Surprisingly, storing water, storing good gas, having a generator and a backup source of heat is really all it takes. For under 3 grand you can make your home quite livable for weeks during something like this.
I learned a lot over the past 3 weeks. I learned that if you didn't completely lose your house, you could indeed be pretty comfy if you had taken the time to just do the things I outlined above.