Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hindsight is 20/20...

Mile wide tornado that traveled through the middle of Alabama.

Rental house we considered.
A few weeks ago, tornadoes ripped through the south destroying thousands of homes and taking hundreds of lives.  An F4 tornado went right through the town in Alabama we lived in just seven months ago.  We had felt good about our decision to move back home to Nevada before, but now are extremely grateful.  The home we lived in and our old neighborhood still stands.  But we had spent months and months looking for a new place to live before we left with absolutely nothing feeling right.  We now know at least one of the houses we considered is completely gone.

Grocery store with no roof.
The other night, I got a phone call from one of our neighbors.  She told me about the devastation in the area.  She told me exactly where the tornado had hit.  Many, many houses in that town are completely gone.  The only grocery store there is shut down for at least 8 weeks waiting for a new roof.  The bank is open only a few hours a day because of utility problems.  For 2 weeks they had to drive to the next large town to pick up their mail.  Large trucks are everywhere cleaning up the mess.  You have to show your ID and prove you live in the area to be allowed to enter.  Or you must have a special pass given to those who are coming to help clean up.  And this is just one of the many towns in the south that has been hit.

Downed power and phone lines everywhere.
My first reaction to this tragedy was sadness and shock.  I worried about my friends.  I made phone calls to those I was closest to.  I watched on Facebook to hear reports of others.  The neighbor I heard from this week was the only one I was unable to reach as I did not have a cell phone number for her.  Their phone lines are still down which means her DSL internet is not working either.  We worried the first few days that they were hit, but fortunately friends who had been able to go back in the area let us know that the part of the street we had lived on had been missed.  About 10 houses or so down the street was completely gone.

CERT Team helping out at a friend's house.
As I felt sadness for all of those who had lost family members, friends, and their homes, I couldn't help but feel gratitude for our family's safety.  At the same time, I wanted to be there to help.  It was such a split feeling inside of me.  Recently my husband and I went to CERT training.  It helped prepare us to deal with such tragedy and trained us to do search and rescue and to be first responders.  It was a free course and worth every minute we spent taking it.  It would have been very useful to have the information in this kind of situation in an area that that took a long time for rescue teams to get into.  There was a story about this here.  Basic training in first aid and search and rescue not only prepares you to help your own family, but
also prepares you to help anyone in a tragedy.

Downed power and phone lines.
As I mentioned before, not everyone lost their house.  I'm not sure how you could prepare for losing your house other than having a bug out kit with 72 hours of basic supplies in it that you keep with you at all times.  But what about for those whose houses were still standing?  How did this tragedy affect them?  First, they had no power almost immediately.  Power lines were down everywhere.  I know several of our neighbors already had generators as losing electricity happened often in that area.  To be prepared, having gas to run these generators would be very important.  A few organizations brought in generators to help people out.  But as you know, generators can only do so much and only last for so long.

Causes of Power Outages
What do you do to preserve the food in your fridge and freezer(s)?  If the appliance thermometer stored in the freezer reads 40F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen. If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine the safety. Remember you can’t rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40F or below, it is safe to refreeze. Refrigerated food should be safe as long as power is out no more than 4 hours. Keep the door closed as much as possible.  According to the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service food in your fridge will stay cold up to 4 hours.  Food in your freezer will stay cold up to 48 hours.  When electricity comes back on, you will determine the temperature of your 
food.  If it is more than 40 degrees F, then you 
need to throw it out.  Worst case, remember the 
old adage: "When in doubt, throw it out."  This  
link is to a pdf with more information about what 
to do in case of a power outage.

Charcoal Grill

Fire pits are handy!
Your freezer/fridge should not the only thing you should be worried about.  Electricity is not the only thing either.  As I talked to my friend, I learned that after the tornado passed, they had lost electricity and phone, but still had gas.  Unfortunately, because so many houses had been destroyed, there were gas leaks everywhere.  So the gas was completely shut off.  Without gas, you have lost your source for heat and cooking inside your house.  If it is cold out, it is important you have another source for heating your home with proper ventilation.  If it is hot out, open up your windows and go outside.  Your house needs ventilation running through it.  The newer your house is, the more important this is as with all of the "energy efficient" improvements, your house will not "breathe" and can cause unforeseen problems, even death from lack of oxygen.  You can cook on a grill outside or build a fire pit.  If you have never cooked over an open fire, it would be a good idea to learn before a disaster occurs and practice often.  It is fun and tasty to grill outdoors.  You will probably also use your outdoor cooking to boil water for safe drinking.

Boiling water on a grill.
A boil alert had been sent out to many areas of Alabama.  I read on a Facebook post about how silly that was if you had no way to boil water.  However, there are ways.  Remember the grill and firepit I mentioned above? According to the Wilderness Medical Society, water temperatures above 160° F kill all pathogens within 30 minutes and above 185° F within a few minutes. So in the time it takes for the water to reach the boiling point, all pathogens will be killed, even at high altitude.To be extra safe, let the water boil rapidly for one minute, especially at higher altitudes since water boils at a lower temperature.

3 days drinking water storage for one person.
If you are lucky enough to have water still coming to your home, there is a good chance that it will have all kinds of unsafe particles in it.  It will be important to purify the water before drinking it.  Having two weeks of water on hand is the minimum suggested for those trying to prepare for emergencies.  Many people find that safe drinking water is hard to come by in a disaster, even if the disaster is a flood.  Know how to purify water ahead of time and be prepared with any supplies you may need.  I'll add a blog just about this at a later time.  Also, you may want to bathe before you have electricity and gas again.  I thought my friend was
smart because she filled up plastic trash bags with
water outside and left them sitting in the sun to warm.
Then they had warm water to bathe in.  Just make sure
that you have bags that are not pesticide treated.

Cell phone tower hit by a tornado.

I learned that my neighbor's phone was still out and even their cell phones had been unusable at first.  For a phone outage, cell phones tend to be very handy.  However, even cell phone towers go down.  If you can let family members know you are okay, that is good.  Otherwise, just focus on taking care of your family and neighbors until you can.  Do your best not to leave them hanging.  Friends and family will worry about you.  But remember, this is not your first priority.  Your first priority is to make sure you and everyone around you are okay.

PG Elementary
I told my neighbor how worried we had been about her and her family.  My children were good friends with her grandson and were sick with worry.  She assured us that they were all physically fine, but emotionally were struggling.  They visited the devastation on other streets and were shocked at the destruction.  Where forest used to be, there are just some broken trees.  There was a car up in a tree.  Debris was still everywhere even with as much as had been picked up already.  She talked about how great the schools had been, opening their doors quickly to the children and providing counselors to help them through this ordeal.  Instead of pushing academics on the children, they played games with them and did art and other 
fun activities.  At first, I was shocked that they 
could open back up so quickly again, but as I t
hought about it, I realized they were attempting to 
bring back some semblance of normalcy to these 
children.  Many had been displaced and many were 
suffering loss that will take a long time for them 
to feel peace and safety again.  Opening up the 
schools to these children was a good thing.  It also 
gave parents the time they needed to begin sifting 
through the remains of their homes or help their 

The thing my neighbor was most thankful for was God.  She was grateful how He had protected her family in so many ways.  Her daughter's workplace was completely gone except for her desk which a coworker hid under as the tornado passed through.  She happened to be gone that day helping her father with doctor appointments.  Her grandson had been sent home early from school because of a power outage.   Their house had been missed completely.  Neighbors were seen out of their houses everywhere helping each other and talking to each other.  Churches were serving meals throughout the day and providing clothes and other items that people lost.  One of the churches even had showers for those who were unable to shower in their homes.  Families opened their doors to displaced family members.  And considering the severity and number of tornadoes that passed through Alabama that day, very few lost their lives.  Sometimes it takes a tragedy and loss of things like power to get us out of our houses and helping others.  It helps us to count our blessings and to be grateful for all that we have.  Some were angry with God, but most people there were just grateful for the goodness of God.  They were grateful for the knowledge they had been prepared with and for the help that came in to bless them in their time of need.  It was amazing talking to her and hearing her sweet testimony of the goodness of God.

As I have talked to each of my friends and have read their posts on Facebook, I have seen their good hearts and their willingness to help wherever is needed.  They have opened up their homes to friends and family.  They have spent countless hours helping with cleanup, preparing food, and delivering donations of items.  They are amazing people in Alabama.  They have good and giving hearts and are people that I am so grateful to God that He allowed me to know them even though it was for a short period of time.  I wish I could be there working side by side with them.  But for now, I hope that my blog will help someone out there start their journey of preparing their ark for any tragedies they may encounter in their future or perhaps just work to make their present just a little bit better by bringing safety and peace into their lives by being prepared for anything that might come along.

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