Hurricane Harvey -A survivers story

Family and friends,
I'm always reading and looking for stories, teachings, and experiences to aid in doing things better, smarter, safer, faster and without failed steps.  "Why reinvent the wheel", right?  I enjoy reading comments of other readers almost as much as the author of a story.   I discovered this story from an unrelated article.  I wanted to share this timeline story with you from a person on the ground experiencing the impact and aftermath of the storm and floods of Hurricane Harvey in the Houston, TX area last fall.  I think it would be worth your time to read this individuals perspective and what he offers to you as events and lessons learned from the storm. Compare it to your plan and preparedness levels.   I hope you can gain something from this.  Maybe some reality that this is real and it could happen to any of us. 
Our grounds are saturated now and the forecast predicts another 2-4 inches of rain by Thursday.  Just saying....  
Butch Erskine
Ok, I'm going way off topic here marks 4 months since the hurricane turned things upside down in our corner of the world.
We are still without power. A little solar and a generator are making life quite livable.

Been having trouble posting lately... some just vanish. I will try to post these parts on weekends.

Here is Part 1 of the story.

"Hurricane"  One Version of a SHTF Event.

This account is basically taken from random notes made over the course of this event, Hurricane Maria, and the weeks that followed. It's a bit personal at times, (a diary if you will) but it's hard not to be when life changes overnight. Other times it's just the facts from observations. I jump around on the timeline but that's the nature of random notes...

My wife and I had not experienced a hurricane despite living in hurricane zones for 20 years.

Weather reports gave everyone the knowledge that it was coming right at us. A week out,'s a different type of emergency, because everyone knows in advance of it. Different because you have about 7 days to prepare.  For us, we had about 7 years to prepare.

And unlike your Armageddon/EMP/Nuke/ type disaster, which can happen instantly without warning, you know with the right shelter you will come out the other side, and that this isn't "the end."

But the collapse is real.

  • No electricity.
  • No water.
  • No phone service, cell or landline.
  • No doctors, no hospitals.
  • No gasoline, nor diesel or propane
  • No internet.
  • No banking.
  • No mail.
  • No radio.

No emergency services, no police, fire dept.. None, unless you live across the street from them. And even then, it's questionable. Most are home with family.

So, backing up a bit, since there was time to prepare.....

In any last minute grocery shopping, if possible, you want fresh vegetables and fruits; things like cabbages, potatoes, onions, garlic and similar that will store a while. Fruits will not keep as long but you'll want all you can get. You'll never know when those items will be back... days, weeks, months..? Of course, you already have a full pantry, and more, of long term canned foods, so try to secure those fresh items.

Our shopping was done well in advance, so we stayed home and tied things down and stored all outdoor items, everything, in the house, basement or shed. Think about how many things are outside your home that you might want to keep. Find a place for them.

There will probably be things you forget. Doesn't matter, too late now...

Some things left unfinished did not backfire on us. Solar panels and TV arrays, two of the last things to be taken down, didn't make the cut in time. They didn't blow away, either.

9//20-2017- 2- 3AM, winds increasing quickly. We thought we had 5-7 hours the next morning to make last minute preps. Wasn't to be.  Wind speeds were difficult to find as most instruments were wiped out. By most estimates they were 130-160 mph.

Update, 1-2-18 a news report stated wind speed at 154 mph. Tornadoes spinning off have brought speeds reported to be 194-210 mph.  Rainfall totaled approximately 36 inches in 48 hours.

Being in an enclosed space, even a decent sized basement shelter, is a different experience. You know you cannot go outside, and stress begins to set in.

Have things to do. Books, hobby work, games, playing cards, music, adult beverages. And don't forget plenty of light sources. You might be there awhile. I cannot imagine what 6-8 weeks would be like. A deep underground bunker? Forget it

Emerging after spending over 26 hours inside with our two dogs and the windows boarded over, we knew it was serious.

Whatever the disaster, tornado, flash flood, hurricane, landslide, earthquake, etc., one word that describes it well is shock.  To see the destruction all around you.  Most of the leaves on every tree are gone. It looks nuclear.  Power poles and trees down everywhere. 

Landslides.  Many birds and wildlife dead and gone.  In a forested area such as this you couldn't travel more than a hundred feet because downed trees blocked everything.  We got used to it rather quickly, because we knew winds were most likely to be near 150 miles per hour. And we knew from pictures and videos what it might look like, but it's still hard to comprehend.  You're stunned and overwhelmed, in slow motion, because there is so much destruction to take in. The brain reaches sensory overload, because you know you need to do things, many things, right away. But prioritizing them is an issue.

Where to start?  Start with the basics. Slow down. Whatever you need to do immediately will come to mind. Water. Food. Defense?  Secure family and animals? You'll know, but think things through because staying injury free is critical.  Remember, there are no doctors now.

It helps to realize you, and those with you, are in a state of shock. It may be mild or more serious, but knowing it helps you focus. It may not seem evident at first, but it's there.

Day one after the storm, we focused on reorganizing living conditions. There is no electricity and there will be none for an indefinite period of time. It might be 3 months, 6 months or more.  Get the generator running. I'm glad I put 2 separate outlets from the generator to 2 different areas of the house. It's not as handy as the transfer switch which directs power right to the electrical panel but it helps organize extension cords a bit.

There is no municipal water. Like the power lines, they are destroyed for miles by downed trees and mud slides. The pumping stations have no electricity. No one does, except for those who thought ahead and have a generator and/or solar power. Keeping enough fuel for a generator takes planning. We stored about 40 gallons.

In the past, gas and diesel have been readily available after hurricanes and storms in this area. That is what guided my thoughts on how much to store. This time was different. Transportation by fuel trucks will be near impossible for weeks. More on that later.

If we run out of fuel, we run out. We have a small solar array that provides AC power for the basics. Not enough to run a full size fridge, but a medium size one, washer/dryer, (propane heated) cell phone charging etc. It will take some juggling and a lot of sunshine, but the basics are covered.

9/22/17 Our 5 acres look devastated. Fruit trees all took big hits. Some flat on the ground, some uprooted.  There is a lot of tree work and chain sawing to do. We prop up as many trees as possible. After the soil has dried it cannot be done without breaking the root ball and probably killing the tree.

About 7 days after the storm, we traveled to the nearest small town and see a line of vehicles waiting for gas. A line about a mile and a half long. But the station doesn't have any.  They're all waiting for the tanker truck to refill the station's tanks.

What a relief to drive by knowing we had plenty of fuel. For the time being...

On a ridge about a mile away I can hear diesel generators at night. 2 or 3 large homes have them running, with lights on everywhere. After just 2-3 days, they all went silent.

Diesel is not available at any price, even if the gas station had any. It was restricted to emergency vehicles, front loaders, bull-dozers, garbage trucks and the like.

They will not sell any to the public. It's needed for emergency response. If you have a diesel generator or a truck, have your own supply, and lots of it.

We went into a small mom and pop grocery store and were able to buy frozen orange juice, barely frozen. Not enough customers had electricity, so it was available. There was a fair amount of canned food available but many shelves were picked clean.

We've seen the pictures. Now it was here, too.  People who are not particularly fresh food eaters are now seeing a real need for anything fresh. An apple, orange, a salad or even a potato are impossible to find now. We went through our dried fruit supply too soon.

Day 10 after the storm...

Still no sign of aid. Luckily we don't need any. Trucks cannot travel the roads. There are just too many downed trees and power poles. Bulldozers and excavators are needed before anything can move.  We see many helicopters, mostly military, and many twin rotor workhorses overhead. Some are police in their black choppers. They look like they're doing important work, to the casual observer.  I think they're elites out touring and sightseeing.  The military twin rotors, it turned out, were on a mission to save a dam that was likely to blow out.  For several weeks they dropped heavy loads of cement-like earth on it, and it worked. We also saw the Osprey vertical takeoff and landing aircraft for 4-5 weeks, but have no idea what their mission was.

Were able to buy the first gasoline today, on day 10.  $20 only, per person, with about a 20 minute wait.  There was a large police presence at the station. One lane just for people on foot with containers, and the other two lanes for cars.  Having the police there was a good idea. I think most people were still in a mild state of shock so everyone kept a cool head. Friendly conversations were observed.

All sales, food or fuel, is CASH ONLY. No exceptions.  A business may have a generator to pump gas or keep food cold, but there is no electric grid to use credit or debit. ATMs do not work either.

Backing up a bit again, to day 2 and 3. And a message about bartering.

A small landslide blocked our road out to connecting main roads.

We have one neighbor about 100 yards away that is in need of cigarettes. Why he didn't prepare is a whole 'nother story.

But when he tried to drive his 4WD truck around the slide the tires dug into the heavy mud and the truck began slipping sideways. Four times he came perilously close to going over and rolling the truck. The tires actually started slipping off the edge.

His demand for nicotine had become so overwhelming that he risked dying for a cigarette. The behavior was psychotic, without a doubt, complete with tantrums.

He later admitted his addiction was so strong there was nothing he wouldn't do for a cigarette.  If you plan on stocking cigarettes for barter, plan on bartering with a non-smoker.  If a person was willing to risk dying for a cigarette, someone desperate enough will kill you without much thought in a permanent SHTF.

A word on self-defense. The last thing I want to do is kill someone in self-defense. But if necessary, I will, and I won't think twice about it. The shotgun was always close by during these times and only after 6 weeks did it get put away.  But the situation may come when you might have to dispatch someone (singular) silently. Industrial strength pepper spray, blowgun,'s a possibility. I like the idea of a crossbow.

By day 11 we were able to send a text to family.  Then cell service went down for quite some time. 

Day 16.  We attempted a grocery shopping trip to a major chain store. About 60-70 people were in line outside the store. Police were letting in just a few at a time to minimize shoplifting. Several police were also inside the store.  Shelves were fairly well stocked but the produce was old and stale. We passed on it, but were able to buy a few items.

We see a line of people waiting to enter a bank. The line had 150-200 people, waiting in the tropical sun. The smart ones have umbrellas. I feel smarter by holding cash at home.  Most things are still in a state of collapse. No stoplights work. Some police are working major intersections but after a few days they abandon the effort and intersections become free-for-alls, as no one treats them as a 4 way stop. Roadways are unclear, with only single lane passage in many areas.

There is, and has been, a night time curfew from 6:00 PM until 6:00 AM. But almost no one knows about it because there is no news available. And for some reason, it is not enforced.

Very few people drive the first week or two after dark. It's just too risky.

Our emergency radio still has no broadcast. It will be several weeks before its back.

I spoke with a couple of residents from the larger cities and they tell me of people stealing pickup trucks or larger delivery trucks and ramming them into pharmacies, stores and businesses to gain access to merchandise. And these are block and concrete buildings.

Without access to media outlets, it is impossible to get information on life in the cities. Without a doubt, crime is happening, and there is no police response. When phones don't work, you're on your own.

Luckily we live in the countryside far removed from such occurrences. People are a little more easygoing but I have no doubt that in a permanent SHTF situation things would be different.

It is too hard to resist for those few when they know there is no police, no laws, and no communications.

As for local government response and that of the utility companies, the word is pathetic. Power lines still lie across roads 2 months later. Trees and power poles, some made of concrete, hang over roads like guillotines or giant sledge hammers, some at near 45 degree angles. Landslides and trees still block roads.  Both state and local governments have completely failed the populace, as one would expect from inept, bankrupt and corrupt officials. There are reports of government theft of FEMA supplies (for resale at a later date).  Local mayors accused (probably correctly) of using crony friends to clear roads and billing FEMA triple the cost.

In another example of state and local government obviously despising the people they're supposed to serve, we have landslides on unlit mountain roads that only allow one lane of traffic to pass. If you go off the edge you will fall 500-700 feet, and after 4 months, there is not a single orange traffic cone, yellow caution tape...barrier, nothing.)

Day 57 (after hurricane)

National Guard troops brought 2 boxes of food as part of the relief effort. This was the first time we have seen them come to our house, although they have been at neighborhood centers passing out cases of bottled water and food previously. The food is of little nutritional value but it's something.  We accept it, not knowing what is inside the sealed boxes. We give most of it away. Some locals also give it to their churches.  At this point food donations are not that necessary as grocery stores are now fully stocked, for the most part, and debit cards, credit and EBT cards are working again.

About 100 days now since the storm.  Things are better but life will be changed for some time.

Still no electricity. Repairs are ongoing but at a snail's pace.  The roads are still in terrible condition everywhere. No one is expecting they'll be fixed anytime soon.  Many intersections still have no working stoplights. Landslides that reduced many roads to a single lane are untouched as are many of the island's bridges that were washed away.

There are large green commercial generators on utility trailers that are being used to pump water for entire neighborhoods. If one breaks down, the water stops.

We continue working to clear our land and replant trees and small crops but also to enjoy some time to ourselves. Hiking, beach going and recreation have returned to our lives. It feels good to be able to relax a little.

We had a total collapse of services, utilities, water, police, communications, fuel, you name it-it wasn't there.  We have had power back for 3 weeks now, but with a generator and a solar array we were never without it.) Total time to restore it was 4&1/2 mos. Municipal water was off for 3 week's. TV was available the entire time)

Some items that worked well (and not so well) for us: A small flashlight called the J5 Tactical.

Adjustable beam, tough casing (I dropped one 3 times on a ceramic tile over concrete floor with no problem).  It produces a lot of light from just one 2A battery. I bought one, tried it, and then bought 2 more. About $15 each. Worth it.  

The Rayovac Indestructible. Strong light, at about $10. Uses 2- 2A batteries. Reviews are knocking the tail cap switch. Mine is acting up but still works. Will try to find switches online as I like its power. Would not recommend this light although it may be worth it to some people because of its low price.

A cheaper flashlight, a no name item somewhat bigger than a pack of cigarettes. Uses 3- 3A batteries and has 4 led lights on one end and a series of 24 led lights on one side. Alternately pushing the "on" button switches it back and forth. About $5. Works well.  A brand called The Pad is now in retail stores but have not tried it. Similar style and shape.

Energizer batteries have to be among the very worst you can use. Duracell is all I will use from now on. 

The Honda 3000EUis generator. Quiet and efficient.  It only needs half a quart of oil per change. The Eco-throttle feature is fantastic. On demand fuel usage per electrical load.  Small solar array. We are doing well with just 500 watts of panels and a 3000 watt pure sine wave inverter. Keeps a full sized refrigerator running all day.  Need to add to this setup.

We use the generator at night, put a large tub of ice in the fridge overnight and the generator is turned off until morning. Once the sun is high enough, it's back on solar.

Stihl MS250 18" chainsaw. 

Once I learned the starting routine, it's a gem. Just 2 or 3 pulls at full choke, then move to half choke and it starts right up.  There is no primer bulb which is a good thing as they wear out soon enough.  The first "full choke" setting is equivalent to the primer bulb. Leaving it there too long will result in fuel lock and it's impossible to start. Thanks to some you tube contributor for that info.

Medical related.. In a recent news article a physician recently stated "the era of antibiotics is over." Germs have adapted to antibiotics and the return to sulfa drugs is imminent.  Two sulfur based ointments are listed here. Made for veterinary work to stop infections and kill parasites.  Either should work well in preventing staph infections.  They are safe to use on humans and one brand is Durvet Nu Stock and another is Happy Jack.  The main ingredients are mineral oil and sulfur. I think Happy Jack is the better of the two. Durvet is much thicker and if you choose it, buy direct from mfr. if possible.

A final note on exhaustion. You will find it's an unstoppable occurrence that you'll be dealing with constantly. Sometimes a brief rest will help, but not always. Pacing yourself is sometimes hard to do as you'll find there are so many things that must be done.

*Header photo courtesy of Army National Guard photo by Lt. Zachary West*