In 2009, during the great deep freeze of the south I was 7 months pregnant. It was January 23rd when our lights went out. I woke up moments before it happened and watched the light blink out. I had 5 children to care for and no electricity to cook breakfast so I had to find something. I grabbed some fresh fruit from the fridge and cut it up for the kids to munch on for breakfast. Then I set about calling the electric company on my land line. They said it would be a day or two and we would have power. No big deal…I can handle a day.
We were fortunate, I thought, at least we would be warm thanks to our little pot belly stove. Besides, I mused, I could probably warm some soup on it. I went through my day as if nothing was wrong, feeding the kids fresh veggies and fruit throughout the day so I didn’t have to cook on the tiny wood stove. I was in for some rude awakenings. That night, we tried to heat some cans of chicken noodle soup on the stove. It didn’t even get luke warm. Then how to do dishes? I couldn’t even boil water on the thing because it required too much wood to get hot enough to do anything. Then that heat would go right out the chimney.
I had an old kerosene heater in the shed and we pulled that out. We had five gallons of kerosene too, that was half used, so we poured it into the old kerosene heater and turned it on. Then I set my pot of chicken noodle soup on top of the kerosene heater. It was dark by the time we got the soup done and doing dishes would have to wait until morning. We turned off the kerosene heater for the night and set to bed under deep blankets. We needed to save the kerosene to cook on since our electric stove was out of commision and the wood stove wasn’t good for cooking on as it used too much wood. I knew it would take a lot of cash to get kerosene in the middle of winter and I didn’t have very much. I didn’t want a fire burning over night either even though a heavy snow started. All night I heard the cracking and breaking of trees like shot guns going off. It was eerie and quiet except the occasional crack and snap.
The next day, I had to heat pans of water on the kerosene heater to get dish water. I also cooked breakfast/lunch at the same time in between heating water for dishes. After this I called the electric company…they now had a new message for me. It will be at least a week. Apparently they had to replace the entire line from here to another town. A week! The kids were already restless. What was I going to do. To make things worse the snow from overnight was so deep, we were snowed in. Plus the trees that died from the deep freeze had fallen into the road. I couldn’t just run out to Walmart and buy more kerosene.
Power lines were down everywhere. My husband was concerned for our elderly neighbors down the street that had everything electric. He danced around the downed lines to check on them. They were cold and hungry and had no water unlike us. They were moving into our other neighbors house across the street that night to stay warm. Our other neighbors across the street had a gas stove and hot water to shower and wash dishes. They used LP and we used electric for most things. They generously said they would help us, but we declined. We felt we could manage a week without hot water. Besides, down power lines are difficult for children to navigate around to get a hot shower.
That night we took our deep freezer and fridge and set them on the back porch. It was so cold outside, that we felt they would stay cooler there. I opened a box of pop tarts and fed the kids each one for dinner. I was rationing, because I knew we wouldn’t get any kerosene for a little while. The less we had to cook the better off we were. We moved our beds into the front room, to use the wood stove as heat all night as the temperature was much cooler. Everyone piled into one bed. At night we lit the candles and listened to the old wind up radio. The kids took turns winding it. We heard how much of the state was without electricity. Officials came on saying it could be three weeks before rural areas like ours had electricity. That the national guard was checking on people, but that even they could not reach some areas. I knew we were one of those areas as no national guard came by. I was horrified. We didn’t even have three weeks worth of wood or food, let alone kerosene. I held back my tears as I worried for my children…my husband held my hand and knowing what I was thinking said, “Don’t worry I will work on setting it straight tomorrow.”
The next day I used the kerosene heater to heat water for dishes and cook some breakfast. Oatmeal again. The kids gulped it down in silence which was pretty rare. I quickly did the dishes and turned the kerosene heater off. My husband grabbed his chain saw and set to cutting apart trees that downed across the road, even though live power lines were laying everywhere. He said we could drive over the power lines to get out and get some kerosene if we could get the trees out of the way. Our neighbors came out to warn him and he explained the situation, then they went away and returned with their chain saws. When the sun started to set everyone headed home and said they would work on it again tomorrow.
My husband came in tired, hot, sweaty, dirty, and hungry. I had little more than a bowl of cold water for him to sponge bathe in and some slightly warm canned beans with the last of the bread. He told me he was tired so we all snuggled down at sundown and listened to the wind up radio by candle light again. In there we heard of people trapped in their cars. We heard of EMT’s and firefighters unable to get ambulances to dying people. Our local radio man kept talking all night, assuring everyone it would be ok and updating where power was being turned on. Then we heard reports of curfews as people started looting in larger cities. It was a dark and scary time snuggled up with 7 people on one bed. The children’s eye grew wide and worried and I wondered if we should be letting them hear, but what choice did we have if we wanted to know what was going on?
The next morning, before I was even awake, my husband was outside cutting up downed trees with the neighbors. They brought all the wood to our house, so we had firewood to heat with at least, even if it was green. Then when I woke, the water started to sputter. I ran outside and hollered at my husband, and he couldn’t understand me so he came closer. I told him I thought the water was going out. We talked about it. I gathered every container I could and put water in it. I told the children in no uncertain terms not to touch it. All totaled I only had about 15 gallons. He told me not to worry, we could always melt the snow on the wood stove, it might not boil water, but it would melt it. We made a strict order of no flushing unless a number 2 occurred. I set up a hand washing station next to the bathroom door with a water basin, soap, and a pitcher of clean water.
When my husband came in he told me that our neighbor got news that kerosene is sold out everywhere with one hundred miles. He said that they were going to make a run to a large city 120 miles away when the road got clear to try and get supplies. He told me he wanted me to go on that run. I said we didn’t have enough money on hand for our supplies we needed. The ATM’s were all down, and the credit card machines too. I told him, I knew that if I could get ahold of my family, I could get some money pretty quick, but that I only had their email. Of course by this time, laundry was piling up, my kids were starting to stink even with sponge baths, and the garbage was over flowing in the container because I ran out of trash bags and had no way to the store to just grab a box. He hugged me and promised it would be ok.
The next morning he was up again before me and cutting wood clearing the road with the neighbors. Breakfast was the last of the cookies I found in a cupboard. I didn’t eat because I was too depressed honestly. I found we still had water, but it sputtered constantly. I filled a bucket and in the freezing cold went onto the back porch to hand wash clothes. I hung them on the line and hoped some of it would at least drip off before it froze. When I came in my hands were red and painful. The kids looked worried and ushered me to the stove. My eldest said she would do the next load so I didn’t have to. She was afraid I would get sick or that the baby in my stomach might die from the cold. I tried to explain that wasn’t the case, but she was too young to understand. It took a good hour for me to feel better and I had to change clothes as mine were wet. I set my wet cloths on a hanger near the stove and I got an idea…the clothes would dry better inside. I thought after they dripped as much as they could out, we should bring them in to finish drying.
After recuperating from washing clothes, I took the bag of trash we had outside and stuck it in a pit. I set it on fire. It took all afternoon for it to burn completely out. The kids played in the backyard away from the power lines, while I watched the trash burn. As the sun set, I shovelled snow onto the ashes of the trash, which had tin cans and broken glass in it. I would have to dig it all up later and throw it away properly when I had trash bags and trash pick up again. In the mean time, I left it there as a trash pit for temporary disposal of the garbage in the house. We went inside and I again used the kerosene heater to make a couple cans of pork and beans. There would be no bread tonight though. When I turned it off, I saw we only had 1/8th a tank left. My anxiety level rose.
My husband came home after sunset, exhausted like the previous day. He told me they had almost cleared the road of trees, but that he didn’t think anyone could drive out for all the snow. Then we got a knock on the door. The neighbor from across the street had a generator he was going to share with us. He even had 10 gallons of gas. He said he felt bad for all the little ones cooped up in the house all day and that we all needed to have something to help us out. My God was it a help! We hooked it up and immediately turned on our computer to get ahold of my family so we could get some financial help. Then I hooked up a crock pot to cook. It was a very small generator. We could only use the computer and a small appliance or it didn’t work. I could use the washing machine and a LED light bulb. I could use the coffee maker, crock pot, and electric tea kettle to make hot water to wash dishes with and warm water for sponge baths.
I had to constantly be careful of how much I used it for fear the gasoline gave out. My children longed for something to entertain themselves so I allowed them to watch a cartoon on the computer while I cooked using the tea kettle or the crock pot. After almost a week without anything to help it was a God send. We weren’t out of the woods yet though. We still had another two weeks and ten gallons of gas or 1/8th a tank of kerosene was not going to be enough. Plus washing dishes was still very difficult with limited hot water. Luckily, I got a reply with in minutes to my email. They would send money western union to the city I was going to so I could buy supplies.
The next day our neighbors tried to get their trucks through the snow and ice. Everyone tried to get their trucks out. No one got anywhere outside of their driveways. Our neighbor across the street said he would use his big truck, that was used to haul stuff to get out int he morning. The next morning a large truck with a snow plow on the front honked in front of my home. He wasn’t kidding when he said it was large. I hopped in with two containers for kerosene and two containers for gas. He said were were going to get there come hell or high water. He told me not to touch the door frame because of the power lines. I might get electrocuted.
We made it most of the way to the main road, when we got hung up on a log. He powered through it and kept pushing the truck until we hit the pavement. The pavement wasn’t even plowed so he set to clearing the road as we went until we hit a highway. We drove 120 miles and there was no kerosene to be found, but we did find gasoline. I got gas and food for the kids. The next two weeks were spent without electricity except the small amount the generator provided. We survived, but after that I made sure to get a wood stove that actually works for cooking, and has a ho water tank on it for dishes. After the lights came on Feb 16th, my kids said it was so weird having electricity. They ran through the house flipping and off switches, just to see them work.
When was the last time you went without electricity, running water, food, and had babies screaming for food...now you know why I prep. These are the things a mother's nightmares are made of.