This generous post was contributed by Cameron Green, of Green Academy of Personal Protection. Cam has contributed several other posts, and I continue to value his help and contributions. Please visit his Website at GAPPNJ if you live in the NY, NJ or PA area, and are looking for certification for CCWs, or learning how to be a better shot…
I purchased my home in Bound Brook, NJ in May, 1999… I knew nothing of the flooding issues that plagued the town…. but 4 months later, Hurricane Floyd would educate me. In early September, Hurricane Floyd came up the east coast of the US and devastated multiple states. North Carolina was hit especially hard, taking the full force of the storm. By the time it hit New Jersey Floyd had been downgraded to a tropical storm. It still dumped 14 inches of rain in central NJ however and much of it fell in the watershed for the Raritan River (which runs right past Bound Brook). I learned from neighbors that downtown was sure to get water… but I lived a half mile from the Raritan River and the river needed to reach 15 feet over flood stage for my house to flood. I wasn’t sure how bad my neighborhood would get, but was afraid of a mass exodus from downtown and the chaos that may come along with it… so I decided to stay out of town with a friend for a day or so. I thought I was being smart by vacating (and I was) but I didn’t take the necessary steps to protect my home and possessions before leaving… and I paid the price.
On the morning after the flooding was supposed to hit, I turned on the TV and saw an aerial view of Bound Brook… the town looked like a lake. Every channel covering the flood asked boat owners to bring their boats to Bound Brook and help with the rescue effort. I watched for a little while trying to get an idea of how high the water actually came up and if my house was damaged. I eventually gave up and hopped in my truck heading back home to see how bad it was…. I was stopped a few blocks from my house by a police barricade just outside the flood water. I hitched a ride with a rescue worker to my house… the information I received from my neighbors had been slightly incorrect; the river reached 42 feet (14 over flood stage) and I had 3 feet of water in my yard, completely filling the basement and just touching the first floor. My pickup truck had water up over its hood and the lights were shining down into the flood water (completely shorted out). Looking at the flood map later, I found out the water was above the 500 year flood plain. I disregarded the devastation of my own house (I couldn’t do anything at that point anyway) and set to helping the rescue effort. I hopped out of his boat into mine, pulled the cover off, cut the trailer loose, started the engine, and drove out of my driveway… in a boat (how many people can say they’ve done that). I headed toward the worst hit area; I helped a dozen or so people out of their second story windows or off of porch roofs before I hit a submerged car with my propeller.
When the flood waters receded, I set to squaring away my own house. My basement was still half full of water after the flood water receded. I had no sump pump, no power, no generator, nothing…. and none could be had in the local hardware stores. A good friend had a gas powered water pump and generator; he was at my house the same day and we set to pumping out the basement. We worked for about 4 hours (well after dark) until a sheriffs’ deputy walked behind my house and started to give us an earful for being on my own property (yeah, you read that right). The excuse to have us leave MY property was “there are gas leaks all over the place.” This, of course, was a complete lie… the authorities just wanted to secure the entire town. He gave us the option of leaving or being arrested (yeah you read that right too). He, of course, had no right to do so, but he was just following the order he was given… nobody was allowed in the town. Not wanting to make a bad day worse, we locked up the house and I returned the next day to continue pumping the water out. It took at least 48 hours for the water to stop pouring in through the sewer pipes and foundation… but eventually I got it all out and set to cleaning the mess that was once my finished basement. I tried to salvage as much as I could, but the sheetrock, carpet, furnace, hot water heater, washer, dryer, and most of my power tools were destroyed (which led to more problems when I needed to do repairs). In addition, my guns, ammunition, much of my hunting gear, etc were all stored in the basement and needed to be cleaned and/or replaced. I cleaned (with bleach when possible) and dried out wht I could save, but much of the contents of the basement needed to be thrown out. I didn’t trust the ammunition that had been submerged and surrendered it to my local PD for disposal. Other things beyond saving were: rifle scopes, binoculars, books, food storage (the limited amount I had at the time), some clothing, some furniture, and the list goes on. I was cleaning for days and, in total, took 9 days off of work to deal with the mess. The amount of trash removed from the town was staggering… FEMA brought in prisoners (work release in orange jumpsuits similar to what’s seen on the highway) and heavy equipment to load dump trucks. The town was inundated by gawkers trying to catch a glimpse of the damage and the residents’ plight…. it took a day or so for the police to put up road blocks and allow only residents into the town… but even then, it was sketchy if you would be allowed back to your property. Some people weren’t allowed in for safety concerns… but if you went to the barricade the next block over, the cop would probably let you in if you showed the proper ID…. there was no rhyme or reason to how the “rules” were enforced. There were so many people coming and going (residents, rubberneckers, emergency crews, Red Cross trucks, utility workers, etc) the town was in utter chaos. The national guard had been called in and was posted on every street corner… the local PD declared marshal law with a curfew of 9pm to 7am (anyone on the street would be arrested). They claim this was to keep looters off the streets and keep people homes and possession safe, but I think it was more to restore some sort of order. I unwisely felt safe… I left my doors unlocked when I left (in case FEMA or a utility worker needed access to my property) and left my belongings in the back yard to air out and dry off. On the third day of the curfew, the national guard left (in the middle of the night), leaving a skeleton crew of police to patrol the streets and, ultimately, the homes were unprotected. I had items stolen from my backyard, my neighbor had his generator stolen from his shed, some flooded-out cars on the street had their windows shattered out (for what reason I don’t know), an old woman a few blocks over was mugged at gun point for the contents of her safe (by a man with a clipboard and yellow vest claiming to be from FEMA), there were multiple assaults… and the list of crimes goes on. Much of these crimes were never reported or were dismissed because of the chaos of the time.
All of the homes were temporarily condemned in the flood hit areas. A new certificate of occupancy (CO) needed to be obtained from the building inspector to reoccupy my home… so after my basement was cleaned out, I needed get my electric, heat, and hot water back in order. I needed a new electrical box, new water heater, and new components for my furnace… in addition to phone, a washer and dryer, bleaching my basement and installing a dehumidifier, etc. I had worked with a local electrician and a plumber who both put me at the top of their lists to be repaired. Unfortunately, I still had to wait for materials because the local suppliers were all sold out. Eventually, I got all things in working order and life started to return to normal… sort of. I learned a few very hard lessons from this experience:
1. I can’t rely on the government to protect (or even help) me… I’m on my own in a disaster like this
2. I need a way to empty my basement quickly if I was ever faced with similar situation
3. I need an evacuation plan and place to go just in case
4. I need food, gas, water, etc in case supply lines were down and the red cross wasn’t around
5. I need sump pumps and a generator
6. I need to get trained and be armed at all times
As I began to research what I needed (as opposed to what I wanted), I began to see the bigger picture. I needed to be prepared for a lot more than high water… the “what if” I found was pretty daunting. I needed food, water, gas, tools, power, communication equipment, heat, a rugged vehicle… in short, I stopped being a sheep and became a survivalist.
For financial and personal reasons, I haven’t sold my house in Bound Brook (yet)… but the preps I’ve made over the last 12 years set me up pretty well do deal with Irene. I have plenty of food storage, I have plenty of ammunition, I’m now not only a trained in firearm use I’m a personal protection instructor, I’m a Ham radio operator, I live on the grid but could live off of it for a few days…. I’ve done quite a bit.
When Irene was heading up the coast, I began getting ready for the worst. First, I got my family out of the area… my daughter, wife, and dogs headed to her moms until the impending nightmare was over. Next, I moved my livestock (I mean my daughters pets… wink, wink); I loaded the rabbit hutches in my utility trailer and the chickens in a dog crate in the bed of my pickup and brought them to higher ground; I brought along enough food for a few weeks; I moved much of my fuel storage at the same time. On my way home I stopped by Home Depot to see what was left on the shelves (keep in mind this was Thursday…. the hurricane was due to hit on Saturday/Sunday); every flashlight except some Buzz Lightyear toys were all gone; every sump pump and hose was gone; every generator was gone; every shop vac was gone; I purchased a few things most were overlooking… two more batteries for my 18 volt power tools and a water heater (in case I flooded and needed one); side note, in addition to my regular power tools, I have an 18 volt circular saw, reciprocating saw, and screw driver and plenty of blades and bits for them… if I lose power, I won’t need my generator to put plywood over a broken window or screw a tarp down on my roof. When I returned home, I double checked my batteries; my 12 volts on the trickle chargers were fully charged; the two 18 volt batteries I have for my power tools were fully charged and I plugged in the two new ones; the cabinet in the kitchen had plenty of AA, AAA, C, and 9 volt, but I had to take a pack of 4 D out of my storage in the basement; my rechargeable spotlight in my truck was fully charged; my headlamp, camping lanterns, and maglights had new(ish) batteries… my battery power needs were covered. I next moved everything out of my basement; this was a daunting task but everything in my basement is now stored in rubbermaid containers or milk crates so moving it was easier to do… my ammunition, food storage, hunting clothing, firearms, power tools, and anything else important/expensive I could move was all brought up to the first floor; the new water heater was put up on the first floor as well; I made sure I kept 14 gallons of water and a two week supply of MRES easily accessible. Next, I got my truck ready (by the way, my truck is a full size pickup on 33″ tires with off road lights, a brush guard, and a cap); my truck is normally pretty well rigged with recovery equipment and a “go” bag but the extra items I put in are: my gassed up generator with extra fuel, my chainsaw with some extra gas and bar oil, a bucket with some basic hand tools (hammer, staple gun, utility knife, etc) and a few boxes of screws and nails, my 18 volt rechargeable tools, a few tarps and ropes to secure them, a bag with a few days clothes, ammunition and cases for the guns I would be carrying or have in the house, and heavy duty clothes, boots, and gloves; my come along, tow straps, chains, ropes, shovel, and machete are always in the truck but I made sure they were easily accessible from reaching in the cap. Lastly I got the house ready; I ran power lines out my basement window for my 3 sump pumps (yes, three… 1 is none, 2 is one, 3 your done); I ran a power line from my neighbors house to mine for his sumps (his grid normally loses power before mine does for some reason); I double checked my water alarm was in working order; I put a pair of heavy duty channel locks next to my gas shutoff; I put heavy duty rubber gloves next to my breaker panel. At this point, all I could do was wait.
About 2100 Saturday night, the fire department made a run through my neighborhood broadcasting a “voluntary evacuation”… which means they give you the option of leaving if you want to… so it’s really no different than any other day (actually it means the shelter is open for refugees). My plan was to stay until the last possible moment… and that means a foot of water in the street and water pouring in my basement windows. I knew I could run the generator underneath the cap of my truck regardless of weather and keep my sump pumps running even after I turned off my power (and the gas); side note, a building in the worst flooded part of Bound Brook burned completely from the water level up during Floyd… an electrical short started the fire, it was fueled by natural gas, and firefighters were of little use fighting it from a boat; I planned on turning off both my utilities before I left. I wasn’t worried so much about out running flood waters or leaving my vehicle, my truck can drive through 3 feet of stagnant water (I’ve done it) so I knew I could still get to high ground safely. When the storm hit Saturday night I was asleep in my bed, but the AC kicking off when I lost power woke me up (approximately 0200). About an hour later, my water alarm started going off. The water was just tricking in so I was in no rush… I put on my headlamp (much more useful than a handheld by the way since both hands are kept free to work) and raincoat and walked out to my truck to start the generator… and yes I was armed, and would remain that way for several days. My neighbor still had power (weird) so instead of running the generator I reversed the power line I had run from my house and just plugged into his outlet for my pumps. I stayed up to monitor the water level and the pumps… the water was only seeping in but fast enough to run a sump pump full time. I had to rotate one pump for another about every half hour (sumps are designed to run and shut off, not run continuously and I was worried about overheating and losing one). About 12 hours later, my power came back on… and I just watched TV and monitored my pumps while others ran around the neighborhood complaining about a foot of water already in their basement. Those people, whether because of no generator or no sump pumps, had damage similar to what was done in Hurricane Floyd… I felt bad and offered assistance as best I could but my priority was me and my home. My neighbor is the one exception to that because we have come to rely on each other for a few things.
The rain subsided about midday and I took a ride on my bike down to the river. The dyke system was keeping the water back but it was already at the same level as Floyd and was still rising. Water began filling the lower parts of the town and the National Guard was going door to door calling for a mandatory evacuation of my neighborhood. Many in my neighborhood panicked and left… I followed my plan and stayed. It turns out the NG were supposed to evacuate the east side of town and I was on the west, so my neighbors left unnecessarily (in case you haven’t seen the pattern, disorganization and miscommunication plagues emergency services in disasters). I wasn’t optimistic the unfinished Green Brook Flood Control Project was going to hold up. Just before dark, I was proven correct. The levy broke in an unfinished spot and water started pouring down Main Street… and up the side streets near my house. The authorities called for a mandatory evacuation… again… but this time I could see the water coming up the street near my house so I knew it was legitimate. The rest of the neighborhood panicked and left. To add to the panic, police were blaring sirens, banging on doors, putting out barricades, and stationing patrolmen on each corner… and again declared martial law and put a curfew in place. I, again, followed my plan and stayed. Before my neighbor left, we plugged his sumps into my power so when they cut his power (and they eventually did around 2200 hours Sunday night) he would still have working pumps. The water got to my neighbor’s driveway, but all we had was ground water seeping into our basements. I stayed up and monitored the sump pumps and the water level in the street, but it never got any higher and the pumps kept up no problem.
Around 0100 on Monday morning, the water began to recede and I knew I was out of imminent danger… I had gotten little sleep in the last two days and I just wanted to relax. I started a fire in my firepit, cooked a few hotdogs, and had a few sips of a concoction that can only come in a mason jar. As I sat there, I planned out the cleanup for the next day… mopping the basement floor with a disinfectant, putting my belongings back in my basement, moving the livestock (I mean pets) back to my house, returning an unneeded water heater to Home Depot, etc. More importantly though, I thought about the similarities between Floyd and Irene, and how I handled the two events differently. My mindset has changed considerably…. and, as a result, I know how to handle a stressful situation much better. I didn’t panic like I did 12 years ago (and like so many in my neighborhood did this time around); I had taken the right training and purchased the right gear to take care of myself and my family for a few days (actually much longer); well ahead of time, I moved all of my expensive belongings and my family out of harm’s way; I had an evacuation plan and bugout location (I actually have several). In short, I turned what could have been another disastrous flood into a mild inconvenience. I didn’t do everything perfectly this time around, but it was close… and just like Floyd, this was a learning event and I know my preps will improve as a result. Eventually, the sheriff’s deputy that had been stationed on my corner noticed the fire. He came walking onto my property and told me I needed to put the fire out because there were gas leaks all over the place. I actually laughed out loud, complied with his request (I was tired anyway), and went to bed (in my own bed).