Looking Back On Maria: Lessons For Hurricane Season 2018

Avatar Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: November 12, 2020
Looking Back On Maria: Lessons For Hurricane Season 2018

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The sun rises over Puerto Rico offering welcome light to a people that are all too used to the darkness.  A lot of people never thought they would have to do without light and other daily things we have come to expect as part of our daily necessities.

What happened in Puerto Rico?

Well, the answer to that is complicated, but it comes down to the stark realization that living in a geographically isolated region means you are on your own when push comes to shove. Plenty of people don’t even realize that Puerto Ricans are US citizens. They are forgotten, and nothing was done to emphasize to them that such a thing could ever occur.

Island nations have their challenges and are more vulnerable, but the truth is that plenty of us live in areas that are isolated enough that a hurricane and the resulting secondary events such as flooding could make life as we know it ceases to exist for weeks or months at a time.

I live in the mountains of western NC. We are only 5 hours from Atlanta and a little more than two from Charlotte, and even here, you get shortages because we are at the end of the line for gas deliveries. This is an example of how you don’t have to be that far out. In a true situation where deliveries are not being made to grocery stores, there is just a few days cushion of supplies and less than that if people hoard things up suddenly rather than prepping ahead of time.

It is easy to get comfortable when you have near misses or smaller events that never cause total disaster.

How many of us have commented about how the weather service or local station always cry wolf every time there is a small system of weather. It is easy to say here they go again and not prepare because 9/10 times it is not as bad. It is that 1/10 that will get you.

I recently talked to a writer in Hawaii about what happened when they thought they were going to get a hurricane and he said that it made some realize just what they would be facing if something hit instead of missing the big island. As a prepper and writer, I was glad to hear that prepping has become a bigger priority for Hawaii before it is too late.

Lessons from Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico did not have adequate backup power. One of the main challenges that Puerto Rico has faced is no power for extended periods of time. This means no way to keep foods cold.

Over the long term, the power issue leads to death and destruction and mayhem on an unprecedented level.

Hospitals only have so much back up and if you have medical equipment that needs power than you are on your own.

The first step in having appropriate backup power is to assess what you need and if you want extra for your comfort then add that in. Next, you need to plan a system that can handle it.

I think it is best, to be honest with yourself about your power consumption. If you are incapable of self-control then just plan for max consumption for comfort. I’ve got news for you if you have kids: you need to get them used to being power conscious now if you want them to not use up all your backup.

The good news is that a lot of the devices we love so much like tablets, cell phones, and e-readers, all require little to charge. There are all kinds of options from small solar chargers to generators and beyond. For small needs, the Goal Zero Yeti 150 will take care of keeping laptops and small devices charged, but it is not going to power a fridge or a TV.

Building generators that rely on battery storage charged by solar panels are one solution if you have the supplies to put it together. It is cheaper to build your solar power bank than buy commercial solar generators like those made by Goal Zero.

Not everyone wants to get into all that, so that is why I try to send them in the direction of Goal Zero. These units can be kept charged using plug-in power or by the sun with a panel and they have all the different plugins you could ever need. The larger units can provide a lot of power to run a home.

I  did a review of the Goal Zero Yeti 400  and was happy with the results. We have used this little generator for various tasks around the farm and vineyard. It came in handy helping provide extra power for our sprayer for example.

Please note that although Goal Zero generators use the word “Yeti” as their model name, they have no association at all with the manufacturer of the popular and overpriced Yeti coolers. Some readers have expressed concern over them being the same. Goal Zero has good customer support, and they don’t get into political commentary like Yeti.

Without power doing laundry becomes a big issue

At the minimum, I recommend having a drum style manual crank washer. You could even have two of them if you have a household of people to worry about. Sure it takes 2 minutes to wash a pair of pants or a few shirts, but that is a sight better than having dirty and crusty clothes during the aftermath of a hurricane.

Easy Go Washer

amazon product

Keeping up with cleanliness and hygiene is essential during a crisis. Infections and parasitic skin conditions can explode during the warm and humid time of hurricane season.

That being said, hurricane conditions are no time to think you need to change all your clothes every day unless you are getting into something particularly loathsome.

Sorry folks but you can make those britches last a few days if you need to.

Corruption and incompetence with supply distribution was rampant and continues to be in Puerto Rico

Some started to wonder what was happening to all the promised supplies when they didn’t appear, and there was no indication they had been handed out elsewhere. Big surprise, there were people taking advantage of this situation to do those closest to them a favor. You knew the right people then you got some supplies, you didn’t then get in line and wait with the rest indefinitely.

Trailers of supplies set for 11 months and they also found trailers that had spoiled food in them too. I recommend the video below if you want to see this first hand. It starts out slow, but towards the end, you get the sense that something either sinister or incredibly lazy is going on. I find it hard to believe this level of incompetence is not planned.

Elitism and incompetence are alive and well all over the world, and that is not a lesson that should ever be forgotten.

People were not prepared to provide themselves with lighting that did not depend on the main power grid.

One thing that was striking about Puerto Rico was the lack of light available once darkness fell for the night. Can you imagine the fear and boredom that would gnaw at your mind if faced with sitting in the darkness or low light for many extra hours per day for weeks on end? It is hard even to do anything to entertain oneself, and low light can make it outright dangerous to do some tasks past a certain hour of the day, especially during a time when fast medical treatment may not be accessible.

People with mobility issues or the elderly may be afraid to move around and neglect themselves if they cannot see.  It is all too common for this to happen.

There are so many amazing lights out there that can be charged during the day or even hand cranked. The outdoor patio lights that have small solar panels can be left outside to charge and be brought inside later.

Seeing the plight of the people of Puerto Rico made me realize just how important light is to morale as well.  A while back I wrote about some radios that had a lot of different functions. I think having a Kaito Voyager radio or similar would solve some boredom issues and provide some light and ability to keep a small device or two charged.

Facts and figures are not accurate. The death toll of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico is much higher than originally reported to the masses.

Regardless of the who or why, when death counts are not accurate than it is easy for those on the outside to assume that the devastation was not as bad as it could be. While full power was recently restored, the death count attributed to the hurricane and its aftermath now stands at around 3,000. Plenty of these deaths were caused at least in part to the lack of power. 3,000 is a lot higher than the initial report of 64.

When disasters get downplayed in an isolated region or island nation, this can lead to it not being taken seriously enough to gain donations and aid in the quantities needed to make a difference.

Check your food supply

Everyone should have at least a weeks worth of food at all times but I honestly think you should really have a month or more if you really want to be set up for a disaster. A lot of disaster kits have 3 days worth of food to put it in perspective. If you live in an area where food is flown or barged in, like an island, then you should have that months worth of food I mentioned.

Don’t forget your pets food supply and travel needs

Dogs and cats need an emergency food supply too. If you are short on space or want something very lightweight in case of evacuation, consider buying a pack of freeze-dried dog or cat food. Sure it is pricey but it is better than not having something for your dog or cat and a 10 lb box makes 40 lbs of food in many cases.

If you have to evacuate with your dog or cat then you need to have an appropriate pet carrier on hand. Airlines and other types of transport are far more welcoming to pet owners that have taken the correct measures to confine their dog or cat for travel.

Cooking meals became difficult or impossible for some. You need a way to provide meals or have enough food put back that doesn’t need to be cooked to get you through an event.

I like having a hot meal. As someone that has been through a few disasters like floods, I can say that a hot meal sure helped me out. A lot of the videos and reports I saw coming out of Puerto Rico showed people heating up simple dishes using canned Sterno fuel. Some had made their stoves to use with the fuel.

There are a lot of ways to cook. For me, I like to use propane, and that works out well. I have a propane stove in my kitchen and while the oven will not work without power, the eyes will.  Grills are a great back up. I recently did a review of the Camp Chef stove/grill. Using this stove, you could cook for a large family for a month using a full 20 lb propane tank without being very careful.

If you want to be able to bake, there is the Camp Chef oven that has two eyes as well. This is suitable for typically sized families. Solar ovens are another option, but they can take a while to cook a meal and are dependent on the weather conditions.

I recommend storing some extra propane if you are planning on cooking with it during a disaster. An extra 20 lb tank can make all the difference. You don’t have to have a 1,000 lb buried propane tank or anything like that.

Water is a #1 priority, and you don’t want to be standing in line for it.

Standing in line for water is extremely time-consuming and frustrating. Now think about all the extra things you need to do and consider during an emergency. Time spent in line is time that is not spent caring for those that you love or taking steps to protect what you have at your home. Standing in line can also lead to people being separated from their core group for some time. If conditions develop while you are standing in line and you can’t get back to your family then all of a sudden there are a ton of other factors to consider that are entirely dependent on your specific situation.  Is there someone at home to take care of people or are you it?

A good water filter should be top on anyone’s list of preps. For families, I recommend a gravity fed water filter. If you are concerned about viruses, then get a filter that can deal with them such as the Lifestraw Mission or Lifestraw Family. Remember that you can also use some filters like the Hydro Blu with hydration packs.

Check out our Water Supply page for links to reviews and articles that can help you find a filter to fit your needs and budget. I have written a lot of reviews of specific filters for those that one very in-depth info on a specific one.

I think it is a good idea for everyone to have their own Sawyer Mini with a squeeze bag or a water bottle that has a built-in filter for bacteria and protozoa. This should be kept in a backpack or purse so that everyone always has a way to filter their water if they get caught out in a crowd or get separated from their family unit or core group during a hurricane. Also if your main filter has issues, everyone still has a way to have good water, so there is no temptation when thirsty to risk it and get ill.

Put back some cash. Credit and debit cards can be useless in an emergency.

Getting out cash or using a card may be easy now but during a crisis, it may be impossible. A few hundred dollars put back for a rainy day is great, but even $40 is better than nothing.  I remember a time when a storm took out some communications lines when I was living in Ketchikan, Alaska. If you didn’t have cash or a checkbook, it was difficult or impossible to buy anything. I was thankful that I had a checkbook at the time, but I recommend having both checks and cash on hand.

Get your prescriptions and major medical supplies now!

It can be difficult to get medication and equipment during a major event. Do not wait until the storm is bearing down to get your medication refilled. A lot of prescriptions allow for a 90 day supply per refill. I realize some medications are regulated and you may not be able to get that much but do get what you can.

If you require medical equipment such as bottled oxygen, then consider your back up needs.

Thinking and planning ahead is the best thing you can do!

Planning ahead is key. Don’t be at the store two days before the hurricane is set to hit. Be ready now! Those of you that have been prepping for a bit might have almost everything you need but you should still double check supplies and gear! Before I end this post, here is a very basic checklist to go over. Some of these items I did not cover in depth previously, but you can get the idea of what you need to be thinking about.

  • Food for at least a week. If you live in an isolated area, then please do yourself a favor and have 2-3 weeks worth of food minimum for each person in your family.
  • Water filter
  • An alternative way to cook meals
  • Medication
  • Fully stocked medical kit. Make sure your medical kit includes things like blood stop powder and Benydryl Liquid Gels. These are two lifesaving items I find that is missing in almost all kits that are just bought off the shelf. You have to add some things yourself.
  • Entertainment for a few weeks.

Preparing for a hurricane and learning from past events is important. I hope I have helped you think about some basics, but there are many things to consider that would take me many articles to discuss with the detail they deserve.

Backdoor Survival Lifeline Archive

Backdoor Survival recently launched the Lifeline Archive Project. You can now get all your favorite Backdoor Survival posts on and handy USB drive that you can access easily, even during a major event. You can find a lot of posts that expand on many of the subjects I have discussed in this post.

Follow this link to order yours today.

Have you survived a major hurricane? Do you have any tips to add for those living in isolated areas?

Samantha Biggers can be reached at samantha@backdoorsurvival.com

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