Hurricane Sandy Review

I believe it is important not to overreact to reported disasters.

I remember back in the 80’s seeing reports of the flooding of downtown Salt Lake City.  Every reporter was standing in front of a wall of sandbags and every shot seemed to be of the brown water hurtling down the street. 

And then I went there in person. 

The city was humming along, no sign of disaster was apparent.  Only when I went to State Street did I see any evidence of the flooding.  I remember thinking at the time “Gee, it was a lot scarier driving on the highway with the water lapping at the road!”

That was the first time I realized that reporters stage everything to look absolutely as bad as possible.  I’ll never forget the famous blooper of a reporter sitting in a boat, wearing a PFD, in a flooded street, only to have her live shot ruined by a guy strolling by her in streetclothes in the ankle deep water. 

So, realizing that the news is about as realistic as reality TV, you have to take their reports as “hot spot” events, often staged and propagantastic.  (Yeah, I just made that word up, I’ll work on the copyright)

Hurricane Sandy was huge, affecting 24 states and thousands of miles of coastal property.   If you were to take a heli tour (kind of like Christie and Obama did) along the coast, you’d be flabbergasted by the extent of damage. 

But go inland a few miles, and the damage was minimal.  Sure, there was a crane that toppled over and lots of broken windows and detritus in the streets of Manhattan, but overall the structual damage inland was light.  But since that ribbon of coastal land was so hard hit and because coastal property is so expensive, the price tag for the storm came in at a whopping 65 billion dollars. 

Again, though, keep in mind that the actual damage was limited to mostly coastal areas.  Many people with beach homes lost them, but go inland a few hundred meters, and the damage dropped off considerably. 

Hurricane Sandy was immense, but because of that immensity, the energy of the storm was dissipated.  The highest wind speeds at landfall were 90 mph, not even a Cat 2 storm.  But because of its size, the sheer breadth of the damage was breathtaking. 

Although there were over 100 deaths, the main problem of Sandy was power outage.  Without power, many eastern municipalities could not pump water.  So, after the power went out for millions, the water often stopped as well.  Although aid agencies were able to deliver water, one meal a day was what most residents of Rockaway got. 

Without power, heating was impossible because the furnaces would not blow.  People bundled up for their lives and learned the misery of being in the dark. The misery lasted well over a week for over 2.5 million people, and up past 2 weeks for hundreds of thousands. 

A visit by Obama gave the residents hope, but their hope quickly turned to cynicism as they realized that he was just giving them lip service and was there for the photo op. 

The real work had to be done by the power crews, who were fatigued from working overtime.  Tens of thousands of out of state power crews poured into the Atlantic coast.  However, the result was still weeks without power for millions. 

Keeping in touch: People charge cell phones at a police generator in Rockaways

Residents found that their cell phones’ batteries were woefully inadequate for the situation.

The draconian anti-gun laws of New York left its residents defenseless as looters posing as power crews went door to door, casing out what they had.  They would come back at night and take what they wanted.  In desperation, residents of Rockaway armed themselves with little more than bats and rocks.  Residents complained that although New York City and New Jersey had given to victims of Hurricane Katrina, no help seemed to be coming their way.

But simply looking at a map could have answered their complaints.  The whole of Staten Island is one big bottle neck, as are many areas of New Jersey.  Once roads are clogged with other vehicles and stuff, nothing is coming in or going out. 

 

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There are only 4 ways onto or off of the island.  Not good. 

Rockaway residents complained that they were being passed over while more affluent neighborhoods already had their power back on.  Well, yeah.  What a surprise that those with money and influence get helped first. 

Those fortunate enough to have generators often had them stolen.  Evacuated homes were looted almost completely to the floorboards.  If you owned a business and it was hit, FEMA’s only help was to try to get the owner a small business loan. 

Fuel was the first thing to run out, even before water.  Lines for gas stations were hours long and people almost rioted.  One resident said the last place you wanted to be was at a gas station. 

The world runs on fuel and water.  When either is absent, the world stops.  For those in Sandy’s path, the world stopped until both of those were available again. 

For those fortunate enough to have generators, many ran them all day long and ate up their fuel stores quickly.  Then they either resorted to siphoning gas out of abandoned vehicles or waiting in a tension-filled line at the gas station. 

In Hurricane Katrina, only about 60% of standby generators worked at all, and many businesses in the path of Sandy found out the same thing.  Also, many generators quit working after their plugs were fouled.  Residents found that their generators didn’t work very well when they ran out of oil. 

So, my recommendations to prepare for disaster:

Don’t live on the coast. 

Don’t live on an island.

Don’t live in the bad part of town. 

Don’t live in a blue state. 

Have a generator and enough fuel for 2 weeks, that’s right, 2 weeks!  Don’t run your genset more than four hours per day.  2 in the morning (for showering and lights for breakfast) and 2 at night are enough to keep the fridge and freezer cold.  For a 7kW genset, one hour under load is about one gallon of gas.  Four gallons of gas per day…times fourteen days.  You need at the minimum 56 gallons of gas stored.  Use fuel stabilizer. Rotate your fuel yearly. Have extra spark plugs and oil on hand for the genset.  If you can afford it, get a small 2kW genset to stretch out your fuel and provide easily portable power (think helping neighbors). 

Just how important are generators?  Well, after a massive windstorm in my area, many people had to leave after a few days because it was just too cold in their house.  They had a year supply of food, water coming from the taps and natural gas, but they didn’t have any power to run their furnace. All the food in the world couldn’t help them remain there, so they had to stay with some relatives who had power.  While I was helping in the cleanup, I only heard one generator humming.  And this was in a fairly affluent LDS community!  Pathetic.

Communication is critical.  Have a handcrank radio, HAM handsets, police scanner (need to get one of those!) and perhaps a good ole GMRS handset.  FRS is almost useless. Have an extra battery for your cell phone and a USB solar charger for it and any other phones/laptops/pads.  Most handcrank radios have a USB port, but cranking that sucker for long gets tiring.  They make portable rechargeable USB batteries that charge stuff. 

Have propane stores.  You won’t be able to get propane for love or money.  Have ways to heat your home safely if the natural gas gets interrupted.  I own a propane heater that has an automatic shutoff if the 02 level drops.  Although natural gas supplies are extremely durable (underground) idiot bureaucrats may decide to cut the supply for “safety”, thus freezing you out.  Kerosene convection heaters are awesome!  Crack a window for safety but I’ve used them for long periods with 1-K fuel. 

Tools to have on hand:  Flat nosed shovel, sump pump (another reason to have a generator), crowbar, 2 x 4’s, tons of 6 mil plastic sheeting, nails, hammer, limb loppers, chainsaw (with ability to sharpen!) caution tape, flagging tape, Long stemmed lighters, sledgehammers, wedges, knee pads, work gloves, respirators, hard hat, goggles, bandanas, leaf rakes, leaf blowers, shop vac (the biggest you can buy) and lots and lots of 5 gallon buckets. 

Have flood and earthquake insurance.  Increase the sewer backup insurance coverage if you have a finished basement. 

If you own a business, buy business continuance insurance.

Have all your files backed up and stored in a safe deposit box.  Ditto all your important papers. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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