One of the things we’ve learned in over 30 years of helping people prepare is that experience is by far the best teacher. Nothing instructs on the finer points of preparedness quite as well as riding out a real-life disaster with just your wits and the supplies you’ve stocked away.
That’s why we’ve launched the Preparedness Stories Contest (#PrepStoriesContest). We want to help our community share their amazing stories of preparation, to instruct and inspire.
Speaking of inspiring, we’d like to introduce you to Rebecca.
Rebecca is one of our wonderful customers out of Panama City, Florida. A while back she called in and shared a story that was so amazing it was the talk of our office for weeks.
To kick off the Preparedness Stories Contest, we thought we’d share our interview with Rebecca. It’s a true survivor’s reflection of riding out Hurricane Michael, one of the worst storms in Florida’s history. It’s full of great advice that everyone needs to hear on how to get safely through a disaster.
We hope it inspires you like it has us!
EE: Hi Rebecca, thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview.
R: Well thank you. I’m glad to be here.
EE: Let’s go to that moment that the hurricane hit the area you live in. Where were you and what was going on?
R: This was a very fast-moving hurricane. We heard about it on Monday and by Tuesday it was then a Category 2 and coming really fast. [By Wednesday morning] it was already only 2 miles per hour difference to making a Category 5.
When it started getting really bad our roof was banging and bouncing [and] my husband said, “Rebecca come on, let’s just sit down in the hallway. I think this is it.”
And then I stopped and I looked at him. I said, “what kind of ‘it’? Like, ‘dead’ it?”
He didn’t say anything to me. That scared me.
Later [he told me] he didn’t think that we would die, but all he could think about was, if we had to leave this house because the roof is going to rip off or crumble, how am I going to protect my wife?
[During the hurricane] the sound was so loud with things hitting our house. We know it was bad, from the things we could hear. We were there for about two hours hearing the most awful, horrible sounds.
And finally, when you don’t hear much, my husband got up and started looking around. We notice[d] all the cracks in our ceiling and on our walls, and we knew that it wouldn’t have been much longer before our roof would have come off.
Then we ventured outside.
[Looking around] all I kept saying was, “oh my gosh, oh my gosh.” Because every home, every tree, everything had been touched somehow. It was just devastation all over. I am truly thankful that our roof did stay on and we were protected, but so many were not.
EE: How did your neighbors fare?
R: There was a neighbor about four houses down. His house completely ripped apart. And he ran to a neighbor across the street. They let him in and [then] a huge oak tree fell on their house—the house that he ran to for safety. Then all of them had to run to our neighbor that was just caddy corner from us.
EE: So, how long did it take for help to arrive?
R: For actual help? It didn’t happen until 4am the next day when some emergency workers came, and they were strictly coming to see if anyone needed emergency medical help.
That was all the help coming at that point.
They said that because of the damage, they had already walked a mile [to reach us].
EE: What about the days after the immediate aftermath?
R: The next day, a neighbor came and plugged into our generator to help with their refrigerator. And [she] asked for some water.
She said, “We’re out of water. This is all the water we have, what you’re giving me.”
And that really blew me away, because it hadn’t even been 24 hours. And there were so many that just were not prepared.
There were other neighbors that found out they could plug into our generator and they did that. I started making breakfast and suppers for several families—there was a total of five that we worked with. They brought some of their supplies that and we all made it work with what we had. But we did two meals a day for five families [with some help] and completely fed two families, because they had nothing. [We fed one of those families] breakfast and supper for 30 days.
The most terrifying thing was that my daughter and her husband and her grandbaby lived 10 minutes away. Because we lost all communication, not just power. So after the storm I couldn’t call my sister, my daughter, my brothers. We did not know how anybody was. We could not get out to even try.
EE: And this is the amazing thing. You say 10 minutes, that’s nothing in suburbs, towns, cities. But not only are conditions dangerous, you have absolutely no way to get on the road. That’s an on-foot hike and a difficult one at that. People who are just 10 minutes away yesterday are all of the sudden completely unreachable.
R: Yes, completely unreachable.
I felt the isolation more intensely. Everybody had it, but I just felt, my gosh this is all we have. Right here, this is all.
I just wanted to know that my family was OK and there was no way for me to know that. That was terrifying.
EE: How long did this go on?
We got our power back after 16 days. And when I say on, it would flicker a lot, and then it would come and go. It was very touch and go and at least we had it. That lasted for another four days. And then it was good.
EE: So you’re looking at about 20 days from the hurricane landing to reliable power. And the vast majority of that is without power. That’s the better part of a month.
R: Yes, it was a very long time. We got water on the 18th day. But of course it was undrinkable. But at least we could wash our hands. That was nice.
EE: Let’s talk about that. What did your typical breakfast and dinner look like?
R: There were a lot of things that I had that I know really helped. One was the granola from Emergency Essentials. That was flavorful, delicious, and it gave you a good crunch. Because most foods you’re eating [are] soft. And it’s just kind of funny how you want to be able to really hear and enjoy your food. That granola was really nice to have.
[Then there were] the mashed potatoes. Those were wonderful. I also liked was the marinara sauce. That gave a different flavor. We made some noodles and put that over it. We put the sauce over rice. That made it easier. And it was good.
EE: How old were some of these?
R: We did have some green beans that were 25 years old
EE: What was that like opening a can of 25-year old green beans?
R: The green beans were fine, even after I opened the can. I put it in the refrigerator after I opened it and the just would grab a handful. My husband would come in from work, grab a handful of the granola and just keep going.
EE: So you’re spending most of your day clearing out the debris?
R: Yes, the city comes and clears thing out fast as they can to get power poles back up. Plus you want to clean up. It’s such a disaster.
After a few days we got our well working. We had one of those big blue barrels that [my husband] would fill up in the morning with the generator and people would come in the morning with their five-gallon buckets and their milk jugs to fill up water.
In fact, there was an older gentleman who lived a half mile away, so my husband started going out on his motorcycle every morning to take water to this gentleman. People were coming from a ways away to come get it.
We had thought about, would we ever stay for another hurricane again. Yes, we would. The help we could provide was a saving grace for many people.
EE: So, how long till you were able to wake up in the morning and feel like life was back to normal?
That probably took about a month [but] even now [18 months later] it’s still not back to normal. [There are] dead limbs and there are still trees on houses. There are still tarps on roofs. There are still people who have not been able to fix their house at all.
You can still see destruction everywhere you turn. Some businesses still haven’t’ started back up. There is still so much that is not back to normal.
So, if you had to do these things over again, is there anything you would do differently?
Yes, I would have a lot more essentials. You don’t think about Tums, but you are stressed. We all had stomach problems. Everyone we talked to, their stomach hurt. [There] was so much stress.
You need a lot more tin foil when you’re having to cook. You don’t want to wash dishes so you make a bowl out of tin foil that you can just throw away after you’re done because the less you have to work the better.
I would have a lot more Gatorade, too. I would freeze it in my freezer and that will even help keep your cooler staying cool as it thaws and you can drink that.
Medicine was a huge thing. You need to have some stockpiles of that and a good first aid kit.