As the alarm on the weather radio sounded once again, my three-year-old son looked up at me with inquisitive eyes. After a brief pause, I said, “No, that one isn’t in our area.” He turned to his book again, continuing to look at the pictures. Relieved that we didn’t have to run to our “fraidy-hole” for the fourth time, I glanced outside at the ominous scene.
It was Wednesday, April 27th, 2011. Our quaint and comfortable home in north Alabama was in the midst of tornadoes. I had just recently begun my quest of preparedness and was hoping that I had covered all my bases.
We had already lost our electricity. I was able to contact my father and my sister, both live in another state, and keep in touch with my husband who was at work, via a corded landline phone.
Several years ago I probably would have found this sort of experience a bit exciting due to my strong sense of adventure. But having a child has changed my perspective on many things in life. Another human being is now my primary concern and keeping him safe is my number one priority.
At the end of the day (literally), we had survived unscathed. Across the street the neighbor’s tree had fallen but thankfully it had landed in the pond. This was the only damage in our immediate area. We went to bed that night with little information regarding tornado damage in the surrounding area or in the state. We were calm and content that all was well on the home front.
But the next morning things were different. The world had become a bit bizarre. My husband couldn’t get in touch with his employer so he left for work as usual planning to check in at work and then bring back dry ice for our freezer. With my husband out of touch and not knowing when he’d return, I began to get an odd feeling. When I couldn’t get our camp stove lit, I decided to start a fire outside in our fire pit. Feeling very disconnected and alone in the world, I felt relieved when our neighbor, who had been siphoning gas from his lawn mower, walked over to inquire about our well-being. It’s amazing how such brief contact with another fellow human being can calm anxieties. By the time my husband returned a few hours later, I had already learned several lessons.
In a crisis, do not separate from your dearest loved ones. Togetherness creates a sense of security and there is power in being part of a team. Do not panic. Panicked people do irrational things and make poor decisions. Ladies, know how to do things that your husband usually does. Powerlessness is a scary feeling. My husband showed me how to light our camp stove that same day I failed to figure it out for myself. Have a plan. Knowing what to do will keep you focused on action.
Thursday afternoon, out of curiosity and boredom, we decided to go for a drive. Perhaps if we drove north to Tennessee, we could find the dry ice that was no longer available in our area. Soon after getting on the interstate, we got in a major traffic jam. Normally this part of I-65 is smooth-sailing but we were stuck for about 30 minutes before traffic was once again up to the usually 65 mph. Our trip north proved to be very enlightening. Apparently, realization had set in for most people sometime Wednesday evening as they settled in for the night. They discovered they were not prepared and therefore, Thursday morning the chaos began. People were a bit panicked and left their homes to seek supplies that were needed. I began to make lists of things we saw, our successes, lessons we learned, and supplies we needed to get or increase.
Things we saw and heard:
Two women in a grocery store parking lot were transferring two grocery carts full of ice to their coolers.
One man buying toilet paper in bulk and ten bottles of wine
Long lines at open gas stations and grocery stores, often lines at gas stations were backed up onto the road
Police were directing traffic at exits coming off the interstate. We had to drive north into Tennessee about 40 miles on I-65 before we could get off the interstate without a long line coming off the ramp.
People at gas stations filling numerous gas cans
People standing around in parking lots, waiting for generators to be delivered from out of the area
Wednesday evening was noticeably dark and quiet; then it got quite loud when people started getting generators.
People siphoning gas out of lawn mowers
A local school was being used as a shelter
On the radio, there were announcements of closures beginning on the first day; warnings of scams, especially FEMA related; advice on where to buy gas and generators; announcements of curfews; rumors of rationing and threats to turn off water; and information regarding which areas were out of power. People with no home or hotel room had curfews to abide by but nowhere to go. They would call in to the radio station seeking help. Then another caring soul would call offering a place to stay for a previous caller.
People were desperate to get car battery chargers for their cell phones so they could get in touch with their loved ones.
There was no mail delivery for several days.
Hospitals had to cancel surgeries.
Things we did right:
We had some cash in the house.
My husband bought C and D batteries on the way home from work Wednesday evening.
We had gas in our vehicles and in storage.
We had camping gear including a propane stove with propane and a solar shower.
We had paper plates, plastic utensils, matches, lighters, charcoal, wood, a grill, Dutch ovens, a radio with batteries, lanterns, lamps, lamp oil, flashlights, a nonelectric can opener, and a corded phone.
We had collected extra water.
We were fairly organized and could find most of our belongings even in the dim lantern light.
Keep gas tanks at least ½ full at all times.
Have a long term way to wash clothes.
I must learn how to operate everything my husband usually operates.
Have all phone numbers and addresses on hardcopy.
Stay at home…the traffic is bad!
Have cash in vehicles as well as in the house.
Members in the same household should not split up unless absolutely necessary.
Have a few gallon jugs of water in the freezer to slow thawing if the power goes out.
If you rely on a cell phone, have a car charger.
Supplies we need to store (or store more of)
Charcoal, wood, and propane
Extra dish cloths (go through these quickly when there is no dishwasher during power outage)
Clothes line/clothes pins
Alternative way to heat the house (we were thankful the weather was very nice after the tornados)
Overall I think we fared well. We were without electricity for four days and were able to continue our lifestyle as usual. We didn’t miss watching TV. We didn’t miss surfing the internet. We had plenty of food and water. I can honestly say, the only thing I really missed was taking a long, hot shower. Truth be told, I was a mite disappointed when the lights came back on Sunday afternoon but I was thankful we were safe.