Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Foraging and Other Opportunites

Ice Storm 2009 Cont'd
After we found our way to our home the first order of business was to get the generator going and some hot coffee to sip on while we discussed the first tasks to be performed. We found a radio and got it going so we could hear about the outside world. It became apparent that we would be without power for some time so we began to work with the idea that we needed to regain our comfort level and get some normalcy back into our life.

The first thing was to reconnoiter our drive to see what chance we had in gaining access. It turned out that our neighbors at the beginning of our driveway had bolt cutters and cut the downed power lines removing them from blocking the driveway. Jointly we began removing limbs, cutting downed tree trunks and cleared the driveway so it became passable. Within an hour we could drive up to the house.

The next thing was to get heat. The little propane heater in the bathroom would not heat the house. I had purchased a high efficiency propane heater that put out about 24,000 BTU's several years ago. We had taken out our wood burning stove and I wanted something for back up. It was not installed, but I had it sitting in a corner of the living room. So off to Lowe's to get fittings and get heat in the house. As usual when you are unaccustomed to hooking up a stove you purchase the wrong things, to many fittings, not the right size and all kinds of stuff. Lowe's was open I believe the had a generator system. I struggled with the hook up, late in the day I found out that my neighbor had worked for a propane company for ten years in his early days. He came over and within 20 minutes had the stove hooked up and we had fire. Fire, Wilson, look what I have created!

That was about all that got accomplished the first day of recovery. Terry provided support, kept the coffee hot and made food to eat. Nothing was open, we had food for a few days. I was not worried about provisions at this point. We were not isolated, we had freezers full of food, and heat and water. What else does a person need.

It was interesting to watch the behavior of people. There were no D batteries to be found anywhere. Lanterns were gone off the shelves, candles were gone, people were not well prepared and were scavenging what they could. I found it interesting that men were buying up mixing oil for chain saws and bar oil for the chains. I had no interest in that stuff. The time will come when I will need those items but not for some time. Right now heat and comfort were the most important items.

People stopped, talked about the event. Everyone was discussing what they had heard, what damage had been done, where you could find lamp oil, or batteries, or generators. Lowe's did a booming business in generators. They sent truck loads in, were having residents call in order and generator, get a number and show up at the store at an appointed time to pick up their generator when it arrived. Those things are not cheap yet people were lined up. Some enterprising people brought in truck loads of generators selling them off the back of the truck in Lowe's parking lot. Lowe's asked them to move so they went to Rotary Park, the local softball diamond complex. They sold out and were in town for several days replenishing and selling. Must've made a mint.

In the meantime, my concern now drew to getting propane. I had 20 lb bottles we used for our gas grill and it appeared we got about 12 hours off a bottle. I had three bottles and finding a propane station open was tough. I did find one Friday night and had a bottle with me for refill so we got into Saturday. What I really wanted to do was tap into a propane line from my big tank outside. I have a 250 gallon tank that supplies my hot water heater and the small propane heater in the bathroom. Now if I could run a line and tap into that gs line I would not have to forage for LP.

Saturday morning I filled two 20 lb tanks and felt I could make Monday. However, once again my next door neighbor Eddie came through. He came and looked, told me what I needed, a length of copper tubing, some flare fitting and he would help with the rest. I found a gas shutoff valve behind the dryer, apparantly for a gas dryer hook up, we had electric. So we could tap into the line there. I had a long drill, drilled a hole through the log wall and fed the line through the hole. Eddie had flaring tools and came and did that part. I made the hook ups and within a half and hour on Saturday we had the gas heater hooked into the main tank outside. That was a relief. Getting propane in small 20 lb tanks was not looking like and easy task.

The heater performed well. It had no blower, so the heat warmed the place by gravity. The downstairs would get to the high 60's, comfortable, although it was a little cool along the floor. The loft bedroom up stairs was hot, really hot. The first night we stayed in the house we had put extra blankets and a comforter on the bed. Sometime in the night we shed that stuff and soon slept under a sheet and were still warm. It sure was better than the alternative.

Form follows function so engineers say. So the first few days were simply getting heat, getting some semblance of comfort and constantly assessing what we were doing, what was going on and basing our actions on those assessments. More to come.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ice Storm Thoughts Cont'd

Well, Terry made it home Monday evening, the day the ice began to accumulate. The prediction was for the weather to remain just at freezing for Tuesday night, it was expected to cool some more as Wednesday morning approached and then the moisture should change to snow. It is the first time I ever recall the south collectively looking forward to snow.

We spent Tuesday night at Tracy's again. It was simply raining too much to try and do anything around the property. I moved the cars from the garage driveway and pulled them down closer to the house where there are fewer trees that could fall on them. It turns out to be a good thing because a section of a pine tree came down right where my pickup truck and Ford Focus were sitting. I don't know which one of them would've been hit, but one of them would've gotten clobbered. The pine was maybe 50 feet long, but it was about twelve inches across at the base.

We spent Tuesday gathering things, planning on what our next steps should be and then went to Tracy's to spend Tuesday evening. Tuesday night was when the major part of the damage took place. The rain increased and we could hear the booming and crashing all around us while at Tracy's. She does not have the extensive woods near her home like Terry and I do so I can imagine what it must've sounded like in our cabin. I talked to our neighbor Eddie the next day and he said it was downright scary.

We had left our cat Al at home because the cabin is a pretty well constructed building and there are very few large trees nearby. Even if the trees fell on the home I did not feel the structural integrity of the cabin would be compromised. So Al got to hear the booming and crashing Tuesday evening.

Wednesday morning, January 29 was sunny. It was chilly, but clear. The ice in the trees looked magnificent. Each twig, each branch, each pine needle was heavily coated and in the sun light glinted with the hint of artist crystal. The radio spoke of many roads and streets blocked, travel was difficult and people were warned to stay indoors and warm. For both Terry and I there was the strong desire to get to our home. It had nothing to do with braving the elements or taking chances, but we've lived in that home since were married in 1991 and it is our refuge. So we had breakfast, drank coffee and debated what to do. The only contact we had was radio and one station in Jonesboro was broadcasting nothing but news of the storm. They were receiving calls from all around Northeast Arkansas and putting emergency officials on the air to report on their area. The Sheriff of Greene County, our county. had warned of numerous road blockages and really urged people to stay put. Of course we didn't.

Fortunately the roads were not icy. We did have the snowfall predicted, perhaps a half to an inch, but the streets were OK if you took your time and eased along. As we drove the ten miles toward our cabin in the woods I mentally reviewed our options. I could think of five different routes we could take to get to our home, but thought be most direct offered the greatest chance of success. It tends to be fairly open with no trees crowding the roadway so I thought it had the best chance of being passable.

Coming into Paragould, no traffic lights were functioning. State law says if a traffic light is not functioning motorists are to treat the crossing as though it were a four way stop. We went through seven lights and never saw a violation. Every car we encountered at an intersection stopped and acted as though it were a four-way stop. I was proud of my fellow travelers.

We drove without incident to our private drive. Here is where we encountered the first difficulty. The power lines were down and hanging about a foot off the ground, blocking our entrance. There was no room to pull off the road and 22nd Street just a hundred yards before our turn also was blocked by power lines. We drove ahead about 2 tenths of a mile to the driveway of our rent home. That to was blocked, but there was enough of an entry that we could park off Fairview Road and not block traffic.

We walked up the driveway of the people who lived next door to our rent home and crossed over to our land some distance up the driveway. The damage was amazing. Tall trees once standing proudly in the weather were bowed, some bowed so bad that their tops touch the ground. Wood isn't supposed to be able to do that. In many cases it couldn't and simply broke. Tops of trees were strewn everywhere. When we started to walk a path we maintain between our home and the rent home it was impassable. So, off through the woods we went. What is normally a two or three minute on the path turned out to be a twenty minute trek through a wasteland of timber.

I took pictures, but they do not do the landscape justice. It was beautiful, everything ice coated and in the sunlight twinkled with reflected light. However, trees 50 and 60 feet tall were now in many cases stripped of their branches and looked like gigantic spears ready to impale some hapless victim should he/she fall from the sky. The ground was a tangle of broken branches, limbs and large limbs leaning precariously on trunks of other trees. It was like a maze. Sometimes we had to walk away from our home to find a pathway toward our home.

Finally we broke through to the yard and our home stood bathed in sunlight looking cold and forlorn, but home nonetheless. There was a trunk of a tree across the driveway where the day before my pickup and small car had been parked. My yard tractor was buried in debris. My new to me, chore tractor was hidden under heavy cedar limbs hanging over the tractor. It would be several day before I could get the tractor out of its cedar bough prison.

We were home. The devastation was extensive. There was no damage to the home, but the surrounding land looked like the aftermath of a artillery bombardment during war time. Terry and I came into the house. Al surrounded us. I don't know how one cat can surround you, but she did. We had running water as were are on city water. Our toilets worked because we have a septic system. We have one small propane heater in the bathroom that we lit so at least we had a place to come to to get some warmth.

One of the first tasks I under took was to haul the new generator I had purchased months ago down to the porch and see if I could get it running. I had not run it in some time. It is heavy, but lugging planks to act as a ramp to get it up to the porch and using my little manual air pump to inflate soft tires I got it the hundred or so feet to the porch. It took a little bit, but it fired up and soon I had a couple of extension cords running into the house through the front door and we had the coffee pot on. Terry and I dearly love our coffee and that was a very successful moment when we heard the heater warm the water for our first cupa.

With heater lit, coffee made and refrigerator plugged in our thoughts turned to what tasks we should undertake to deal with out situation. Tree limbs and trees still groaned and broke under the weight of the ice. I did go out and take a number of pictures. The ice would stay today, but the weather was to get into the 40's on Thursday and this crystalline scene would melt away. I wanted to make sure I had a record of what our home area looked like.

That is enough for now. My next effort will be to describe how we become foragers and deal with the challenges of making life comfortable.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ice Storm Thoughts

I made a small shopping trip today. First to Lowe's to buy some washers and a lock washer to fit the trailer hitch on my small tractor. I have my utility trailer hooked up to my tractor to carry brush to the edge of the drive where it will be picked up. Then I stopped at a gas station to refill my two empty gas cans. I now have 15 gallons on hand, although to be honest I don't expect a repeat of what we had at the end of January.

On to Wal*Mart. I would like to buy some more Coleman lamp fuel, but it is $8.97 a gallon right now and I'm unwilling to pay that much. I'll probably break down sometime before next winter, but not right now. Upon checking out I did see a woman with four Coleman propane fuel tanks for the propane lantern Coleman markets. I've thought about getting one, but think I'll rely on the older version.

I did see one persona at Lowe's loading what appeared to be a generator into the back of a pick up. I hoped he didn't have trouble. Lowe's had one lone generator for sale in the aisle by lawn and garden. I hope if finds a home, but I hope we don't need it for many years. In the meantime my thoughts are about putting things away and getting things ready for the next event. I think I'd better change oil in the generator. Such thought occupy my time now.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Well, I'm Back

It has been some time. We've been through an interesting time. The first hint of trouble came Monday, January 26 when CNN reported parts of Oklahoma were declared a disaster area due to an ice storm. I watched the radar and could see a huge system stretching from northern Texas all the way to Ohio. There were three distinct bands, the south side of the band was green, rain. The middle section was pink, ice & sleet. The northern band was blue, snow. It was a little difficult to tell which way the storm was moving, it appeared that we might be on the fringe that received rain.

It was not to be. As the storm moved into our area the ice came over us. Just south, perhaps 30 to 50 miles was rain. To the east it rained. We started getting ice build up on Tuesday January 27. I was home because the weather report predicted ice and I did not want to travel cross country in an ice storm. You could see the ice begin to build up on the trees. About noon I heard my first tree branch crack and fall. About every minute or so you could hear a crack, a whooshing noise then a thud. I was watching the storm and we were in a very intense pink band. It became obvious that we were going to be in trouble. I watched the map and we were just buried. At 2:30 PM I was typing a short message to my family on the internet when boom, down went the power. It flickered once then all was quiet.

The first impulse is to wait. Perhaps the power will come on at any moment. In the meantime crraackk, whoosh, crash picked up and became relentless. The crack was the branch or limb breaking. The whoosh was the ice crystals cascading down, and the thud was the object hitting the ground. The house began to cool off, not bad, but no electricity means no cooking, no reading and no nothing. We are lucky, we have propane for hot water, and a small heater in the bathroom. However, we abandoned the house for our daughter Tracy's. She had propane heat and warmth. We spent the first night there.

I had walked the driveway four times clearing limbs so Terry could get up the drive. Little did we know that when we left Tuesday night the worst was yet to come. That's another story.