Hurricane Ike Journal
September 12 – October 15, 2008
Hurricane Ike is my
first hurricane as an adult. I’ve been through many tropical storms over the
years including Tropical Storm Allison, one of the most costly storms in US
history. I have been through several typhoons, the Eastern hemisphere equivalent
of hurricanes, but as a teenager. None of them had the same effect on me as
Hurricane Ike. I knew I would get through Ike but I didn’t know what I would
have to go through to get through it and I was a little hesitant to find out.
What was the worst part of Hurricane Ike? The wind. It was nerve wrenching and extremely stressful to experience Category 2 hurricane winds (95 to 110 mph). The low level winds would whip the rain and leaves and sticks and branches and limbs and fling them at the roof and walls and windows of the house in short bursts of fury. I would hear the wind build up for its next assault before the last one even finished. Far in the background was the deep and constant roar of the upper level winds high above us. I didn’t know if the roof and walls and windows would hold. I didn’t know if the trees in the yard were going to fall on the house or, if they did, from which direction. My stomach was churning while the worst of the winds assaulted us and they seemed as if they would never stop or move on. We were still getting tropical storm force winds (39 to 73 mph) more than 12 hours after the storm started. Having experienced a category 2 storm I would not want to experience a 3 and certainly not a 4 or 5. Even a Category 2 storm plastered torn leaves against windows and walls, thinned out trees considerably, blew the basketball standard backwards at an 85o angle and caused a very tall pine tree to lean so much that we will have to get it cut down before it falls and damages house and property.
The wind also seemed very indiscriminate in its destruction. A seemingly healthy tree would be uprooted or the top broken off while a dead one next to it would remain standing. Small trees and bushes would be blown over, their stabilizing wires snapped, while taller trees stood. Some streets in our neighborhood were turned into a maze of downed trees while others remained free and clear. We were all blessed, though, as most fallen trees seemed to miss the houses and buildings around them. Most landed in yards, in streets, on fences and, unfortunately, on power lines.
Preparations for Ike began several days before it made landfall. I ran errands and did a little shopping on Wednesday, September 10. All was normal. By the next morning, the grocery store shelves were quickly emptying and people were buying plywood for their windows. We already had food, water, cash, batteries, a blue roof tarp and 72-hour kits and our cars’ gas tanks were full or almost full. We are in a constant state of preparedness especially during hurricane season (June 1 to November 30). There are things that need to be done a day or 2 before landfall, though. We have a tree by our front walk that is starting to raise the sidewalk, again, and cause water to back up to the front door. Allan, my husband, felt strongly that he should dig a trench that would eventually be a French drain and dig it before the hurricane hit. He spent half of Thursday doing that while I made other preparations. I took down wind chimes and other outdoor decorations. I brought stored water into the house, took our 72-hour kits out of the closet, brought in the tool box, and brought in the coolers. On Friday, I made bread, did laundry, took care of important internet and computer work, and consolidated food in the freezer. I had already put gallon jugs of water in the chest freezer to freeze and help during a power outage when it looked like Hurricane Gustav might hit us two weeks earlier. I took food out of the refrigerator freezer and put it in the chest freezer. I took food out of the hanging baskets in the chest freezer and put it in the bottom so that all the frozen food was in one freezer and with as little air between the food items as possible. I made a concentrated effort Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday to use up leftovers and highly perishable foods then made the decision ahead of time on Friday which foods would go into the coolers when the power went out. While I took care of the food, Allan mowed the lawn. We consolidated yard items under a small covered back patio – wheelbarrow, extra garbage cans, gas grill – and then laid the wrought iron patio table on it’s side against and around the grill and took in all the chairs. We took the iron and wood gates that close across our driveway off the posts and secured them at the side of the house. We took doormats and garbage cans into the garage. I filled bathtubs with water in case the water was disrupted and turned the refrigerator to its coldest setting to prolong the coolness when the power went off. I also went to my storage unit and consolidated all the cases of books and other items into one pile and covered it with plastic in case the roof came off the storage unit.
Flashlights and lanterns were the first equipment we needed. The power went out at 10 PM on Friday, September 12, hours before Ike made landfall. Flashlights are good for individual use but lanterns are much better for groups around a table or for tasks that need a little more light such as cooking or washing dishes. Carefully monitored candles and olive oil lamps also provide a good amount of light and save batteries (but have lots of matches stored). Batteries also get used up faster than you expect, so be sure to have plenty. Take advantage of natural light when you can, even if it’s less light than you are accustomed to. Save batteries and fuel for the dark or windowless rooms and closets.
The next things we needed were the coolers. They were already in the kitchen waiting to be put to use and the “blue” ice was in the refrigerator freezer ready to be used. Knowing what I wanted in the coolers, I quickly moved ice and food into them and draped blankets over them for extra insulation.
With the power out, we only knew what time it was because we had battery operated clocks or had our watches on. It’s a good time to use a travel alarm clock.
We got up on Saturday, September 13, when there was light coming into the house. My nervous stomach was very glad I had Cheerios on hand and milk in the cooler. Cold cereal with milk, bread and fresh or dried fruit were the breakfast of choice each day the power was out. When the refrigerated milk ran out, we started using boxed milk.
For hurricane survival food I would recommend cold cereal, boxed milk, fruit (fresh, canned and dried), bread, peanut butter or cheese for sandwiches (cheese is not nearly as perishable as meat), cookies, individual pudding cups, and food to cook a hot meal for dinner. Potato chips were a nice treat, and for me, comfort food.
A battery operated radio kept us informed of what was going on, where flooding was occurring and the situation regarding electrical power restoration, gasoline, road conditions, airport conditions, and weather reports. Without it, we would have had no clue except from outside phone calls. It also provided soothing music when KUHF FM radio came back on the air.
At first, we used disposable plates, cups, bowls, and silverware. When we realized our water was safe and that we had hot water, thanks to gas water heaters, we went back to using regular dishes. It not only saved the paper and cut down on trash but gave me something to do. We still kept the bottled water close by, though. Drinking water was extremely important in the heat, especially during clean up and I wanted it readily available.
Even though I had tried to use up the perishable foods before Ike hit, some still remained when the power went out. Our portable butane stove was a great piece of equipment to have at that point. To begin with, the weather did not permit cooking outdoors easily (rain continued to come with a cold front). The stove allowed us to cook indoors with regular pots and pans and use up the rest of the highly perishable foods put in the cooler with the exception of the mayonnaise and salad dressing, which had to be thrown out after a day. We made omelets, quesadillas, scrambled eggs, and a skillet meal and heated soups on it. We used one canister of butane for 12 meals and still have a small amount left in the canister.
When the power went out, we put blankets over the chest freezer to help insulate it. Towards the end of the first 24 hours without power, our neighbor offered the use of his generator. We ran the refrigerator and freezer for an hour that evening (Day 1, Saturday, September 13) and for an hour and a half the next day (Day 2, Sunday, September 14). That is not long enough for a refrigerator or a freezer. The bottom of the freezer was still frozen or partially frozen but the top layer was thawing, partly because it was not full. The top food in the freezer was still colder than a refrigerator but not frozen. Those were our next meals. We ran the generator twice the next day (Day 3, Monday, September 15). Two times a day is much preferable. I think if we had run it twice a day from the beginning the food would have stayed frozen even though it was only a third full. The recommended generator time is 30-60 minutes every 4 hours for a refrigerator and 30-60 minutes twice a day for a freezer. I would recommend forming a generator co-op with 2 or 3 other neighbors if you don’t want to buy your own generator and each of you store some gasoline (that should be rotated). A 5500 watt generator can burn 2 gallons of gasoline per hour. You would also want to have some heavy duty outdoor extension cords to connect multiple appliances to the generator. Remember that generators need to be run every few months to keep them lubricated and running properly.
We were fortunate to never lose our phone lines. Our cell phones, on the other hand, had intermittent or non-existent service. Most people have only electricity dependent cordless phones so we lent out some of our corded phones to neighbors without.
When the power is out, there are no movies, television, computers or internet after the batteries die. Entertainment must be self made. Games, books, magazines, musical instruments, phone calls and visiting neighbors helped fill the time. There were also a lot more families doing things outside together especially after the cold front pushed through.
One of the biggest concerns we had when the power went out was the lack of air conditioning. We had already learned some techniques to keep our house cooler and bills down which proved very valuable in the situation. We kept blinds closed during the day and limited the amount of outside air into the house until the cold front moved in (Day 2). When it did, we kept windows open at night and closed them mid-morning when the day started to heat up. We also have bushes and trees around the house and a heat reflective coating on the plywood base of our roof as well as ridge vents and soffit vents. All combined kept us from suffering too much in the heat.
We spent Sunday morning (Day 2, September 14) cleaning up our yard and helping neighbors. After a cool shower, we readied ourselves for a small church meeting. All church meetings had been cancelled on Thursday before Ike hit. My sister-in-law, nephew and two young men we knew, joined us (my brother was stuck in London due to flight cancellations). We sang hymns, prayed and gave thanks for our safety and relative good fortunes in the storm and partook of the sacrament under the bishop’s (my husband) direction. It was good to take time for spiritual reflection the rest of the day.
There was so much debris all over our yard that the outside cleanup took two of us about 5 hours of pretty constant work. Some important supplies and tools were: LOTS of garbage bags (although we found out later that we could have piled everything into a big pile for pickup); twine for bundling branches; heavy work gloves; leaf rakes; a chain saw; a tree saw; loppers; a wheelbarrow; drinking water; and pain relievers!
I made a loaf of bread the day before Ike made landfall. When we started to run out of bread, rather than digging through the freezer for the bread in the bottom, Allan made more in the solar oven (Day 3). It was nice to have that option. We also heated up an individual size pizza for lunch on Day 4, Tuesday, September 16 in the oven. He could use the solar oven because he had already practiced using it and was confident in how to use it in our area. Learn to use your survival equipment before the need arises. At least familiarize yourself with it.
One nice aspect of being without power is the quiet. Without the buzz of the fluorescent lights, the hum of the refrigerator, the whirring of the air conditioner and the whish of the ceiling fans, the house gets very quiet, especially at night. Then the birds chirping and squawking, the squirrels barking and chattering and the geckos squeaking and peeping are much easier to hear.
Gasoline was in short supply due to the electrical outages. What gas stations were able to open when the power started coming back on were swamped with customers – more for their generators than for their cars. When we did venture out on essential trips to check the church building, my storage unit and neighbors, I was amazed at the teenagers foolishly joy riding and the cars lined up at drive through windows at fast food places. We also heard on the radio and from neighbors about people who would spend 2, 4, 6 hours driving around looking for gasoline, using up what they had and not finding any to replace it. If everyone were to stay home and eat the food they should have stored and keep their families in their neighborhoods, think of all the gasoline that could have been saved for generators, chainsaws, and essential travel to help others.
Day 4, Tuesday, September 16 – We are running low on gasoline for the generator. We had neighbors and friends over for Dutch oven chicken tonight. We used up the chicken and bacon, which were the majority of the meats in the freezer. We made baked beans in the solar oven, served solar oven bread, thawed freezer jam, and a canned fruit salad. Everyone enjoyed getting together, sharing storm experiences, and also talking about something other than the storm. Take time to be with others in a social setting.
Day 5, Wednesday, September 17 – We prepared to stop running the freezer on the generator. We had more friends and neighbors over for grilled pork and beef, solar oven bread, solar oven chocolate cake, Three Bean Salad and Cranberry Applesauce. Day 6 I will clean out the freezer.
Don’t live in a
“disaster” situation if you don’t need to. Put order into your life. Keep
clutter down. Sweep floors. Empty trash. Keep your environment as clean and
orderly as possible under the circumstances. Resume a normal schedule as much as
possible. Serve meals at normal times. Remember to keep up habits of family
prayer, scripture reading and family home evening. They will promote family
unity under difficult circumstances. Use dishes instead of paper plates if you
have water to wash them. Use a tablecloth or placemats on the table and use real
silverware. Take care of personal hygiene needs, especially if you have water.
Shower or take sponge baths. Appropriate makeup, hair ribbons, earrings, and
aftershave can also help you and those who are with you mentally cope with a
less than ideal situation. Keep as much as possible of that which is normal
in your habits and lifestyle then that which is missing will not affect you as
The first few days after the hurricane were manageable as we focused on clean-up and essential needs. When it became more than a few days and it became apparent that there was no immediate return to normalcy, the emotions of the situation started to catch up with me. The stress of an unpredictable situation, the destruction that little or nothing could have prevented, the stress of dealing with the refrigerator and freezer and the loss of the food in them all started to take their toll. Tears would just come and it was made worse by my father’s death just 4 weeks before. Be aware that it will come, keep the tissue close by and find positive ways to deal with it rather than taking it out on yourself and others.
Day 6, Thursday,
September 18 – I decided I needed to get back into my walking routine. On my
walk, I saw destruction to my neighborhood that made me grateful for the little
damage we suffered and made me sorrowful for my neighbors.
We got the clothesline down from the attic and I wiped it down in preparation to do laundry in the Wonder Washer.
I emptied the freezer, throwing away what had been there a long time, taking a few items to a neighbor who has power and putting what little was left in coolers to use over the next couple of days. I cleaned and wiped out the freezer, put in a bowl of baking soda to keep odors down and left the 7 gallons of frozen water in there to use in our coolers over the next few days since we still have many days to go before we get power again. Before I freeze jugs of water again, I will make sure I have several inches of headspace in the bottle. One or two inches is not enough. Several jugs had popped their lids and spilled water into the freezer before they were completely frozen.
Allan and a neighbor have been out checking powerlines in the neighborhood in preparation for a homeowner’s meeting at noon. They found many downed wires and trees on wires throughout the subdivision. We haven’t seen any repair crews yet and the newspaper says it will be after Monday (the 10th day) before we get power. Until we see tree cutting crews we have no immediate hope of electricity.
I cleaned out the refrigerator this afternoon. I kept foods preserved by vinegar and/or sugar but not all of them. I also kept foods that didn’t absolutely need refrigeration like yeast. The inside of the refrigerator got washed out and both the refrigerator and the refrigerator freezer have bowls of baking soda in them. I now have a bunch of clean empty canning jars from the refrigerator and clean empty plastic containers from the freezer and the opportunity for a new start on both. Washing the refrigerator shelves and drawers in the sink today made me grateful for a window over the sink that gave enough light to see what I was doing.
Tonight I went to the church while Allan had a meeting to see if I could get an internet connection (no) and to charge my cell phone.
Day 7, Friday,
September 19 – I did laundry today. A neighbor who has electricity offered to
let me do laundry at her house so I took two loads over. I had a small load that
needed to be done so I tried my Wonder Washer for the first time. It was
very fast and I know my clothes got clean because two items had spots on them
that came right out. I did use prewash spray and I used my regular homemade
powdered laundry detergent. The Zote soap did have trouble dissolving so it took
longer to rinse out the clothes until I found the clumps of soap in a t-shirt.
It probably would have taken less time to rinse if all the soap had dissolved. I
also used lukewarm water instead of hot which would have dissolved the soap
We ventured out beyond our immediate neighborhood this afternoon and went to Costco. I wouldn’t do that again unless I had to until all the power is back on. Major intersections without lights are dangerous and people get impatient waiting in line at 4-way stops. Gasoline is more available, though, and more stores are opening up.
We went to the church tonight where there is power and watched a movie on a widescreen laptop computer. Much better than sitting in the dark without air conditioning!
Saturday, September 20 - I got up at 6 AM to leave for New Mexico and a new
grandbaby born yesterday. It’s a lot easier to get ready for the day in a
roomful of natural light than in the dark by lantern light.
Center Point Energy has finally been able to survey our neighborhood for downed power lines and trees. We’ll still be lucky to have power in a week, though.
Not all butane stoves are created equal. Allan switched stoves today and our other one (Greatland) works much better than the one we’ve used all week (Pit Bull). It’s much easier to control the flame on this one and have it stay where you set it.
There are some unhappy Farmer’s Insurance customers. Their agent left a sign on his office door with his cell phone number on it. The only problem is, it was MY cell phone number and no one is answering his office phone.
Sunday, September 21 – This is the first times in nine days I had light to put
on more makeup than just foundation and was able to blow dry and curl my hair.
It’s great! I had to leave town to do it, though.
Not all of the meetinghouses in our stake have power so we are sharing buildings and meetings today. The Fallbrook Branch (deaf) will meet with our ward and we will have only Sacrament Meeting.
There are tree removal crews in the neighborhood today. Yay!
Monday, September 22 – I had stressful dreams last night including having the
power come back on but when it did, having the house and roof start leaking!
Allan started back to work today. He took a box of cereal and a quart of boxed milk with him to have for breakfast the rest of the week. He will eat lunch out or in the cafeteria each day and either eat something easy at home or pick something up on the way home.
Allan consolidated two coolers into one tonight.
We’ve had an unexpected side effect of Ike. Shortly after Ike left we saw three squirrels on the top ridge of our roof. They were surveying the damage and looking a little lost. At least one had resided in our yard but now all the squirrel nests were gone. They had been blown away in the storm. A few days later we started hearing noises in the walls and in the kitchen and study ceilings. We didn’t know if it was rats or squirrels. We didn’t hear the noises every day and weren’t sure what was going on. Well, tonight there was lots of noise in the main attic. Allan got a flashlight, pulled down the attic door and there was a squirrel looking down at him with his beady little eyes! Allan went up into the attic and found a second squirrel and both squirrels appeared to resent the invasion of their home, my home, in which they had set up residence! Time for the squirrel trap! Allan is threatening capital punishment!
Tuesday, September 23 – I keep hearing and reading about other areas of the
country that have fuel shortages because of Ike, not just Texas and Louisiana.
It reemphasizes to me the need for food storage and provident living no
matter where you live. If we have supplies on hand and are self-reliant in
many ways, we will suffer little or not at all when we have to limit even local
travel due to gasoline shortages.
Allan gave up on the coolers and took what was left up to the office to put in the refrigerator there. He’ll take home what he needs each day.
It has become much warmer and doesn’t cool down as much at night. Allan is finding it harder to sleep in the heat. The neighbor across the street has moved his generator to the back of his house to run fans at night. It’s good Allan can spend the days at work and evenings at the church where there is air conditioning.
Wednesday, September 24 – Power is on all around our house. We will be the last,
as usual. It’s very depressing for Allan to be in an island of darkness. He did
get a hot meal in air conditioning at my brother’s house, though.
School finally started back up today.
Thursday, September 25 – The mosquitoes are getting really bad now. We’re hoping
the subdivision gets sprayed this weekend. It makes it hard to leave windows
open if there are any holes in the screens.
Now that most of our part of Houston is getting back to normal, work crews are being organized to go to the coastal areas to muck out flooded homes and clear trees. Our ward will send two crews of 10 to 12 men each to Galveston this weekend. There will be another crew going to Livingston to help a ward member with his rental property there and they will help the neighbor while they are there, too.
Friday, September 26 – Allan went to my brother’s this afternoon to do laundry.
There was a Pot Luck dinner at the church tonight. Those with power brought main dishes. Those without power brought what they could to go with it. It went very well and was enjoyed very much.
Saturday, September 27 – Allan decided to run an extension cord from the
neighbor’s house to ours and plug in the refrigerator and a fan or lamp in the
kitchen. He may even run a line into the bedroom to plug in a fan at night.
Trees are still on the power lines at the end of our street. That may be why we don’t have power yet.
Day 16, Sunday, September 28 – We are now powered and squirrel free. We got power mid-morning and both squirrels were captured and freed in the local park. Allan’s comment: “Whoa! Has that light always been that bright?”
What helped us survive without power for 15-1/2 days:
1. Potable running water and sewer - our
situation would have been much harder to cope with without water, but we were
prepared with stored water, a water purifier and a portable toilet.
2. Alternate light sources – fluorescent lanterns, flashlights, candles, olive oil lamps, natural light
3. Alternate cooking sources – butane stove, charcoal grill, gas grill, Dutch oven, solar oven
4. Gas water heater
5. Corded land line telephone – our cell phones didn’t work for about a week.
6. A cold front – it made sleeping bearable and even comfortable for the first week.
7. A generous neighbor with a generator – it meant not having to clean out the refrigerator and freezer for several days.
8. Frozen bottles of water in the freezer.
9. Non-electric kitchen tools, especially a can opener.
10. Shelf stable milk, shelf stable food (especially fruit), saved condiment packets from fast food.
11. Insulated coolers for the small amount of food we kept.
12. Neighbors with power who were willing to share washers, dryers, the internet, and a place to plug in an extension cord.
13. A Wonder Washer and a clothesline.
14. Not letting it stop us from living as much of a normal life as possible.
15. For Allan, going back to work where there was air conditioning, lights, a computer, and a refrigerator.
16. Being able to go to the church building where there was power.
17. Not isolating ourselves.
18. Books, games, and socializing with friends and neighbors.
19. A battery operated radio but not listening too often. It became an irritation to listen to people complain about things they could have prepared for and things they couldn’t do anything about.
20. Battery operated clocks – you loose your sense of time when routine is disrupted.
Monday, September 29 – The power is still not reliable. It went out briefly this morning and again this afternoon.
Tuesday, September 30 – The Houston Texas
Temple reopened today after being closed for 2-1/2 weeks. It has been closed
since noon on September 11.
My emotions got the best of me driving back into Houston this afternoon. There is still a lot of unrepaired or uncleared storm damage 2-1/2 weeks after the storm.
Now that I’m back and the power is on, I can clean up and put away all the equipment and other things that helped us get through the storm.
Wednesday, October 1 – They started
removing storm debris from our street today.
I washed blankets that had been used to insulate the coolers and freezer and got some things put away that were out because of Ike.
Allan has been more conservative with his usage of electricity since the power came back on. He doesn’t take it for granted like he did before being without for over two weeks.
Friday, October 3 – I thawed and dehydrated the chopped green peppers I salvaged from the freezer. They were unusable in a solid block.
Saturday, October 4
– I finally finished
putting away all our preparedness equipment and jugs of water.
When I go out, I keep seeing hurricane damage I missed before – missing, broken and toppled signs, holes in roofs or awnings, broken or missing walls.
I thawed and dehydrated some of the roasted Hatch chilies I salvaged from the freezer. They, also, were unusable in a solid block.
Another work crew was sent out from the ward. This time to Anahuac.
Monday, October 6 – We have had problems with our internet connection ever since we got power back. A cable repairman came this morning and made a temporary fix. The problem is actually with the cable provider, though. Another victim of Ike.
Thursday, October 9 – Four weeks after the storm and all the broken limbs and branches that are still attached and in the trees are now obvious and brown. The trees look diseased, there are so many patches of brown.
Friday, October 10 – All the storm debris
has been picked up in our neighborhood. It’s nice to have it gone.
We lost internet completely yesterday. I was told “24 to 48 hours” from today but we’ll see.
Wednesday, October 15 – We finally have internet but the line is only temporary. That's what happens when they think there is only one problem and there are actually two.
You have to be prepared for anything in a storm like Ike. We had water, sewer, gas and phone but no electricity. Some homes are all electric so they had no hot water. Some had water but were under a “boil order.” Some had water but couldn’t use their sewers. Some had no water. Some had no water or sewer. Some had no telephone or cell phone. Some had cell phones but no land line. Some had a land line but no cell coverage. You have to be prepared to be without any service and for an extended period of time and be grateful for what you do have. You never expect to be without power for over two weeks but it is a possibility.
What would I do differently? I don’t think there is anything I would do differently than I/we did. Everything actually went pretty well, all things considered.
What equipment or supplies would I add? A MaxCold cooler, extra disposable bowls, more C batteries, and possibly a headlamp. More equipment required C batteries than we realized.
My conclusion: We can lessen the trauma of any emergency if we have taken the time to prepare for its eventuality. And, our Heavenly Father blesses us with tender mercies and small miracles even during a disaster. (And that is another story.)