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).


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