28 November, 2015

The End of November, The End of Hurricane Season

The 2015 Hurricane Season in the Atlantic is officially over.  As much as we complained about the El Nino wreaking havoc on our beach and plants, it did prevent the formation of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean by disrupting tropical depression off the west coast of Africa before they developed into storms and hurricanes.  Dodged another bullet this year.

Listen to Joe Bonamassa's "Dislocated Boy" for appropriate hurricane music while you read further.

I've been gone a long time
Lost in the seven seas.
Sail on, don't you come back
Until you learn the birds and the bees.
Who will you find waiting for you,
Squeeze blood in the wine.
Left to call my preacher
And my very lovely wife.

[Chorus 1:]
I said, hey now, knocked down, why'd you do it,
Roll me like a hurricane.
All is a bust and I'm numb, like novocaine.
Who done it, what's up, you said,
Sell me out why don't you boy,
I'm alone, severely broken,
I'm a dislocated boy.

We take hurricanes and hurricane preparedness very seriously here in South Englishtown for good reason.  There is only one road to Monkey River Village and it is a dirt road that roughly parallels - wait for it - yes, the Monkey River.  And when the river floods, so does the road.  As it has for most of November.  Check out this Youtube video posted by our neighbors Nevan and Cheryl who own and operate "The Monkey House" on the north side of the mouth of the Monkey River.  Cheryl filmed while Nevan drove and Lloydie provided commentary as they braved the road when the waters began to recede a bit.

The little building in the video is the pump house for the village water supply.  The pump has to be turned on and off manually every day or so to fill the water tower.  Last week the only way to get there to turn on the pump was to take a motor boat up the road!  Nevan said that the road looked like this for about 5 miles and that in places the water was 3.5 feet deep.  In fact, water came inside their big GMC Sierra truck.  No way our 14yr old, lower riding Subarau Outback would have been able to get through.  Like most villagers during this wet November, we have been going by boat to Independence and Placencia for our food and other necessities.  Back in 2013 I posted here and here about making a routine trip by boat for shopping.

So, you can see that it is very easy for bad weather to isolate us and we go to great lengths to be self-sufficient.  We have evacuation plans in place for when a hurricane is bearing down on us and we will evacuate until it passes.  But then we will get return (by boat) as soon as possible to salvage what we can and to start rebuilding if necessary and if possible.  We have to make sure we can survive on our own for up to a month (perhaps longer) with no outside source for water, food, or shelter.

I mentioned in an earlier post that we prefer to learn hard lessons by evaluating the experiences of other people.  And there are some unfortunate occurrences in recent history from which we can learn - Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy in the US and Iris and Mitch in Belize come to mind.  What can we learn?

1. EVACUATE IN TIME.  That is one nice thing (the only nice thing?) about hurricanes - they won't sneak up on you.  You have time to lock things down, pack things up, and then get the hell out of the way.  We have friends on higher ground in Independence who have given us a standing invitation to stay with them if a hurricane is headed our way.  We will drive the car and also take one of the boats up a creek near their place.  The cat has a carrier into which she will be coerced and the car will be filled with things we dare not leave behind. It will take some logistical planning to get it done and we update the details of the plan each season.

2.  SECURE YOUR PROPERTY against damage from wind, rain, storm surges, flood water, and vandalism.  Our construction design incorporates many security features and during the next months we will be doing more along these lines. That is for another post.

3.  PROVISION YOURSELF to be self-sufficient for an indeterminate  recovery period.  Clean water, shelter, and food are the big three.  We have been focusing on this for the last year and this is the main topic for this post.

Water - We have 24 rainwater vats plumbed into a central water supply for us and for the caretaker's cabana.  Each vat holds 2500 liters of water and has a shutoff valve at the base.  We have invested in new caps for the vats so that they can sealed off from a saltwater storm surge.

Rainwater vats under the cabana.  They are all connected via the pipes you can see in the trench, but they also have shutoff valves to isolate them independently.  We have caps to trade out for the caps that have the rainwater downspouts inserted.  The caps screw down and if the tanks are full very little salt water will be able to get in.  
We are well set for water.  We also have a couple of solar powered personal-size water purifiers if the vats get contaminated by organic material.  A cupful of bleach added to each vat and allowed to sit for 3 days will also purify the water.  We should have enough water for drinking, cooking, and sanitation for ourselves and for our neighbors.

Shelter -  I will do another post on shelter because it is such a big topic.  Let me just say here that we have tarps, tents, staple guns, window screen, mosquito nets, DEET, duct tape, space blankets, emergency medical supplies, and lots of other useful items set aside in our hurricane supplies.

Food - we tried out a new strategy this year for food and it looks like it will work for us without being too onerous to manage.  Here is our list of considerations for feeding ourselves in survival mode:

  • non-perishable food items - in case we have no refrigeration
  • organized storage - don't want to be scrambling through a messy hodgepodge when trying to cope with disaster
  • heavy on calories - we'll be burning those calories
  • plenty of no-cook items - especially for the early days when getting re-established
  • plenty of "grab and eat" items - we may not have much time or daylight for meal prep or clean up
  • plenty of variety - life will be tough enough without having boring food
  • plenty of taste - again, life will be tough enough
  • balance of veg, protein, carbs, and treats - the situation could last quite a long time

Dennis found a great little book called "The Storm Gourmet" that has recipes for meals that don't require cooking.   We got some great ideas from this book.

Basically we invested in some large plastic storage bins (Sterilite brand are very nice, but there are others, too) with gasket seals to store food in.  We have 4 "weekly" bins that each have a week's worth of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners inside, 2 "staples" bins with items like salt and powdered milk, a cat food bin, and 3 smaller "condiments and treats" bins.

Gasketed plastic bins.  The large bottom bin can hold a week's worth of food for 2.  The smaller bin holds an assortment of treats like cocoa mix, crackers, cookies/biscuits.  The book was very useful; it helped us think some things through in a new way.  The Camelback water purifier is small; we also have 2 other small water purifiers.
But we want to be able to cook too, so if our regular butane stove/oven doesn't survive, we invested in a small butane stove, along with small fuel cylinders, to include in the hurricane bins.

Our regular stove/oven with 6 burners!  Love this stove.  We will be able to light it manually if we don't have power for the builtin electric striker.  As a back up, we have a little portable gas burner.  It fits in a plastic bin.
Back in the spring, before the start of the 2015 hurricane season, Dennis made some online purchases of items for us to test.  Items like self-heating entrees, meals to eat straight out of the package, dehydrated meals with a long shelf-life, dried fruits.  We made local purchases of canned veg, fruit, powdered milk (we use that pretty often in day-to-day cooking since fresh dairy is hard to find), dried soup mixes, jars of pasta sauce, rolled oats, rice, dried lentils and beans, instant no-cook desserts, jams, jellies, canned butter (which we also use day-to-day), instant coffee, peanut butter, ramen noodles (I know it is weird, but Dennis and I both  enjoy instant ramen noodles, the kind in pouch, not a styrofoam cup).  We divided it into four bins, each holding food for a week.

There is a trick to this, two tricks really.  First, you have to make sure that the food is tasty enough to eat and second, you have to manage it by expiration date.  We had a lot of fun earlier in the summer taste-testing the self-heating meals and "eat straight out of the container" meals.  One flavor of self-heating meal, while edible, is not something I would choose to eat again.  We will use what we purchased, but not replenish that flavor.  Several other flavors were pretty good and one was excellent.  The "eat out of the container" meals were very good.  So good that we included one of them on our Thanksgiving menu - the French Bistro Three Bean Salad that Weaver asked about!  It has lentils, flageolet, kidney, and cannellini beans along with sweet corn and carrots.  Now that hurricane season is over, we have sorted through the bins and pulled out all the items that will expire before this time next year.  We have a bonanza of food to eat in the coming months.

To make it easy to manage, I made a spreadsheet (I do love a good spreadsheet. Really, I get into spreadsheets.) to track what is in each box and what has been removed from each box.  It will be an easy matter in the spring to restock the boxes.

This part of Belize is tucked away in the south, protected somewhat by Honduras and Nicaragua.  Since 1864 only 4 hurricanes with windspeeds greater than 100 MPH and 7 with windspeeds between 70-90 have made landfall within 50 miles of Englishtown.  150 years, 11 hurricanes - those aren't bad odds.    I'll be adding pages to this blog layout with more details on hurricanes.  Dennis has assembled some great data worth sharing.  (First I have to figure out how to use blogger "pages" function.)

Depending on how hard a hurricane hits us, we could still have local food such as coconuts, available at South Englishtown.  We have what we consider reasonable risk mitigation and contingency plans in place, but we could have a cabana with no roof or no solar power.
Coconut palms of various ages.  Well away from the cabana where the coconuts pose the least risk as damaging projectiles in a hurricane.  You would almost think we planned it that way.
Or we could have nothing, absolutely nothing; no house, no beach, no water, no land. No guarantees in this life!


  1. Wow, that is very much the downside of my fantasy about living in such a wonderful place. I realise that your odds are far better than some of the places in America that get regularly hit but it must be an awful fear that overnight you could lose everything that you have there.
    As someone who gets very panicky about severe gales here in the UK, I would really struggle with those kind of regular threats. Also, those extensive preparations must come at some expense to your annual budgets.

  2. It is all about risk, isn't it Derek? In Minnesota (and much of the US) there are tornadoes which strike without warning to worry about. Deadly flooding can occur anywhere in the world. Sinkholes swallow roads, cars, houses, people. Blizzards in winter. Earthquakes in California. Natural disasters abound. You have to decide what you can deal with and what is a show stopper for you personally. We are comfortable with this risk and view the preparations as insurance and part of the cost of living here. But we understand many folks would prefer just to visit or live here part-time when hurricane season is over!

  3. Umm. It's not all plain sailing in Paradise. You obviously have thought through what is needed to be well prepared. Let's hope it never comes to be tested in earnest.

    1. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst - isn't that what they say? We've tried to think it through and we hope to never learn where the gaps are in our plans.

  4. I've never lived in such a scary hurricane spot. Good to see how prepared you are. I had clients in Miami some years back. I was there regularly but I would never go during hurricane season!

    1. Good call, Mitchell. It is usually pretty hot and sticky in Miami during hurricane season, not the best time go anyway! It is really not that scary if you evacuate in time. We won't be doing any hurricane parties like they did in New Orleans during Hurricane Camille in 1969 ...

  5. We get typhoons here in The Pacific although they usually fizzle out before they hit where we live.

    Neil Young never sang a song title such as 'Like a typhoon' though...............

    1. Yeah, "typhoon" doesn't have the same ring as "hurricane".

      I was only 2 and a half in 1957 when Typhoon Faye hit Okinawa with wind speeds of 145mph. I was too young to be scared, but vividly remember the wind blowing the rain THROUGH the concrete walls of our house. Our 2 Okinawan maids were with my 2 older sisters and me while our Father drove our Mother to the base hospital to give birth to our baby brother, which added to our excitement. Here is an account of the typhoon: http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1957/09/27/page/8/article/american-base-on-okinawa-is-hit-by-typhoon

  6. This is some really good hands on advice. You've lived to tell the story and I think you should write a book. Seriously, you can tell of your own personal first hand experiences with all of the things that people 'back in the states' take for granted. They either will be: A) Better prepared themselves should this type of disaster befall them or B) Thankful for the comfortable life style that they have. Wich ever it is it sounds like a win/win situation.
    Hope everything is going well now. Blessings to you both!

    1. Thanks, Nick and Silke. Those of us in or from first world countries tend to take a lot of our good fortune for granted. It is easy to get complacent, and then it takes only a small disaster to undo us. Things are very good for us, and I hope life is going well for you both too.


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