Arkansas ice storm

The ice storm that recently slammed Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, and other areas last week hit Joanna’s parents as well. They lost power pretty quickly and were faced with an unknown outage length, as well as trees & limbs down all over the property and one up against the house. Like us, they have a huge garden and preserve a great deal of food, so there was significant concern about the life of all their produce and fruit in their freezers and fridge.

So I headed down to Arkansas on Saturday with a generator and chainsaw to bring some relief. I didn’t have much time to shop around for generators, so just swung by Home Depot, who didn’t have many left. I met folks from Kentucky there looking for generators; everything closer to them was gone. I was lucky to find an appropriately sized unit for what we needed, and headed south.
These things make a world of difference; just hearing the hum of the freezers and feeling the glow of a basic floor lamp seemed to feel great after 4-5 days of windup lanterns and packing the freezer with ice. We got to work and cut up most of the downed trees and limbs around their house, got the fallen cedar off the porch, and in general got started on the long road to full cleanup.

I’m not posting pictures, as they may want to protect some privacy, but the damage was pretty rough in the region. Having driven through the area, I think they actually got off somewhat light, though it doesn’t feel like it. Some of the surrounding towns and areas were really devastated, with trees completely topped, split, and fallen. I saw several older barns with freshly caved-in roofs, and some trees still on buildings. I don’t have any regional photos, as there’s no safe place to stop on windy Arkansas backroads. I’m sure Google could serve some up.

This being me, I want to use this to make a simple point: the value of self-sufficiency and sustainability in such situations. Joanna’s parents were well prepared, with lots of water stored away, many battery and windup lights and lanterns, a great deal of home-preserved food, and so on. It’s not something they rushed out to do hours before the storm (though this one had good warnings), but just the basic preparation of careful people with foresight. Driving back to Missouri, listening to NPR, I heard an interview with an authority figure in Kentucky describing how unprepared so many people were, and how that was complicating their situations as panicked rushes for basics like flashlights and canned food overwhelmed the supply network.

I don’t say this as a critique of any individual, just as an observation on the growing short-term perspective and global interdependance of our society. The more one does for oneself, the longer one looks down the road, the better one is prepared for the unexpected. We’re far from perfect in this regard; this experience has given me several new ideas for things we should consider. But like sustainability, self-sufficiency is as much a thought process as a lifestyle, and our society could greatly benefit from a little more self-analysis and long-term perspective.

7 thoughts on “Arkansas ice storm

  1. I agree with your point here, but I think there are larger issues at play than just foresight – people living check to check often can’t put aside significant stores, particularly when they’re depending upon the grocery instead of a garden. And even if the opportunity does arise to put some cash toward a little self-sufficiency, that extra money is more likely to go toward paying down debt or treating themselves given long periods of only being able to afford the necessities — people are so accustomed to having all the food/electricity/water they need in urban areas that having a backup doesn’t become a priority. This opens up an entirely different debate over wages and debt, but in any case I don’t think it’s an easy decision for many.

  2. I live in western Kentucky and your point is valid. I live in a very rural area, 5 miles from the closest civilization, so I have learned to prepare with plenty of food, water, batteries, fuel, etc saved up. Like your inlaws though, I didn’t have a generator and I also didn’t have an alternate heat source for the house besides our electric furnace. (something we’re working on but we haven’t gotten there yet) so, we drove north to central Indiana, borrowed a generator and a couple of kerosene heaters from a friend and we’ve been doing just fine in spite of the fact that we have no power and probably won’t for weeks. People in the cities didn’t fare so well though. It seems as if they are so accustomed to stopping by the store every day to buy what they need to make a meal that they don’t have anything put back for emergencys and very little resource to rely upon in this sort of situation. Out where I live, neighbors came together and cleared the downed trees out of the road, graded the snow and ice off the roads, and made sure we all had what we needed to survive. People in the cities don’t operate like that I guess. I hope that people learn something from this so that next time, they will be more prepared.

  3. Lady,I figured someone might call me on the economic side of this argument, which is fair. There are certainly folks without much spare income, for whom long-term choices such as this are not high on the priority list. And it certainly does raise questions about this country’s economic structure.However, I also think in such arguments, it’s too easy to focus on the few who can’t rather than the many who can. I don’t think a stash of water jugs, a few decent flashlights, and some canned food are too much to ask of just about anyone. Rural or urban, manure happens, and is it really too much to ask for people to think ahead? Individual cases can be made for difficult circumstances, but collectively it just seems that this country has forgotten how to plan ahead and make responsible long-term decisions instead of focusing on short-term impulses. I think that’s true whether it’s basic emergency prep, personal debt, or government spending.Anonymous,Are you still without power? How are you getting internet access?It’s certainly easier to be self-sufficient and prepared in a rural setting than an urban setting, but I don’t think that necessarily reflects on urban dwellers. Urban settings may initially be more helpless, but they’re also far easier to help. On a per capita basis, vastly more resources are being extended resetting poles and stringing lines all over the scattered rural populations of AR, MO, and KY compared to the concentrated needs of the cities and towns. It’s no accident the nearest town to my in-laws got power and water back long before the back roads. So let’s be careful setting out too many rural/urban divides.

  4. Hi Eric, Yes, we are now on day 12 without power. Thankfully, the weather is predicted to be quite warm this next week, so we’ll have less need to use kerosene for heat. We can easily survive if the house is 55 to 60 degrees, and with any luck, we’ll have some sunshine like we have today. I run alot of reports at work that require me to babysit them while they run, but I am free to surf the net while they run, which is how I have internet access. My husband stays at home and I work, sort of like the arrangement you and Joanna have, only we are on a tiny one acre piece of land and basically just garden for our own use and try to find local sources for most of our food. My main goal is self sufficiency, or at least as close as we can come to it. We’re currently looking for a little more land close to our house where we can put out some market crops and we’ll build as we go…Dixie (formerly anonymous!)

  5. Also, I didn’t mean to draw lines between urban and rural dwellers. I realize both are lifestyle choices and I would not thrive in an urban setting any more than many city dwellers would know how to thrive where I live. I only meant that the proximity to conveniences seems to make people more complacent about being prepared for emergencies than people who are at a greater distance from the conveniences that an urban setting allows.

  6. Dixie,Sounds like you have a very good, and forward-thinking, plan in place. I’m always glad to hear about more folks taking matters into their own hands however they’re able. Thanks for taking the time to comment and I hope things go well. Fair enough on the whole rural/urban thing. I know exactly what you mean; I suspect we would seem complacent to someone from rural Alaska or Wyoming, being only 20 minutes from most stores we need.

  7. I really have to say that I’m jealous of you and wife. I’m 28 years old and the same goes for my wife, I live in California and have never lived the way you are living but I would. For some reason I’ve been dreaming of living off the land and getting away from the drama of the big city. I fill that getting back to the basics and living off the land that god gave to us is the way I would like to raise my family. One day I’ll go for it if I can get my wife to want the same thing, lol! I just want to say great job and keep it up. bpisarch@csulb.edu