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When the Storm Hits the Fan

from Backdoor Survival blog

I am a firm believer that our very best learning opportunities come from the learning experiences of others.  There is no better example of this than listening or reading about the experience of someone who has lived through a major disaster.

This happened last fall, when reader a shared her experience during the winter ice storms in the eastern part of the US.  The article, 5 Days with No Power – When the Ice Hits the Fan, was an eye-opener that taught us that even the seasoned prepper will never be truly prepared.

Disaster Preps: When the Storm Hits the Fan | Backdoor Survival

Today I have another real-live experience to share.  I recently heard from William Smith, a reader in the Philippines who survived Typhoon Haiyan.  Grab a cup of coffee for this one.  This, too, is an eye opener.

ORMOC TYPHOON: When the Storm Hits the Fan

This is the story of my experience during Typhoon Haiyan, known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines that hit November 8, 2013.

The story is a combination diary and tips on what to do during a storm/disaster. I have collected many good ideas from others on the Internet about survival/camping. Now it is my turn to share my experiences, for you to learn from me. I am retired, and have lived in the Philippines for over five years. I purchased a Philippine house, and added some improvements to bring it closer to American standards.

We have lots of typhoons in the Philippines. Usually it means three days of rain, not really a storm, just rain. They shutdown the ferry service because of high seas. I only found out the day before the storm, that this storm would be different. So I did buy extra batteries. The weather service and government got complaints because of lack of warning. Although in the Philippines, I do not know how much good it would have done.

The storm arrived in the morning. It was much better in daylight. It would have been very scary at night.The storm had 315 km sustained winds and 380 km gusts, which is 228 mph gusts. WOW!!

We (my wife and son ) stayed in the doorway of our computer room away from the ceiling fans in the living room and kitchen which were bouncing. In the attic, rain was being blown in under the tin roof at the roof peak. My seven year old son was scared. I was just thinking dollar signs to replace it all.

The walls of the house were concrete so I was not afraid.

As the eye of the storm was passing over, the wind stopped. I walked 100 feet to the neighbor’s house. I told them we still have part two ahead. I think each part was two hours. How many people have walked in the eye of the strongest storm to ever touch land??

The price of that was a third of my roof and other damage. Part two of the storm was much worse!! Almost no damage was done in part one of the storm. Part two of the storm did the damage to our house and most other houses. Water was rising around the house. I did not know when it would stop rising. We moved electronics and papers to higher shelves in the house. The roof over the attic was gone so that was not available.

We have an all-concrete shed with a flat concrete roof/balcony, and stairs to the top. The flat roof is about 12 feet by 20 feet in size It is used for small parties. After the rain and wind stopped, we put two backpacking tents on top of the shed. The shed roof is about 12 feet above the floor of the house. The water went up till it was about a foot from getting into the house. Our neighbors did get about 6 inches of water in their house from flooding.

We also had life jackets for all and a long rope available. The roof/balcony also has a very strong steel pipe railing. So we might survive more than 12 feet of water above the floor of our house.

The rain and wind stopped in the late afternoon and the water also stopped rising.

I was not worried about food and water. I had two 55 gallon drums full of water, 4 – 5 gallon containers of water, and 5 – 6 liter sealed containers of distilled water, and water filters to purify three thousand gallons of water. A stream is walking distance from our house, to use the water filter. A key advantage of having food and water was that I did not need to worry about finding food and water. Peace of mind is great. Plus I did not need to spend time in a line getting food and water.

For food, I had enough freeze dried food in cans to last five months. We also had 100 pounds of rice in water proof containers. I had a case and a half of military MREs (meals ready to eat ). They taste fine. The advantage of MREs is in saving time preparing a meal, when there are lots and lots of other things to do, after the storm. These are the MRE entrees only from MRE Star on the Internet. They are not a full MRE which has a dessert, and coffee.

We ate MREs for the week after the flood. By end of week I was tired of macaroni or rice meals. Since the stove did work, I could have prepared more elaborate meals. I did not have the time to do that.

One very useful freeze dried food is freeze dried eggs. They taste like the real thing. I also had freeze dried onions and freeze dried cheddar cheese, so I could make an omelet. The freeze dried eggs are easy to cook. Just add water and salt and cook like scrambled eggs. This was breakfast, many mornings. The brand is Ova Easy Whole Egg Crystals from Honeyville Food Products.

For preparation have lots of paper plates, plastic cups, plastic silverware, trash bags, and perhaps tarps. We did not have enough. Washing dishes is work, and time is at a premium. Very important things like cleaning out debris, fixing the roof, and drying items soaked by the storm, needed to be done. Washing also uses water, of which we had a limited supply.

The kitchen stove survived with no damage at all. The fuel is propane, in a canister like used for an RV camper. Each canister lasts about a month. We have two canisters and swap when one is empty, so should always have a month supply. The canisters are outside the house in a concrete box, so no damage to the tanks.

We slept in the tents, (two Eureka Apex II tents) on top of the shed, for many nights, (actually, a month until I got back with a generator from Cebu). It is about 12 feet about the level of the floor of my house.

Because it is up high, you get a nice breeze, so it is cool enough to sleep after 10 pm. Since there was no electric, there were no fans and no AC. I discovered that my older tent leaked, so I needed to use a tarp over it when it rained. It is only 10 years old and not used a lot. I was unhappy about that.

The roof was about a third gone with many other spots leaking. The kitchen and the computer room were the only completely dry places. Every time it rained there was a half inch of water on the floor of the kitchen that needed to be mopped up. The kitchen was lower so water flowed to there even with no leaks over the kitchen. It rains almost every day in the Philippines!

The house is on a slab with a tile floor. The water table does not allow a basement. Eventually we got tarps over the entire roof. Someday it will be replaced with a real roof.

We saw lots of helicopters and prop cargo planes. I saw more helicopters in two weeks than I saw in five years living here.

I needed to burn trash, as we no longer had trash pickup.

I get tired of room temperature water to drink. Tang is the one drink I like best at room temp. The refrigerator takes 3 hours to feel, even a little cold. I would guess 6 hours to cool to operating temperature. It usually takes overnight to make ice. Therefore to make ice the refrigerator would need to run for 14 hours to make ice. The generator only runs for 6 to 8 hours a day. I am not going to run generator for 14 hours just to make ice! (After we got electric back, I discovered refrigerator was low on Freon and had it repaired. )

The storm had 315 km sustained winds, and 380 km gusts, which is 228 mph gusts. WOW!!  I had lots of preparation, but not prepared for 228 mph winds.

I have been camping for 20 years. Much of what is called survival gear is just camping gear. So I had lots of gear for an emergency. I had tents, flashlights, stoves, sleeping bags, fire making gear, rain gear, etc.

The best quote I heard was that preparation and or a survival kit “Preparation will turn a Survival Situation into just Camping”. The difference is that my camping in the past has been for a weekend. This situation has been over a month, and still going.

Some websites have suggested camping as a way to test gear. I would strongly agree with that. You need to test and practice with the equipment you will use. It also needs to be tested in summer and winter.

I had started ordering freeze dried peas from America. You cannot get good peas here. My food ordering had expanded some toward a survivalist/prepper scale. When the storm hit I figured I had canned freeze dried food for three people for five months. Plus I had a hundred pounds of rice in two sealed containers. We would get very tired of rice and beans but we would not starve.

If you really want to plan for five months on being on your own, you would need more canisters of propane. So for five months we would need five canisters of propane, to cook all that rice and beans. Also need all the spices, sugar, salt, Crisco cooking oil, etc. That you need to make the freeze dried food more enjoyable.

The power went out with the storm, November 8, 2013 (Electric power was restored March 7, 2014). The city water also stopped for several days.

After a couple days we sent our worker (labor is cheap in the Philippines) with a 5 gallon container to get water at a nearby well. We filtered all the water for drinking and cooking through a backpacking water filter. The filter takes out everything, even viruses! The downside is that it is not fast. It takes 10 minutes to pump 6 liters of water.

One filter can filter a thousand gallons. I had several replacement filter cartridges, so could filter thousands of gallons of water. If you ever get one it is the First Need Deluxe water filter by General Ecology. Get the deluxe model, it costs more but the ease of use is much better and you will appreciate the improvements after you pump 10 gallons of water.

Also it is very useful to have a gallon container with a valve at the bottom to dispense water. Water was filtered and then put in a six quart insulated water container with a push button water dispenser at the bottom. Much better than pouring a gallon container to fill a glass.

If you plan to store supplies for a disaster, you need a tough cabinet with a domed top to shed water. If you have a flat top on cabinet, the water will soak through eventually. It is also good to have some supplies stored in separate shed/building separate from the house.  If your house collapses or burns your supplies are not lost also. The problem with this is that now you need duplicate or triplicate of some camping/survival items, so the cost increases.

For still more security have a cache buried off of your property. A different location is good for two reasons. One is if the government decides that you are a threat, going home is not a good idea. Two, your home maybe destroyed or inaccessible due to flooding or brush fire hazard, or evacuation. Put a cache of supplies in a location that should not have the same dangers as your home. If your house is in a low area put the cache at a higher elevation.

The supplies in town that disappeared were Chlorox bleach, disinfectant soaps, tarps, fresh meat, and roofing supplies. Gasoline cost more than before and there was a several hour wait to get your gas at the station.

Carpenters were also unavailable! First the carpenters were working repairing the building material supplier’s buildings.  I was told that the largest building supply / hardware store (which is out of town) was totally destroyed. Second they will work on the politically connected, the mayor and congressman. Third the really rich people in town. Fourth they may get to me. It will be a very long time before proper repairs are done!

There was no electricity so no ice, no refrigeration, and no fresh meat in the entire city. People went to bed early since there is no electricity.

Also is is very important to note that taxi service (motorcycles with a sidecar like structure able to hold three Americans plus driver) was not available for three days after the storm. The taxi drivers were all home taking care of their homes. I would expect similar problems with other workers in a disaster that effects almost everyone. So maybe only half of the doctors, nurses, and workers will even arrive at your local hospital. In our case very few people were injured. So the hospitals were not overrun.

Washing clothes without electric is tough! I used to change T-shirts 6 times a day to keep cool. Now I still change them 6 times a day, but I do not wash them. I just hang them to dry and reuse them later the same day or the next. At last count I had 42 colored T-Shirts.

Years ago, (I am 61 now), I used to work 30 minutes in very hot weather and take a 10 minute break. Now I work 10 minutes and take a 30 minute break.

Without electricity it is hard to cool off with no fan or AC. So I took cold showers, several times a day. It is my only way of cooling off. So keep temperature and your physical ability in mind. If you are not young and strong, it will be much tougher.

Amazingly, few people were killed by the storm in Ormoc! The reported death toll in Ormoc was 68! The population of the city is listed as 127,000. In Tacloban the death toll was 10,000 or more. Still the storm warning did not make clear the strength and severity of this storm.

So people were not as prepared, as they could have been. I calculated that with the population of about 127,000 that your odds of dying were about 1 in 2000. So the unprepared did survive. However, preparations will make the event easier to endure, fewer worries, and make it like camping.

Sunday November 17, nine days after storm, the tap water is running slowing in the evening. We are filling lots of water containers. It saves lots of work, walking to get water with a 5 gallon container. November 24, water is flowing even better, sixteen days after storm.

I replaced the old water filters under kitchen sink. (I had inline water filters installed when I bought the house). Water pressure is now high enough in the evening to push water through the fresh water filter in the sink water line. I no longer have to hand pump filter to get drinking water!!

On Monday November 18, ten days after storm, I got into bank with no wait and no with withdrawal limit! By “Philippine Standards” I am a big customer at the bank. The bank manager and the regional bank manager know me by name. It is nice to be a big customer and know the bank manager! That would never happen in the USA! I would be lucky if the teller recognized me.

Note:  Keep more cash at home, in car, in cache, and lots of small bills. Even in America, an ATM will run out of money. That is if the electric is still on!

Wednesday Nov 20, twelve days after storm, I went shopping and to get cell phones charged. In town people had small generators running charging cell phones for 20 pesos (50 cents) a charge. I would recommend an excellent quality solar cell panel and charger connected to a marine 12 volt battery designed for a trolling motor. The big battery will hold enough power to charge cell phone, flashlights, and radios. It would hold enough power to last through a rainy day or two. You would need a larger solar cell panel to power it.

Still a hurricane or in the USA, a snow storm, could produce cloudy weather for several days. A universal adapter goes from the big 12 volt battery to whatever you need charged. We have since purchased a universal adapter to charge cell phones from car cigarette lighter. Access to a wireless internet connection would also be very useful.

Seven months after the storm I do not have a landline phone. I have purchased a wireless device the size of a cell phone that connects to the internet, and then via Wi-Fi to my computer. The access is paid by a prepaid card. It is not fast for videos but I can get news.

In Tacloban, the storm damage was much worse. They had a storm surge, so they had flooding in addition to the wind. Thousands were killed. The damage was more severe. They did not have any food or water. There was also looting and robbery. The people were desperate. There was much less of that here. However, one friend of mine, here in Ormoc, whose house was severely damaged, had it looted while he was living at his parents!

I am somewhat prepared for civil unrest. I have two shotguns, one is American made. I also have a 9 mm Glock pistol with six 31 round magazines.  The shotgun has a flashlight and a laser on it. I also have lots of ammo.

So if worse comes to worse, I can fight back. I also have three bullet proof vests, one for each of us. When sleeping in the tent, I slept next to the loaded shotgun, and had the Glock pistol at my feet.

Expensive homes in the Philippines are made for security! All rich people have a two meter high concrete wall around the house, with broken glass on the top. All the windows have a steel grate to prevent entry (they sure would not pass USA fire code, for safety). All homes have several dogs. I expect that all the rich people also have loaded guns in the house. I also have a dog, a Rottweiler.

Most Philippine people are very afraid of large dogs. That is very good for me. I would not have the mess of a dead body to clean up. One good thing is that the legal system here allows killing robbers. In the USA, the legal problems of shooting someone, could ruin you.

Most of the foreigners left the city. Most were renting, so they had no house to protect, and the house had no roof. I would leave also except that we own the house. Some foreigners went to Cebu, some to Manila, and some back to their home country. Ormoc will be a mess for a long time. There was no reason for them to stay.

Wednesday November 27, I went to a birthday party at the neighbors and ate spaghetti. That was a mistake! I got diarrhea. With no rest because of the heat and the diarrhea, I was not doing well. I needed to get out of the heat to recover. I knew of no hotels in town with generators and air conditioners, that had rooms available. So I decided to go to Cebu by myself. Relatives stayed at the house with my wife and boy and dog to guard the house.

Thursday November 28, I took ferry to Cebu. There was a long wait in ferry waiting area with no fans. Toward evening it was getting dark in the room as no lights (no problem for me as I had a battery powered headlamp in my pocket).  At least the AC on ferry was OK. At 9 pm I was finally in a hotel room with an AC. I ate all my meals in the hotel room the next day. I never knew if I would need to make a rush trip to the bathroom.

Saturday November 30, 20 days after storm, I bought a 6500 watt 13 hp, gasoline generator. It is supposed to be big enough to run an air conditioner. The generator cost 41,000 pesos about $1,000 dollars.  It is Navigator brand generator made in China. I could not find any known brands, like Honda or Yamaha.

Note: Phone book Yellow Pages are not used much in the Philippines. Cebu has a population of over a million. The Yellow Pages phone directory is only about 1 /4 inch (one fourth inch – not not a misprint)! A city the same size in the USA would have a Yellow Pages two inches thick!

On December 4, I took the 10 pm slow ferry, to Ormoc, as other ferry will not handle a 200 pound generator. I arrived in Ormoc around 5 am.

Friday, December 6, 28 days after storm, I started the generator at 8 pm. I shut it off at 1 AM as neighbors complained about noise. The next two nights I shut generator off at 10 PM so neighbors could sleep. I moved the generator to the far corner of the yard and made a fiberglass lean-to against the wall to keep it dry. The distance away reduces the noise a lot.

I normally run the generator from 5 pm to 10:30 pm. I run the washing machine till about 7 pm and then turn off washing machine and run the AC till 10:30 pm. I use about 1000 pesos ($22.53) of gasoline a day. The cost of gasoline for running a generator adds up. If you get a generator check fuel usage and plan to have enough fuel on hand to run it. Now that I have the generator I plan to build a sound insulated shed for it. The generator shed will be built after house is repaired.

I have seen some relief agencies around town. The Korean Emergency Response team had two tents setup in a parking lot. A group of 10 young, 20 to 25 year old men and women from various countries were together cutting down a tree with a chain saw. I was told that the USA Navy was helping rebuild a school.

Norwegian Red Cross, had two women in town. They were staying at the best hotel in town. There was a private individual from Manila that was giving out a truck load of supplies. Supplies were a 2 kilo bag of rice, cans of sardines, and bottled water. They delivered twice to the people on our street. I was told the US Navy had a carrier group off of Tacloban delivering aid.

Electricity was finally restored in the evening on March 7, 2014! Power had been out for four months! The roof was correctly replaced by May 15, 2014.

So that is my story. For me it was mostly an inconvenience and financial expense. Hopefully it will be useful to you in planning for an emergency.

… William Smith

The Final Word

After reading William’s journal, my first thought was that within the prepper community, more attention needs to be placed on a geographical disaster risk analysis. Whether the disaster risk is storms, wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, mudslides, tornados or typhoons, we all should review the types of natural disasters common to where we live and move aggressively prepare for those.

In my case, an earthquake is a very large risk as is a subsequent tsunami.  If the big one happens in my lifetime, I may need to bug out and make my way to a different part of the country.  What good would it do me to have a bug-out location 100 miles away since that location may be worse off than my home locations.  See what I mean?  (And remember, a bug-out location can be the home of a friend or relative and not some raw land with a cabin out in the boonies.)

The challenge for all of us is to identify the most likely risks and address them with our preps. The key question we need to ask ourselves is “What is the worse that could happen if fill-in-the-blank-disaster happened in our community”?

Being prepared is more that food and water, bullets and band-aids.  It is thinking through the possibilities and probabilities and setting up a course of action that is unique to our needs, our families, and the place where we live.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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