Quite a little freshet blew through last night. Apparently it started around 11:30—that’s when my power went out—and carried on into the wee hours. Cassie woke me at one in the morning, barking at the distant thunder and fretting to go out. The wind was blowing so hard it made a weird, symphonic noise: like an orchestra of kazoos.
Almost 300,000 utility customers lost power. Mine came back on around 8:30 this morning. By then, the refrigerator’s interior appeared to be at about room temperature: around 62 degrees. I haven’t dared to open the freezer, but I expect it will be OK, even though, being a cheapie, it’s not well insulated.
This minor episode brought one issue sharply to my attention: I am not prepared for a serious emergency lasting any length of time.
I couldn’t even make a cup of coffee this morning: without power, I can’t grind coffee beans. (OK, OK: I do have a molcajete and yes, yes, I could have ground the darn things by hand. I’d have to be driven to greater depths of desperation to do that, thank you.)
Without a propane grill—I dumped mine in favor of a much nicer charcoal grill—I would be in trouble if the gas went out along with the electric power.
My gas stove will operate during a power outage, but it’s not happy, and the manufacturer inveighs against it. Modern gas ranges have electric igniters, so when the power’s out you have to light the gas with a match or butane lighter. Problem is, the burners want to flicker out; in the absence of a pilot light (which is what used to light gas burners and keep them lit), you risk asphyxiating yourself. Or blowing up the kitchen. You have to stand there next to the stove all the time the burner is going and keep a close eye on it.
I do have water stored, but I forget to empty it over the plants once a month, wash out the carboys, and refill them. Must get my act together there.
And I think it would be a good idea to pick up a camp stove and a couple bottles of propane. Actually, I think one of those stoves will run off a barbecue-sized propane canister, two of which I happen to own. Probably all I need is the stove and a canister refill.
The other thing I don’t have is a cooler. I need to pick up one of those, so I can carry dry ice to stock the freezer during an extended outage. They’re cheap and can be had readily at yard sales.
There’s food enough in the house to last a month or so. The issue is cooking it. And, in the case of frozen and refrigerated items, storing it.
Really, there’s no excuse not to be prepared. Here’s what I see as the bare minimum to have around the house:
• Toilet paper
• First-aid kit
• Analgesics, antihistamine tablets, and any prescriptions you need
• Five to ten gallons of clean water
• Propane stove or grill with side burner
• Camping lantern
• Flashlights and batteries
• Battery-operated radio
• Cell phone, BlackBerry, or land-line phone that is not wireless
• Supply of food, enough to last from a week to a month
• Possibly a five-gallon can of gasoline
Got any other thoughts? What else might one have around the house, just in case?
In just a couple of days, a slew of ideas have come in, over the transom and through the “Comments” on this post. Here’s a summary:
• A hand-cranked radio may be more reliable than a battery-operated one. At the very least, have more than one radio that will operate on something other than AC. And keep a good supply of fresh batteries.
• Cash stash. The Katrina disaster proved that cash speaks louder than bank cards or checks. When power goes down and stays down, computerized cash registers quit working. Unable to process bank transactions, many merchants will accept cash when nothing else works.
• Barterable goods may come in handy in a crisis that lasts for a lengthy time. Cigarettes, alcohol, and (yes, I’m going to say it!) grass can be traded for food, clothing, bandages, medications, and other necessaries. Also useful: sanitary napkins and tampons, candy, jewelry.
• Water purifer and sanitizer. Check camping stores for devices and chemicals designed to disinfect suspect water. Among these are the SteriPEN, iodine tablets or liquid, and chlorine tablets. Remember that water filters do not kill pathogens.
• More than a few gallons of clean water may be needed. Adults may need as much as three gallons of drinking water a day.
• Remember that a water heater holds 20 to 60 gallons of potable water. Swimming pool and decorative fountain or pond water, while not drinkable without purification, can be used for washing and bathing. Dishes can be washed in ocean, river, or lake water, with plenty of detergent. Rinse in boiling water.
• Watch yard sales to collect a stash of candles. Tea lights as well as tapers and pillar candles are good to have on hand. I personally find that tapers put out more light than other types of candles.
• Propane camp lanterns or oil lamps are also good to have on hand. Use devices that are sources of combustion outdoors.
• Build a stash of matches as well as butane lighters. Keep your matches dry inside Ziploc bags.
• All these supplies should be kept in a dry, safe place, out of childrens’ reach.
• Some readers have questioned the safety of using a propane stove indoors. City codes require an effective venting system over a gas stove for a reason! That reason is called “carbon monoxide,” an odorless, toxic gas that is a byproduct of burning. If you’re forced to use a propane stove inside because of weather conditions, place it near or on your stovetop and turn on the vent. If you have no power, use it near an open window or place it in the cold firebox of your fireplace with the flue open, and don’t use it for any length of time. It is best to use these devices outdoors.