Survival Stories

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 Barbara Gilbert's Story:
I am 70 years old, and an R. N. who has had quite a bit of disaster training, and I live in a large Florida retirement community. Several years ago our community was damaged when Hurricane Francis swept through. We were without power for five days, and some of our residents who were very elderly went without food, medication that required refrigeration, or water or toilet facilities for that length of time. Food spoiled in refrigerators and freezers.  Many people went to swimming pools to get water for flushing toilets, and bathed in the dirty pools.   Telling them not to because the water was contaminated did no good, and they continued.  Flushing  toilets only made those who lived at a lower elevation have sewage back up in their bathrooms.  Some people in power wheelchairs could not charge their batteries and were marooned in their own homes. The charitable organizations didn't know we existed, and neither did our electric company because it had changed ownership not long before.

The manager of the complex and his wife has sought shelter in another state and were not available to help anyone for over a week. Our phone lines were all down for days.

After 5 days in 100 degree heat and humidity to match, I called a local radio station which was giving away water, and told them of our plight, and asked if I could come get water for our community. A local deli owner was donating that water, and the disk jockey told me to call him. I did, and by early evening, he had gotten donations from Sam's Club, a bakery and others, called people he knew who have large pickup truck- mounted barbecue grills, and got them to our large clubhouse, and fed 500 people before dark. United Way sent 6 lunch bags. Yes, six. Then we never heard from them again. 

A local pharmacy sent supplies for diabetics, and other people came with any food they had that they thought would be of use. A minister whose church is nearby offered the use of their restrooms. Two of my adult sons were with me, and they, along with other men, distributed food to those who could not leave home. My youngest came back to tell me that an elderly couple in their mid-90s thanked him for the barbecue but said they couldn't eat it. He asked why, and learned that they had no teeth. I had seen the small packages of cold pudding and Jello that someone brought in a cooler, and I had him take it all to them. He did, and told me when he gave it to them, they wept with gratitude. They hadn't eaten in that five-day period. The radio station broadcast our plight, and a neighboring section of townspeople brought dozens of coolers full of food and bottled water. Firemen who have a training station here literally hijacked a truckload of ice being given out downtown, and brought it to us. Electric workers from North Carolina came in five trucks and worked in raw sewage that had backed up where they needed to work to get our power restored, and by the time I got home at 9PM, it was done.  My sons and I gave the donated beer to the firemen and thanked them for their redistribution of ice.  They’re used to saving lives here in our community, and we love them and take good care of them, too.  They are our paramedics.

Had we gone without power much longer, I'm sure there would have been deaths. The following morning, the electric crew was back to finish some details. I caught them having lunch by their trucks. They were laughing and joking, and the camaraderie was nice to see. I walked up to them and told them that they were heroes, and that they had saved lives last night, and that we are grateful they came. They had no idea what I was talking about. I told them that this community is for retired people living in a thousand homes here, and what we had gone through for five days had made us ragged and how I didn’t think we could have lasted much longer. I told them that if they hadn't come, some of our residents would not have made it through the night. They didn't know. By the time I left, all they could do was stare at each other, mouths agape, and shaking their heads.  I hope they bragged to their families when they returned home to North Carolina because they deserved it. 

Our community is now listed with the electric company as a Priority One community, but since we have a large resident turnover here, and snowbirds from out of state who don't understand the dangers we face during a hurricane, there are always many who are caught unprepared. Since we live in the center of the state, they feel safe, not knowing that we too can have devastating wind and rain. There will be many to feed and house, and who will need to be transported to hospitals or trauma centers. We can be a help to our neighbors and my husband and I can take care of ourselves. We also have a CERT group here now, and more resources. Still, many of our elderly are fragile, and early and appropriate response is very necessary. We don't plan for others to come to take care of us; no one ever should. We do what we need to do to provide for ourselves in most scenarios. I hope my meals in jars and pouches are never needed, but if they are, I will be prepared to help. If a lot of us have jars and pouches of food, we will sustain ourselves.

You bet I am a prepper! Today I learned how to build a rocket stove, and I'll be buying materials for one this weekend. I've learned how to smoke meat, because I can do a lot of that for my neighbors when we don't have power, and to dehydrate and vacuum seal food and other skills, and I don't intend to stop learning, and then I'll be available to teach others who want to learn. Because that's who we are. Survivors.

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