Friday, September 26, 2008

Lessons from Hurricane Ike

The following is from a collection of posts I made over on the Equipped to Survive forum. It covers everything I learned from Hurricane Ike. Some of the information is repeated, sorry about that.

The Storm:
Ike was a huge storm in size which luckily diffused it's power somewhat. The eye passed 22 miles to my east as a class 2 hurricane, though it was only 1mph under what is considered class 3.

Our neighborhood was hit with a constant windspeed of 72mph for over twelve hours. During that time we suffered gusts up to 97.75mph. It took about five hours to go from no wind to the 70mph winds. It took another 4-5 hours to drop back down from 70 down to zero.

There was little rain during most of Ike, less than 5 inches in our neighborhood. However, another storm front hit as Ike was leaving and this storm dropped another 10 inches of rain in a six-hour period. 15 miles to the west received 19 inches of rain post-Ike. This resulted in minor flooding.

There was almost no lightening with Ike, at least in my location. The exploding transformers made up for that with a very impressive light show.

There were reports of tornadoes, especially to the east of the eye. There are indications that we might have been hit by some micro-twisters, but I have not been able to confirm this.

Our Damages:
As mentioned earlier we had twelve hours of 70mph winds with gusts up just under 100mph. At this speed rain was being blown horizontally. This resulted in water trickling in under the windows exposed to this wind. Placing towels on the windowsills soaked up this water and prevented any damage.

My two-car-wide garage door no longer stays open, to get in/out I need to prop it up with a stick. The garage door's spring was replaced this summer and there wasn't a problem before the storm. The door itself has some warping, but I'm not sure how this could affect the springs. The door was not braced or re-enforced in any manner.

A strange water stain appeared on our kitchen ceiling.

Many oak and loblolly pine trees are down in the neighborhood. Which ones survived and which ones fell seems to be very random. In most cases the root ball was torn out of the ground rather than the trunk breaking.

About 1 in every 10 house suffered some sort of roof damage. In most cases this was just missing shingles, but the tar paper remained. Some cases the bare plywood roof was exposed. The damaged sections were all under 15'x15' in size and usually limited to only one section of the roof. No roof in the neighborhood is over 12 years old, most are less than seven years old.

One house lost 2-3 planks of their siding, exposing the insulation beneath. I'm not sure if the siding was wood of hardiplank (cement-composite wood).

Each yard in our neighborhood is surrounded by 6' tall cedar-plank "barricade style" fences. Sections of these fences were blown over. In each case the fence broke at two posts. The posts were not up-rooted. The broken fences stayed where they fell, they did not become missles. Nor did I see any individual cedar planks missing from fences. These fences are 7-12 years old.

No windows were broken in the neighborhood except in one case where a branch from a falling tree hit it.

The large amount of broken branches clogged the storm-sewer drains slowing down the escape of water. However, the water never got deep enough for me to go kayaking down the street. frown (I had stored my kayak inside the front door in hopes I could take her out)

Yards will filled with small and medium (2" diameter) oak and pine branches. The trees were partially stripped of leaves, needles, and pine cones.

I and a few others had boarded up some of my windows. In light of the lack of damage I probably will not board up next time unless I think it'll be a class 3 or higher.

Interesting Tips/Facts
1. Power began flickering at my house around 10pm and went off for good at 4am. After the first flickering I cut the breakers to everything but the room I was in. This was to protect them from the power surges as transformers blew up.

2. Before the storm my neighbors and I set up a walkie-talkie connection between the houses which was monitered through the entire storm. This allowed people to call for help, but also just to chat for comfort.

3. Rechargeable spotlights were invaluable during the storm. However when you shine one out your window the reflection was so strong that you couldn't see past it. About half the houses had spotlights and we quickly figured out that we could use the walkie-talkies to direct the spotlight from another house to light up the area you wanted to see.

4. Garage doors make a weird humming noise in high winds.

5. The water in your toilet can be used as a crude barometer. The water level in the bowl dropped as the low-pressure eye moved closer and closer. The water level rose again after the eye passed. I want to sell pressure-calibrated toilets to people in hurricane zones.

6. You can't hear a really big tree fall during a hurricane unless it hits your house.

7. Wash all your clothes/bedding/towels before the storm hits. There's no telling when you'll have another chance.

8. Keep a large supply of crappy towels on hand. We used to have lots of beautiful white towels. They are now a large supply of crappy towels. blush I ended up using towels to stop water coming in through the windows and doors, ooze seeping out of the freezers and fridge, wiping off after playing in the rain, etc...

9. Keep a small notepad with you at all times! Something will occur to you but if you don't write it down you'll forget it. It's also critical for writing information down that you hear on the radio.

10. Keep a flashlight with you at all times while the power is out. This means during the day and night. You will constantly find yourself hunting around in dark closets, garages, etc in your house and other people's houses. It's a pain to have to go and find a flashlight all these times.

11. It gets dark inside the house well before it gets dark outside. That's another reason to always keep a flashlight on you. You will be spending a lot of time working outside and it'll get late. Then you'll have to stumble around inside your house looking for your flashlight when you do go in even if it's still light outside.

12. Those little cylume lightstick braclets are awesome for marking you flashlights, radios, water jugs, cat, furniture and other stuff you need to see in the dark. Amazingly, ones I activated on Friday night were still glowing faintly Tuesday night! They are really cheap right now for Halloween so by several containers of them. Also, they come in assorted colors so you can assign a color to a particular type of thing (yellow for flashlights, blue for water, evil green for cats, etc...)

13. Set your house up like a blind person lives there. In other words, have an assigned spot for everything and when it's not in use return it to that spot. That way you'll always know where a particular radio/flashlight/axe are and you won't have to hunt for it in the dark. It took me two days to figure this tip out. blush

14. According to the Red Cross insulin will last for one month at 86F. I thought it had to be kept cold. I'm not a diabetic, but when I heard that information I wrote it down in my notebook to share with y'all.

15. Don't dump your water right after the storm. A friend in another part of town had filled up all their bathtubs before the storm. After Ike passed the water was still on so they drained the tubs and took baths before going to bed. The water was turned off during the night, they are now hauling water from a pool three blocks away to flush their toilets.

16. Scoop out the kitty litter during daylight hours. It's really hard to do by the light of a flashlight.

17a. If you have a generator running outside you still better also have a carbon monoxide detector in the house.
17b. Keep an eye on the direction of the wind. The people right next door to me were running their generator on their back patio. During the night the wind shifted direction and started blowing it's exhaust into their house. Luckily their CO monitor when off and woke them up in time.

18. Where there are damaged roofs and downed fences there are nails. Where there are nails someone will step on one. This results in a 14-hour wait in the emergency room.

19. Just because someone has a chainsaw doesn't mean they know how to use a chainsaw. The stunts and stupidity I saw with saws was mind-boggling. I watched one guy start cutting through an 18" thick limb but before it cut all the way through the wood split and the section he was cutting dropped three feet down to the ground. However, it was still attached the rest of the tree by a 2" thick, 3' long strip of highly stressed wood. He cut through this strip before I could yell a warning. The string sprung back up and nearly removed his face. I warned him again but he said it was okay. The same thing happened with him three more times before he finally started making the first cut underneath the limbs.

20. People will drive through your yard to get around a tree blocking the road. This is very hard on sprinkler systems.

21. If you have a griddle you can cook ANYTHING on a barbecue grill. Never go into an Apocalypse without a griddle.

22. Cargo-shorts styled swimsuits are great clothing to wear after during/after a hurricane. They are quick drying and can be washed while you are in the shower. Keep 2-3 pairs on hand.

23. Devote your energies to first taking care of the food in your fridge/freezer, THEN clean up the yard. blush

24. It is legal to have tigers as pets in Texas. In a hurricane one or more of these tigers may escape. Keep this in mind when you are placing all your raw, spoiling meat in your garbage can.

25. The more aluminum foil and ziploc baggies you have the better off you will be.

26. Your ice maker isn't nearly as powerful as you think it is. Fill every cooler you can find with ice before the storm hits.

27. Thinking "I don't need and D-cell batteries." is your brain's way of telling you you need D-sized batteries. blush

28. Put all your extension cords in an easy to get to place even if you don't have a generator.

29. FEMA-supplied meals aren't very good, it's better to be prepared. Each box supposedly supplied the food requirements of one person for one day. It did not include any way to heat the food. Luckily, I didn't need the FEMA rations.
FEMA rations contents

Opened box of FEMA rations.

Mistakes Made:
1. I didn't buy ice before the storm. I rearranged the freezers and filled up all our tupperware with water and froze it. This wasn't enough. I should have filled every cooler and empty spot in our freezers with bags of ice or dry ice.

2. I didn't seal the food well enough against the water from the melted ice. I should have either put the food in big ziploc bags or sealed the ice in heavy-duty garbage bag. I had to throw out a lot of food just because it became water-logged.

3. I didn't fill spare gas cans with gasoline. Both vehicles were topped off, but I had three 5-gal gas cans sitting empty. I figured since I didn't have a generator I didn't need the extra gas (and associated extra risks). Had I had the extra gas I could have helped supply my neighbor's generator with gas. Sidenote: a few days after the storm the company I work for began giving each employee 5 free gallons of gas each day.

4. I didn't put our extension cords in an easy to access location. Again I figured since I didn't have a generator I didn't need the extension cords. However, I could have run cords from my central battery system to other rooms.

5. While I had plenty of tarps and nails in case of roof damage, I didn't have long wood strips to help hold the tarps on the roof. Luckily, I didn't need the tarps.

6. I made my plywood shutters too heavy to install by myself.

7. I hadn't written the shutter's window location on each shutter, I just numbered them and wrote the location on a piece of paper. I then misplaced the paper sometime in the last few years.

8. After the hurricane I spent the day cleaning the yard rather than optimizing keeping my food properly cooled or cooking it.

9. A lot of the food I did cook still ended up going bad because I didn't have enough ice to keep it cool.

10. The first day I didn't realize how quickly it would get dark inside my house while still light outside.

11. After our power came on I took out the batteries from all our flashlights and radios to prevent corrosion damage from leaking batteries. Then while I was in Denver the power went out again, leaving Missewether and the Wethergirls without light until she was able to find a flashlight and reinsert the batteries.

12. Hauled large logs while wearing sandals. Luckily I didn't drop any on my feet.

Useful Tools:
There are lots of hurricane prep lists out there. Here is a list of things I was really glad I had that are normally included on these lists:

1. Xantrex Powerpack 400 Plus. I was able to run a fan and a CFL lamp for 10+ hours using this battery/inverter powerpack then recharge it using my car or the neighbor's generator.

2. 12-volt fan plugged into powerpack (seen in picture above). This kept me cool.

3. Limb cutter. This cutting tool reduced big branches into tiny bits quickly, safely, and easily.

4. Aluminum foil, bbq grill and griddle. Give me a barbecue grill and a griddle and I'll figure out how to cook just about anything. Add the aluminum foil and I can cook anything.

5. LED lamp and rechargeable spotlight. The lamp lit up a room using six LEDs and three AA batteries. The spotlight was able to light up my neighbor's place four houses down.

6. Walkie-talkies. House to house communications gave safety and comfort.

7. 7gal and 2.5gal Aquatainers. I could move the big one easily, but Misseswether could only use the smaller one.

Peace be with you.


Izzy G. said...

That six led lantern you got is the ones I mentioned on ETS from Wal-Mart. I have four and they work great. I hang them from the fan by a coat hangar and it fills each room with light.

Shreela said...

Haha, we did have a few "always put the flashlight in the flashlight spot" arguments. I only forgot once or twice, but he left them wherever many times a day. Thank goodness for kerosene and propane lanterns!

I filled washed-out 2 liter cola bottles and froze them (fill to an inch below the neck-curve, then barely place the cap on -- once frozen, screw cap on tightly). After they were frozen, I moved them to the fridge. By the day of the hurricane, both were jam packed with 2 liter bottles, and I crammed a few 20 oz bottles in between spaces I couldn't fit the bigger ones. When we lost power, the first thing I did after lighting the lanterns was cover the fridge with bubble wrap and every blanket we had.

The blankets made it a real pain to open the fridge/freezer doors, but that turned out to be a good thing, because it forced us to pre-plan when we finally did open them.

We ate outer foods first, since they thawed/warmed quicker than the inner foods. But eventually I had to move whatever hadn't become too warm into coolers, iced down with neighbor's ice from work (we made campstove percolator coffee for them, as well as charging their phones).

And the water from the cola bottles was still cool by the time we moved food to the coolers, which was VERY nice, even though it wasn't nearly as hot as it was after Alicia.

We live a bit north of Ellington AFB, but I don't know how much difference that made in the amount of damaged roofs. I think most of the damaged roofs in this neighborhood were from falling branches. But new sub divisions had a LOT of roof damage compared to older neighborhoods.

You could have used your kayak here, at least early in the morning. Both our neighbors across the street, and our backyard neighbors got water in their homes (ours, and our immediate neighbors' houses sit a bit higher on our dead-end section). But no reports of snakes in homes like in 2001. Hubby got the solid rake and cleaned the street drains which helped drainage a lot. Plus, it's how we met the newer neighbors that ended up giving us ice from his job 8^)

One thing I learned this time around is to call in prescriptions sooner. We almost didn't get hubby's BP meds filled in time, and wasted a lot of time standing in line. So next time we're in the cone, I'm calling in for his refills pronto.

As far as your friend dumping his water too soon, there's almost always contaminated water after a big flood like hurricanes and TS Allison, which the water company will have to work on to get it clean. So until an official announcement that clean water has been restored, always save water. I still remember Mayor Lee "Potthole" Brown telling the media that of course the water was fine after Allison, only to hear reports an hour later that it wasn't. Of course long-time Houstonians knew better.

I tried to get hubby to use a 5 gal bucket with kitty litter to cover waste, but oh nooo, he'd rather have a backed up toilet. He thought dumping water down it would flush it, but that doesn't always work when there's no power. Luckily it did work later on, but by then the bathroom door had to stay closed due to the stench, and he went in the backyard when he could (I didn't have that luxury).

My favorite gadget post-hurricane was the wind up radio after sunset, since reading with a lantern behind your head is hot.

Cayla Dupont said...

Yep. Watch the signs, keep the pace, and stock the shelters and the basements. Yet after which, we must account for what was lost and insist on compensation. These are some good tips. The better to know where we should stand.

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