*Hurricane Mathew Observations and Lessons Learned 2016*
By: 2manytoyz
16 November 2016

I've lived in Florida since 1981. I was in Alabama when Hurricane Camille hit. I've seen quite a few storms, no two are alike. Nor is the damage, or the response from officials. Complacency had set in locally. It had been 11 years since we had a hurricane hit the area. 2004 was a BAD year for this area. Even my last house had half the shingles ripped off, and suffered water damage. Now 11 years later, I'm living in a different house, and my actions are very different.

Hurricane Matthew caught my attention early. The bad storms that have hit here have followed the path this one was taking. The weather guessers were expecting it to be a Category II as it went through Cuba. It was a IV. It regained strength quickly after passing over their island, and marched up the East coast of Florida. The early models showed it staying off shore, but as it got closer, the updated models showed it as a direct hit here.

The Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and my home on Merritt Island, are all merely a few feet above sea level. If the winds weren't bad enough, storm surge can push walls of water, crushing things in its path. Unlike a tornado, which has devastating winds for a short period, a large hurricane can have extreme winds for hours. The upside is there's PLENTY of warning that it's coming. Unfortunately, many ignore the warnings until the options are gone.

Mandatory evacuations were announced for the barrier islands (Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, etc.) and Merritt Island, which is between the barrier islands and the mainland. What this really means is all emergency services are LEAVING. You're on your own. The ambulances and fire trucks are moved to the mainland, along with the personnel. They will not go door to door and force anyone to leave. Even the Cape Canaveral Hospital was evacuated (no small task).

Days in advance, I got our travel trailer ready to go. I also reserved a campsite on the opposite coast of FL. I will ride out a Category I or II, a III if not expected as a direct hit, a IV or V, we're leaving. But after carefully watching the storm, I opted to stay at my father's house on the mainland in Cocoa. His house was built in 2005, which met the Dade County Hurricane Codes. Our 1990 home does not. Furthermore, his is a poured concrete construction, ours is a wood frame. I put the shutters up at our home, turned off the water, and secured power to non-essential equipment, like the water heater. We then loaded my truck, and my wife's Jeep, with all our bug out essentials, food, generator, 50 gallons of gas, etc. Off to dad's house.

Once there, I installed the shutters on his house. Many neighbors were doing the same. I put the food indoors, and the generator in the garage. I lowered the temperature of his fridge and freezer to maximize the time things would stay cold when power went out. I also bumped down the A/C thermostat for the same reason. We had enough food and water for over a week with us, and he had food at his place too.

Emergency supplies like plywood were selling fast.  This guy also had a surfboard in the back of his truck.  Plan B maybe?
As the weather got worse, panic started to set in.  I wonder how bad the back of his crossover got chewed up hauling heavy sheets of plywood.
Years ago, my father had professional shutters installed on his home.  Only the upper and lower rails stay in place.  To install each panel (4 on this window), it's inserted in the upper channel, and the bottom of the panel rests on bolts.  Add a wingnut, tighten it, add the next panel, repeat.  These are the more expensive clear panels.  Mine are steel.  Cheaper, but the house is very dark once they're installed.  Note the neighbor's panels.
They spent much of the day figuring out how to cover windows and doors with the materials they were still able to purchase.  Creative for sure.  And certainly better than nothing.  But knowing the hurricane season is half the year, and we're very close to the coast, why not have these already sized and ready?  His neighbor on the other side inquired about the panels I was installing.  He thought I had just purchased them.  Sorry buddy, not only can you not buy these anywhere now, all the plywood sold out hours ago.
This is a wingnut driver.  Not required to install the shutters, but sure makes it faster and easier.  On the average day, you can find these for about $20 locally.  Days before a storm, of course not.  This one is my father's.  I made mine from an old deepwell socket, and carved a slot in it with a grinder equipped with a cut-off wheel.
To prevent cross-threading, I always start a nut by hand first.  As you can see, these are a little special.  They have a built-in washer.  Putting the panels up when it's raining is challenging.  He has no gutters, and the water pouring off the roof hit me in my head and face.  I was having a hard time with one of these.  Wouldn't start no matter the angle.  Upon closer inspection, it had no threads!  Inspect your hardware ahead of time.  This one was fine.
With this tool, I can put up all the shutters in about 20 minutes.
The last area I put up panels was on the patio.  Note my footwear.  Fashionable, probably not, but having done this before, I quickly learned the ground gets soft and wet with all the rain, and sneakers get wet and nasty.
The upper rail for the patio panels stays attached, but the bottom one is removable.  It would be a serious trip hazard, especially with all the bolts in it.  The slab had already been drilled for threaded inserts.  Remove the screws from the slab, put the rail in place, re-install the screws.  Simple and effective.
This is the view from inside.  The waffle shape does distort the view some, but you can still see out pretty good, and lets in plenty of light.  The downside is this exit is now blocked.  Still two other doors on this house.  These panels can be left installed all year, but they tend to yellow in the high UV environment.  I'm sure it degrades the strength over time too.
The Racetrack gas station near our home is huge.  Only part of it is shown here.  In a matter of hours, they sold out of everything except premium, then it was gone too.  Note the yellow tape.  Other gas stations were having the same issue.  Me?  I filled up both BOVs, and all my gas cans days in advance. 
I always have some gas stored at home, but I also have a bunch of 5 gallon gas cans empty, but available for use when a storm approaches.  I keep these in the shed out back.  During a previous hurricane, gas cans were selling out almost as fast as gasoline. While the masses were scrambling, we were keeping quiet about our preps.
Here's one of my gotchas.  The collar on the Midwest gas cans is a weak point.  Even when not very tight (can was empty), it still managed to crack.  Consequently, one gas can was burping fumes.  I bought several more from eBay just to have on hand.
The back of the truck is being loaded for the bug out to my father's home.  Under the blue cover is my trusty Yamaha EF2400iS generator.  Plenty of gasoline, propane, propane stove & lantern, chainsaw, etc.  The wife's Jeep had food, keepsake items, an 12K BTU portable A/C unit, etc.  I had the backseat of the truck loaded too.  Once the bed of the truck was full, I pulled the metal roll-top closed.  All these items secure, and out of sight.
Once we had my father's place squared away, he said one of his friends was going to stay at his place also, as he lives on a barrier island and was affected by the evacuation as well.  He was bringing food, but I thought I'd grab extra stuff just in case. He might show up with a bag of potato chips, and an appetite.  The ticket concept is a great one, but he wasn't  on my radar, and I don't know him well enough to have any idea what he'd bring.
Outside the store, two guys were yelling at each other.  Rare sight here.  Tempers obviously flaring.  Though I was packing, this had nothing to do with me, so I remained grey, and went about my business.
  This picture was the bread isle at Publix.  But rather than freak out, or be disappointed, I went to the bakery.  Of course all the shelves were empty there too, but I asked if they had anything.  They had fresh loaves of bread behind the counter.  They were still cooling off.  Booyah!  I grabbed more staple items, along with a few more cases of water.  Each passing minute, the weather forecast was getting worse.  Time to head back and batten down the hatches.
I had given my father a sealed lead acid battery a year ago, and a Xantrex charger, for use with his Ham radio.  I topped up the charge before connecting it to his radio.  Anderson connectors make short work of this.  When the grid went down, his radio didn't.  We belong to several Ham radio clubs, and have many local resources.  They also provided a much better picture of what was going on throughout the county.
This was a new one.  I've never seen water shut-off before an approaching storm.  While it didn't affect us at my father's house, many of my friends stayed behind on Merritt Island.  I sent each of them a text message, none had heard about this.  Furthermore, one of my friends is a Fire Fighter that was riding the storm out at KSC.  I contacted him via social media, and he had only heard rumors.  The City of Cocoa said they were doing this to prevent contamination of their water system if it gets damaged from the storm.  More on this shortly.

The storm bands hit us through the night.  Nothing more significant than we've been accustomed to during a typical Summer storm.  But by early morning, things got worse.  The house creaked a little, but the shutters held, and the power remained on until the storm was here.  Those crosshairs show my location.  Less than 20 miles from making landfall.  WAY too close for comfort!
I bought some nifty LED lanterns from Amazon, and bought more after the storm.  These use AA batteries, and last for many hours.  Ideal for my Eneloop rechargeable batteries I brought with us.  The camera doesn't really show how well it was lighting up the room.  Got these for $5 each on sale at Amazon.
Once the storm subsided, the sun started coming up.  Before things got hot and humid, I setup the generator.  But I screwed up.  I had built a fancy cart for my generator, but I deemed it too large to bring.  I also built a much smaller one prior, but didn't think about it.  The oversight caused me to carry a 75 lb. generator from the garage, all the way around to the back of the house.  I'm not as young as I used to be, and I could have hurt my back in the process.  The smaller cart is now on my list.
His patio has a metal skirt around the base.  It  helped conceal the generator from view.  And with other generators running in the neighborhood, this one couldn't be heard.
This is an 12000 BTU A/C unit.  It has dual ducts to route the hot air from the condenser outside.  Consequently, they much be routed outside.  It came with a short plastic panel made to fit in a window, but a sliding door is much taller than the panel.  I used cardboard and blue painters tape (brought with me for this purpose) to seal it against the door, and the painted wall.  The generator ran the A/C, TV, etc. fine.  But to run the fridge periodically, I had to turn the A/C compressor off.  His fridge, like mine, goes into defrost mode when power is applied.  It eventually goes back into cooling mode, which draws far less power.  I found running the A/C for an hour, then the fridge for 1/2 hour, kept the house at 76 degrees, and the fridge/freezer cold.  Everyone was smiling.
I discovered his microwave built-in oven is just like mine.  Open the cabinet above, and it's plugged in there.  Anytime we wanted to use the microwave, or make coffee in a portable Keurig, I simple shut the compressor off on the A/C unit.
I didn't see where our county (Brevard) had mandatory curfews, but it wouldn't surprise me.  More people were killed here during this event after the storm than during.  A couple of people killed when a tree fell on them, a couple from running generator IN THE HOUSE, and another touched a DOWNED POWER LINE.  Common sense isn't.  Be patient, and if you want to play storm chaser, you might get more than you bargained for.
When the power went out, it took out the cable TV/internet immediately too.  Supplying power to the cable box, cable modem,  and wireless router, didn't help.  The Bright House Network was DOA.  No problem, there are digital over the air channels available.  But finding how to enable the built-in receiver via the sub menus was a major PITA.  We both have the same make/model TV.  Can't believe what an oversight this was.  After about 15 minutes, my father found a menu that gave the option of "Cable Off".  That enabled the RF receiver.  While the TV was finally finding channels, we were already watching the little 7" LCD TV (foreground) from my bug out bag.
The power came back on after a few hours.  About the time I started putting the A/C unit away, it went out again.  Argh.  10 minutes later, I had it hooked up again.  No rush to get home, the bridges were still closed until inspections were complete.  I also wanted my 74 year old father to enjoy some creature comforts while we waited. 

One of our mutual friends, another Ham radio operator, lives about a mile from my house.  After the storm passed, he drove his Jeep through our neighborhood, and sent me video.  The house looked fine, but a huge tree fell over in the backyard.

A couple more hours passed, the power came back on, and the bridges were open.  Everything was secured at my father's home, and we headed home.

The entrance to my shed was buried.  There were some large branches up against the door.
Did you know a ficus tree can become a massive tree?  I had three of them near the creek.  One fell completely over, and tore about half of the middle tree down with it.  You can only see the leaves and a few branches in this picture.
The trunk of these ficus trees are so large, it would be difficult for two people to wrap their arms around it.  There are LOTS of branches in these trees.  One tree equals dozens of other trees.
I had cut the trees for a couple of days, and without asking, family showed up for about 4 hours (until dark) to help.  Everyone busted hump.  Three of us were cutting, a couple would load the golf cart, and a couple more would go dump it.  The cart never stopped moving, and hauled tons of debris to the street.  We took turns in the various jobs.
They were cutting and clearing the many smaller branches hiding the shed.
I bought a 10 pack of cheap leather gloves a while back.  Everyone got their own.
Getting close.
Other than a ding on the top left of the shed roof, it's still intact.  I made the right call to move the generator, chainsaw, gas cans, etc., to the garage prior to the storm.  Couldn't have reached it without those items.
The yard was getting torn up from the many trips, despite the cart having tires intended for a golf course.  No matter, had to be done.
When we went in the house, the blinds were pushed in.  One of the windows had tipped in!  Pretty amazing, considering the steel shutters were not damaged, and can be seen in this picture.  Enough air pressure made it past to break the window latches, but managed to keep all the rain out.  No water damage.
The windows are original to the house (1990).  The little plastic tabs atop the windows allow the window to be tipped inward to clean it.  But the plastic is old and brittle.  Even before the storm, we decided to have much better windows installed on the East side of the house next year.
As a temporary fix, I pushed the window back in place, and wedged a couple of screwdrivers into the track to hold it.
No other damage to the house was found.  I turned the water on, and turned all the breakers on.  After all this work, I was looking forward to a shower.
The wife took her shower first.  Before she finished she asked if the breaker was on as the water was getting cool.  I checked, and it was.  But it was getting late, so I took a shower.  Let me tell you, there was NO warm water left.  I didn't want to look like a sissy, so I took the shower, okay?  I might have screamed a little, I don't remember.  If this was going to be a long term event, I have a water heater in the camper parked next to the house.  I also have a couple of solar shower bags, and can heat pots of water on the grill (tested during a grid down event).
I assumed an element had failed.  But after some troubleshooting, I found each element had about 11 ohms of resistance (about what it should be).  I checked the voltage coming out of the breaker.  Nada.  I bought a new breaker at the local Home Depot for $10.  Easy swap.
With the new breaker installed, I measured the current going to the water heater. 18.1 Amps x 240 Volts, = 4344 Watts.  These elements are rated for 4500 Watts, so that's pretty close.  Problem solved.  No spare breakers on hand.  Something I will correct shortly.
And as Murphy would have it, the Jeep kicked an idiot light on the way home.  I keep a code reader in the truck.  With the code, and a few minutes online, I found the second O2 sensor on the catalytic converter output side had failed.
Fortunately, it was an easy reach.  I took the old one to the auto parts store, and had a new one for about $30.  Took 5 minutes to install.  I used the code reader to clear the error code, and check the system again.  Problem solved.

Observations and future improvements to my plans:

We got extremely lucky. This could have been "The One" we have feared for years. Technically, it didn't hit us. But it was close enough for me. I was pleasantly surprised by family showing up to do hard work. These are city dwellers, and this was a new experience for all of them. It's good to have family! I was even surprised by my father's neighbors. They asked if I needed any help before the storm, and even afterwards. I did a number of things right, and fell short on some too. I wasn't expecting the county to shut off the water, but understand why they did, without agreeing with the decision. They also kept kids at school the very day of the evacuation. They were released at 1PM, and their family was supposed to leave at 3PM. The local parents were fuming. I'm sure there will be some heated discussions with county leaders soon.

I'm really disappointed the storm was large enough to warrant my decision to leave, but I have no regrets. A direct hit from a Category IV would wipe most of the homes here off the map. I have insurance, I can always rebuild. Sitting inside a crumbling house for hours before you die would be a horrible way to go. It's not like you could go outside to shore anything up. If the house had to be rebuilt, the wife could get the kitchen she's dreamed of, and I could completely wire the house for security and alt-power! Always a silver lining if you look hard enough.

All of these items are now in work. This will also be an opportunity to work with the wife on plans for future bug out, and also what things we should improve upon to strengthen our house, and improve our situation when the power and water suddenly quit.


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