Tuesday, January 10, 2012

# 171- Generator Madness

One piece of equipment that we've learned to keep at all times is a generator. This is because our city house is located in the Bay Area of Greater Houston, and in 2008, our house was destroyed by Hurricane Ike.

This kind of thing will toughen you up a bit, in several ways.

Our house had to be completely gutted.

My Stefie's room. She'd not have her own room for her entire
senior year of high school. Living in an RV in our driveway would be it.
We were without electricity for an extended period of time. Our roads were impassable. All stores were shut down. Our area was like a ghost town for a long while.

There was no gasoline to be sold, besides, without electricity the pumps do not work. No one was allowed in or out of our neighborhood for days, there were actual police barricades erected at every single entrance and exit to our neighborhood.

Deputy Dave, myself and Stefie (18) had chosen to not participate in the deadly escape from Houston; about a dozen people died on the roads while trying to flee the hurricane --- everyone was in a panic about the recent Hurricane Katrina disaster in Louisiana three months prior. Personally, I had already been through a hurricane evacuation gone terribly wrong and didn't want to do it again, so we decided to hold down the fort during Ike.

Playing around hours before the
hurricane hits. Yes, we're nuts.
A little crazy? Maybe. Regardless, I'm glad we stayed. Absolutely. I would have had a ruined house no matter if I had stayed or left town. At least I was able to be home and be moving things during the house falling apart so that I could try to save what I could.

Stefie and I decided to stay for another reason, since we have a First Responder living in this house who is legally unable to leave town during an emergency, we decided to ride it out together. Deputy Dave was allowed to come home during the heart of the hurricane; sorry folks, even the police don't do rescue jobs in the midst of a hurricane...this is the purpose of mandatory evacuations, so the police and EMS won't have to worry about rescuing people.

Anyway, we three were here at the house, hiding out in the master bathroom when the roof flew off and a tornado hit the house. And no, there's no one to call. But, we were ready to take responsibility for our choice to stay behind and ride out the storm. We'd also taken several safety precautions to protect ourselves as best we could and it worked.

Yes, we "hunkered down" as they like to call it in the South during a hurricane. But, as the hurricane wound up its energy, it snapped off our electricity. Before the storm even hit fully, we were already without power. It was an ominous sign that the hurricane was already whirling its devastation our way.

But, after the main storm passed through and after the house had been hit hard, we were stuck with a soggy house in the Texas heat, with no relief from the hot, muggy air, and no way to charge our cell phones and all "pipe" water was contaminated. We did fill every single container and pot with water in preparation to the storm, so we had ample water. And even though everything around us was destroyed, it was still added agony to know that all of your food in the fridge and freezer would be spoiling.

At least we were here in the house so we could throw all of the contents of the refrigerator into the trash outside before it began to rot and stink while inside the house. Most of our neighbors were coming home days after the storm to find their hot, damp house to be a nauseating experience and their refrigerator to be leaking disgusting contents.

We felt as if we'd escaped a few horrors of the aftermath because we did ride out the worst of the storm. There's always a trade-off, always.

This is the traffic in Houston as the freeways are made all one-way
for everyone to exit Houston. "Contra-Flow" I think is the word for it.
But, the problem is, grid-lock. And, no gas.
Average time on roads in Houston attempting to flee...10 hours.
You can't save the contents of your fridge when there isn't a store open to sell ice. I once received stellar advice, "Cook all of the food."
Okay, we can cook everything, but you STILL need refrigeration to store cooked food...same situation, cooked or raw, the food spoils quickly in the Texas heat. The things that we could not buy were gas, ice, water, or food. And take it from someone who has lived through a a few natural disasters, those four things are mighty valuable.

Thankfully, within 3-4 days of the hurricane, we had deliveries of military MRE's and bottled water for our area; the deliveries sustained us for a couple of weeks.

After this storm, we decided that we'd never go without a generator again. If a hurricane heads our way, we're stocking up on gas.

We'd once owned a nice generator, but Deputy Dave loaned it to one of his brothers, who will remain nameless, so that he could use it during a fishing trip. "Dilbert" left our new generator at the edge of his garage, at night, with the garage door open. Brilliant. Yes, it was stolen. But, the best part was...he replaced the generator, for himself. It's become a funny story, but it put a crimp in Deputy Dave wanting to loan out his things and it put a HUGE crimp in us suddenly lacking our own generator.

Regardless, we've learned the HARD way that generators can provide much needed relief in an emergency. And during Hurricane Ike, you could not find a generator within hundreds of miles of us. Some shady people were out selling $400. used generators for over $2,000. It was crazy. People were desperate. But, if you think about it, with a generator, we could keep our refrigerator going, have a light (even after the batteries run out), we could even have a blessed room of cool air with a window unit, we can keep our cell phones charged and plug in the radio.

However, in areas hit hard by the hurricane, it is very difficult to keep a generator going when you are in the middle of a neighborhood that is suffering. There's a dark side to owning a generator during a natural disaster in the city. Everyone around you HEARS your generator and suddenly everyone wants to plug into it. Too many people. Frazzled people who have already lost just about everything in their household can take one of two roads for their behavior, they can become angry and lash out or they can radiate the peace of God...the ugly ones have usually snapped.

It can become a bad situation for the person trying to run their generator. Suddenly, strange people show up and declare that their household emergency is more dire than yours, so they need your generator. Yes, this actually became a regular news topic. Generator Madness. People with generators were not to be envied in the hurricane aftermath, they were to be prayed for.

In the Houston area, we saw several news stories in the weeks to follow the storm that showed people sitting together in a driveway, each holding a shotgun to protect the generator. They let their neighbors closest to them plug in for alternating time-periods, then they combined their efforts to protect the energy they were getting from the shared generator while scrounging for the gas to run it.

If you don't think this stuff happens, then you might never want to be around a metropolitan area during a natural disaster.
Scary stuff.
If another storm approaches, the one thing that we will stock ourselves with is gasoline. We've learned that gas is gold during widespread devastation.

Evacuation Zones are marked. This is an ungodly amount of people
to evacuate in a short period of time. What you must realize is...the actual location of
landfall for a hurricane is not really known until 24-48 hours prior to landfall
because a hurricane can take a sharp turn. Living on the coastline, you learn to not
run off at the sight of every storm because most will completely avoid you.
So, the evacuation madness cannot really be avoided...after everyone sees
that it is probably headed our way, without likelihood of turning, people flee.
Hundreds of thousands of people flee. The roads cannot accommodate everyone.

Also, the people who had a generator, water and an ice-machine were making money. They told everyone to bring their own bag and they'd fill it up with ice. Pretty ingenious, especially in the South.
On the flip side, once we're out of the city, our generator is useful on the acreage because we can't run electricity to all corners of the our land because of the rough terrain, creeks, and bluffs...not forgetting that the high cost of installing a line of utility poles to all areas is cost prohibitive. With a generator loaded on the utility trailer, we can use the lawn tractor to pull it to the location we need to address and let that big boy hum with its power-generating business.

On our land, the generator is invaluable. Soon, we will be hooking some electricity back up to a couple of areas on our land.

There's no doubt that we're looking forward to selling our house and moving away from the bay area of Houston before the next hurricane season comes rolling around. Since most of our family lives in this coastal area, our place in the country will likely serve as the "safe-house" during future storms. But, we will be incredibly thankful to not have to flee any other hurricanes or to be in a city full of crazy people trying to flee a storm.

And in the country, our generator could run nonstop and no one would give a darn.


LindaG said...

We got a bigger generator this year after Hurricane Irene. We took the other generator down to the farm and put it in the pump house. If we're ever without electricity, hubby can wire the generator to run the pump so we have water.

Have a great day!

Tombstone Livestock said...

Hope your house sells quickly, and that potential buyers aren't reading your blog. I saw on "Two Men and a Little Farm" posted pictures of the freeway during your recent storm and comments about the thunder and lightning. Glad you made it through Hurricane Ike as well as you did, and get moved before next "Hurricane Season" arrives.

Vickie said...

Yep you're right, Lana! We have a smallish one, but we are going to get a big one - enough to run the appliances should we lose power. We don't get hurricanes, but we do lose power for various reasons, so it's always good to have a backup plan ready!

Anonymous said...

Linda --- I remember how you had one thing happen after another during Hurricane Irene...from the land to the house. Isn't it always like that? I'm so glad you have a generator out there so that the pump will always have a backup.

Tombstone Livestock --- Well, we won't be able to hide the Great Danes, so that will have to be a non-bothersome issue to visitors because they WILL be barking at anyone going into our backyard. We're trying to get the neighbors to repair their side of the fence due to their dogs jumping and breaking the fence posts. That would be nice. As for the refineries, since I've lived in this area for most of my life, I can confidently say that residents are proud of this industry and don't mind it surrounding them. My dad always says on a stinky day, "Smell that? It's the smell of money." Problem is...we're at the point to where we'd rather have less money and more peace. I'll have to check out the other blog. Those recent storms were terrible, but I do not want to go through another hurricane. The next owner to this house will benefit because everything has been redone and it is beautiful. I love my house, but am no longer in love with the city.

Vickie --- the first generator we had that was loaned to the brother and not replaced was a smaller generator, 3500 watts, but we sure did use it frequently. The new one Deputy Dave bought a year ago is 6500 watt generator and it can handle a lot...on our camping trips, we bring a couple of power strips and use every plug. I guess we're quasi-campers. :-) We decided that this most recent generator should have the capacity to run a window unit, if needed. A good generator is a definite member of the family! Since you live in the country, it is probably a great investment for you guys too.


Texan said...

We do not live where hurricanes hit but we have a generator. Its a gas powered one. When you live rural its a pretty regular event that your power goes out. At least where we live. We would like to get a propane generator that you install and when your power goes out it knows and it turns itself on. In hind sight knowing what we do now, we would have budgeted this into the building of our home, should we build a home again we will without a doubt budget this into the home.

The other night no storm, no reason our power went out. I was by myself. I can tell you in the country no power dark is dark as in you can't see your hand in front of your face dark. I immediately found my flash lights. Battery lanterns and my pistol. I then sat with the above after I called the outage number and keyed in our meter number. Once I called a neighbor and knew yep their power was out as well I felt a bit better and was able to calm myself.

When you build your new house, check into those propane generators that will run pretty much everything and do so on their own. They know right away when the power is out and they know when the power comes back on and will shut off. When you figure what they cost for what they do and what the cost of building a new home is. They are a bargain in my book.

We were without power for three days and nights two years ago when we got all that unreal snow. We got a gas generator after that. But we plan on getting a propane whole whole house one.

Dreaming said...

What a terrible experience! We lived in coastal SC and over 34 years only had one direct hit. Luckily it was only a category 1 when it landed (Hurricane David, 1979) But, we had our share of near misses, terrible evacuations and concerns about power. We did purchase a generator and we did use it on our property in NC. It still lives in our garage and has been used when we've had extensive power outages.
I hope you never have to experience another storm. Is your acreage in an area that would be impacted by a major hurricane?

Anonymous said...

Texan --- we've been looking into those generators as well. We had thought about adding one to this house, it would have cost about $10,000. so we didn't want to do it. But, we are sold on those being a dream generator for an emergency. And I feel for you when the electricity goes out. I guess rural areas have more problems with trees and such. Our land is so secluded that at night time it is pitch dark, except for any starlight or moonlight. We've also been buying solar powered lights and we also use those when camping out on our land. Later, we'll strategically place them around the cabin so they can charge during the day under the sun and provide varied light at night for several hours. For now, I am just trying to pack boxes every day and clean everything else. I'm finally making a dent.

Dreaming --- It's weird how you can have smooth sailing, until one day it hits. We're off the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico where those hurricanes thrive on churning our direction. Unfortunately, it seems that Louisiana is getting a lot of those hits, but the Texas coast line is wide open for destruction at any time during Hurricane Season. And our land is several hours from the gulf; however, hurricane winds can travel so far as to even carry into the next state, so we are always susceptible to hurricane winds and spin-off tornadoes. In fact, our land was impacted by a hurricane that had a direct path through Livingston and it did take out trees through the entire area and that included a century old white oak tree on our property that I actually cried to see on the ground. But, for the most part, we'll be fine on our land. Much better than living in our coastal community now.


Homeschool on the Croft said...

Wow! What an experience. So glad you're okay... and I do hope you get to move to the country soon.
We live on the Isle of Lewis, off the north-west coast of Scotland. We regularly get winds of 80-90mph, and have had winds in the past couple of years up to 125 mph. Almost nothing gets damaged, even in these winds, but here, I guess, the wind is *such* a feature of life, everything is made to withstand it. As I speak, the winds are 70mph outside, and it's not even a talking point!

I'm sooo looking forward to following you to the country :)
Anne x

Rae said...

People are INSANE! I can't imagine having to guard the generator. Yikes!

We just finally bought a generator. We don't really mind being in the dark for a couple days at a time, as we have a woodstove and rain barrels and thus can heat water and cook. Now that we have two freezers and several hundred pounds of meat, though... Yeah. Had to spring for that generator! :)