Survival-Pax Blog: Hurricane Irene - First-Hand

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene - First-Hand

Hurricane Irene

Route 2 flooded out in Bolton, VT.
I have a first-hand account by a Survival-Pax Community Member about the devastation brought about by Hurricane Irene. While some areas of the East Coast were not affected by the storm very much, there were some communities were affected very severely. Here is his story:

(Written on September 2nd, 2011)
Vermont has been hit hard by Irene. I think the combination of mountains and valleys with limited travel routes between made our towns extra vulnerable. Most towns are in the valleys. Every valley has a river. The river is often confined to a fairly narrow space between mountains. All major roads run up the valleys with only occasional cross roads that run over mountains through steep mountain passes. These cross roads are often rugged winding steep roads. Most are dirt roads and some are closed in the winter.

Route 4 / Route 100 South of Killington, VT
is completely destroyed.
When you consider this terrain, it is not so surprising that so many towns and small community "villages" have been have been cut off from outside access...for days. Some may still be cut off without power or outside access....I'm not sure. The town of Rochester, Vermont is about 30 miles from me....our towns are part of the same community. They are in the next valley over the ridge west of Randolph. All roads to and from Rochester were completely washed out. I don't mean that the roads were covered in water that can recede later. I mean the roads are gone....the river shifted its course and the road is gone.... The river is now flowing against the mountainside where there used to be a road. I don't know how they will repair that road without carving/blasting a new route in the mountain....

I spent last evening on Google maps and Facebook (I hate Facebook, but it appears to be key in information dispersal in this event). I count 4 or 5 routes in/out of that town. All are completely washed out.....except now I just learned that Camp Town road, which is a very rugged road over a mountain ridge, is now passable by 4 wheel drive alone.... so repair trucks and Hummers started getting into Rochester on Wednesday.

The Rochester Facebook page shows that they received power yesterday.

A few key observations regarding emergency supplies:
  1. The closest Walmart and Kmart are over in West Lebanon, NH. They were both closed due to being flooded out themselves. 
  2. The next closest Walmart is a small one in Montpelier, VT. They completely sold out on batteries, flashlights, and camping gear.
  3. The paper reported that the people in Rochester who were cut off had plenty of generators, but were running out of gas to run them.
  4. The transformer station in Rochester was wiped out by the flood.
  5. Plugs and cables to connect 220V generators to households sold out in all the stores just after the storm according to a friend of ours...she needed a plug and called every store she could think of in a 100+ mile radius. She is on a waiting list to get one when they come in. She regained power Thursday.

Comments I heard: "We have Coleman lanterns, but no mantles to use in them." "We have plenty of food, but no way to cook it." "We have no water."

My point: If you aren't prepared before a disaster, its already too late.

Route 4 between Killington, VT and Mendon, VT.
On the other hand, rural Vermonters are rugged people with a lot of willpower and equipment. They don't expect to be bailed out by the government. They work together as a community. Excavating equipment is common. Individual citizens started getting out bulldozing to repair roads before the state's official road crews could get there. Folks helped each other. Many have rugged 4 wheel drives or 4 wheelers or off-road motorcycles. Cells phones proved handy, though people sometimes had to climb mountains to get service. Army National Guard has been reaching isolated communities by helicopter and Humvee.

Its not over yet.....not by a long shot.... I don't know the extent of it....

Our house only lost power for 13 hours or so....but that was plenty of time for the basement to flood since the sump pumps could not run.....I bailed water with a friend for 4 hours and finally let the water take over. Thankfully its a walk-out basement so it only flooded <1 inch deep.....still that is enough to soak into the walls and boxes and bookcases and cabinets....

I was glad that I put up 30 gallons of water just before the hurricane hit and we lost power.... (we are on a well....lose power, lose water)

The Irving gas station in West Bridgewater, VT is consumed
by flood waters.
Having gone through this particular tropical storm (albeit somewhat on the periphery) I have new thoughts regarding specifics of preparedness that I hadn't fully grasped before. The importance of communication is very high. I had friends who were eager to help, but we only had minor problems in our immediate vicinity. Who needs help and what do they need? Do they need supplies (which ones)? Transportation? Medical aid? Specific medications? Where are these people who need help and how do we get to them? Even though I'm a long time techie I was slow to realize the importance of the internet and the benefits of Google maps and social media. Both of these were amazingly helpful once I finally remembered to look there after it became obvious that word of mouth would NOT WORK.

This completely changed my former viewpoint that electricity was a frivolous desire rather than a need in a disaster. Of course I wanted to be able to power all my electronic gadgets, but I didn't see a true need beyond the obvious flashlights and a few short range 2-way radios. I now see that powering my laptop or Ipod Touch and Hughesnet satellite internet connection modem are very valuable in a disaster that hasn't fully taken down the internet.

There are many levels or types of potential disaster and the specifics of the preparedness to counter those necessarily vary. If your house is still in tact as a safe shelter and you have a source of power, your bushcraft skills won't come into full play. If the cell phone towers and internet are intact then you don't need your short wave radio yet. If you focused only on the short wave radio and didn't keep a plan to power your cell phone then you missed your chance for optimal preparedness.

Nathan - Survival-Pax Community Member

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