On October 29th 2012, super storm Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey. With destructive winds up to 89 miles per hour, and a storm surge so massive that it washed whole neighborhoods away, Sandy claimed at least 37 lives, caused an estimated $36.8 billion worth of damage, and left more than half a million people without power for weeks in the state of New Jersey alone. I had never seen anything quite like Sandy, and watched in awe as the raging winds toppled trees and caused transformers to explode. Even more unsettling was the sight of a stray dog gnawing at the insides of a still live deer the following morning.
It was an image far more apocalyptic and dire than most were used to in our part of central New Jersey. Having just come home from a month-long mountain expedition less than two weeks prior, I was still well within a survivor’s mindset, and readily equipped to deal with the situation. Still, despite my experience in tough situations, I quickly found that Sandy had plenty teach me.
1. Trees – They Fall Down.
That old boy scout lesson about not sleeping under a widow-maker applies to any tree in a hurricane, not just a dead one! During Sandy, the room I was in was almost crushed by the top third of a live pine tree that stood over a hundred feet tall. The winds snapped it off like a twig, but luckily blew it away from the house. Had it blown towards, someone else would be writing this article. Take shelter downstairs at all times, avoid parts of the house near tall trees, and stay safely inside unless there is absolutely no other option.
2. The Surge – It’s Coming.
Do not underestimate the storm surge! Sandy’s landfall in New Jersey just so happened to coincide with a full moon, making the tides 20% higher than normal and greatly amplifying the surge. Many remember the photo of the iconic, Seaside Heights roller coaster washed into the ocean. Not everyone knows about the countless residences that were washed away with it. A friend’s parents left their mainland, bayside house across from Long Beach Island the day of the storm, driving through a foot of water to get out. Within the day, their entire house had been carried four miles away, and their second car washed up nearly 8 miles away on Cedar Bonnet Island.
3. Have A Plan D.
Have a plan with back up options; such how to best weather the storm by staying put, and different escape plans should that not be viable. Remember, in an extreme emergency, you may not be able to drive. Have yourself prepared and equipped to have to walk should an extreme emergency force you to into a position where you’re unable to hunker down for the long haul.
4. Stick to The Basics.
As with any survival situation, the separation is in the preparation! If a storm is coming, stock up on extra food, provisions, fuel, and supplies. In addition, compile an emergency kit of dehydrated rations, a medical kit, headlamp, camp stove, water purification, sleeping bag, and anything else useful for keeping oneself warm, fed, and sheltered until normal life can resume. The list can go on and on, be sure to piece together a kit specific to your area of the world, along with the type of storm or disaster you could potential face. For example, a survival kit for a forest in New England may not help you in the desert of Arizona. A generator is a huge advantage!
5. Be Careful.
Take great care with your generators! Do not run them indoors, or beneath open windows or intake vents. The carbon monoxide exposure from exhaust can be fatal, and there have been cases where individuals have died by unwittingly filling their house with the fumes.
6. Think like MacGyver.
A lack of power can suddenly rob you of basic provisions, such as heat or cooking appliances, like electric stoves or microwaves. Even without a survival kit, some simple knowledge can help you turn ordinary household items into useful survival tools. For example, a beer can and some 90% rubbing alcohol can be easily made into a stove for preparing food, boiling water, or providing heat. With just a cereal box and tin foil, one can make a solar oven capable of baking a pizza.
7. Suddenly, Your Neighborhood Is a Lake.
In areas prone to flooding, that old canoe you had lying around could suddenly have a great deal of value. Further south of where I live in New Jersey, a friend who was too flooded-in to drive was able to resupply himself and his neighbors with food and fresh water using a canoe and some inflatable tubes. Sometimes your best laid plans to bug out by car or bike might be impossible. Be very cautious, however! Be aware of downed power lines, currents, obstructions that could cause a pin or drowning, and contaminated water from flooded sewage.
8. Mandatory Evacuations? Leave Immediately, If Not Sooner.
It is important to be prepared to handle any aspect of a major emergency like Sandy. That being said, being prepared to survive is not an excuse to disregard common sense! Heed warnings for evacuation. It is the simplest method of survival! Not only do you keep yourself alive, but also you lessen the risk to individuals who have to go out and rescue you in the thick of the storm. They are there to save you from emergencies, not arrogance in the face of Mother Nature’s power. There are 37 people who are no longer around who wished they would have evacuated ahead of this storm.
9. I Am From the Government, But I Am Not Here to Help You.
Do not expect to be able to rely on others. Emergency services will be stretched and taxed to their limit, as will much of the population. The loss of modern amenities can quickly bring out the worst in people. I personally watched people fighting one another over gas, ice, even a slice of pizza. Be aware that the longer a situation persists, the more destabilized the social balance can become. As most survivalists will tell you, “America is 9 meals away from Anarchy.” Once people go without food for a few days, all bets are off. People will get desperate.
10. Form Voltron: Defender Of The Universe.
A major disaster has the power to unite. I watched many, myself included, go above and beyond in the name of rescuing and assisting others in need. Be the example of poise for others to follow. The better educated and prepared you make yourself and those around you, the better your chances are to get yourself and others safely through an emergency. The ability to survive may not mean all that much when the lights are on, but once they go out, your skillset, along with a positive attitude and the ability to adapt, suddenly becomes high in demand.
About Joshua Valentine: A lifelong outdoors and survival expert, Josh combines years of backcountry experience with a lifetime of unique and inventive fitness training, designed to prepare the body and mind for the rigors of the wilderness. Josh holds certifications as a Wilderness First Responder (WFR), American Canoe Association Whitewater Raft Guide (ACA), and Personal Trainer (AFAA). He is also a recorded Adirondack 46’r and White Mountain 4,000 Footer.