Message from Dan: Hey Pack (and everyone else). Starting today, I will post a weekly chapter of a fiction novel that Megan wrote. To navigate through the chapters, you can use this link. I think you’ll love it, and don’t be shy about offering feedback. Megan might decide to continue writing it (we have 11 chapters so far), or she could start a new one.
Weathering the Storm Together is about an average South Carolina family and the ups and downs that occur as they prepare to get out of the way of a major hurricane. As the McElroys journey toward safety together, they find some unlikely help along the way, and come to realize that sometimes weathering the storm together is the only way to survive. Enjoy!
Steve glanced at the clock on the wall in his office and sighed. It was only mid-day. He strode to the door and closed it. He pulled his packed lunch from the mini fridge and returned to his desk. He switched on the TV in the corner and sat back in his chair with his feet on the window ledge. The news was on so he increased the volume and then reached into his lunch bag for his sandwich.
“….the hurricane is predicted to hit the coast in three days. Experts predict an upgrade to a Category 4 by the time it makes landfall.”
Steve shook his head in disbelief at the weather report. He instinctively glanced at the sky through the window as he picked up the phone and dialed his wife. As Steve waited for her to answer, he mentally ran through the list of things to do in his mind.
He needed a way to protect the new windows they put in over the summer. They were ready for the typical storms that often hit their area, had a good stockpile and bug out bags in order, but a category four hurricane was a much bigger challenge.
They were close enough to the coast that they could see tropical wind damage and flash flooding similar to what hit the area after Hurricane Joaquin in October of 2015.
“This is Jess McElroy” he smiled as his wife’s voice came on the line. It always amazed him that she would just answer the phone without looking to see who it was first. It was one of the many ways they were different.
“Hey honey, it’s just me. Have you seen the news?” there was no way to keep the concern from his voice.
“No, I just walked out of a conference meeting. What’s up?” Jess’ voice seemed to pick up on the concern in Steve’s voice.
“Hurricane. And they’re saying a Category 4 is possible. In 3 days, Jess.” Steve tried to deliver the news as gently as he could. They were the parents of three children and had just finished a long-awaited remodel on the house several weeks ago. Steve knew a hurricane could wipe that all out.
“Oh Steve, no!” Jess’ dismay was apparent in her voice.
“I know honey. But yes, the forecast predicts landfall in roughly three days and possibly a Category 4 by then. We’re going to have to get a few more things in order.”
“Right. Yes. We aren’t quite ready for a hurricane.” Jess agreed.
“I’ll stop at Home Depot on the way home and get lumber. We’ll have to be ready to board the windows to protect the glass. Can you think of anything else I should pick up from Home Depot?”
“No, not right now. Our food and water stockpile is all set. We’re good for quite some time. Oh, wait, maybe some of those heavy-duty plastic tubs and some bubble wrap, maybe? I can pack up the most breakable decorations and such now and put them in the closet under the main stairs. There’s no guarantees but maybe it will protect them from damage.”
“Okay. Stay in touch. See you at home in a couple of hours.” Steve hung up the phone and went to get his bag from the back of the office door. It was nondescript, just a black messenger bag, but he always carried it and kept it within easy reach.
Inside his black get home bag (GHB) were numerous items that could help to get home safely during an emergency, such as the coming hurricane. As he finished his lunch, Steve did a quick inventory just to make sure everything was in order and working. He was confident Jess was doing the same thing with her own GHB right now.
Steve reached into the GHB and turned his small flashlight on and off several times and checked to ensure his lighter was working and still full of fluid. He checked the seal on the plastic bag that held his matches to ensure it was closed tight.
His LifeStraw water filter was in the small front pocket, but from beneath his desk where he kept a case of water for lunches, he grabbed a bottle of water and added it to his bag, just in case.
Next, he made sure his first-aid kit was intact and checked the charge on his portable ham radio. He opened his bottom desk drawer and grabbed several of his spare granola and energy bars and threw those into his GHB.
Then he double-checked to see that his personal hygiene kit (a gallon zip-lock bag with everything inside) was intact. He had nearly seventy-five dollars in cash along with duplicates of his credit cards, his passport, and his concealed carry permit in the bag as well.
Now that he and Jess had talked, Steve knew that they were in critical response mode for the next several days. “Critical response mode” was a term they adopted which meant they would each now follow certain procedures to stay in touch and stay safe.
Steve would text Jess before he left the office and again once he reached Home Depot. Then he would text her again that he was on his way home and which route he was taking.
Jess would do the same when she left her office and got to the daycare to pick up their youngest child. This communication plan was something they had worked out several years ago. It would help them keep track of one another if things got chaotic or one of them didn’t make it home as expected.
Their oldest son, Jeff, nearly 16, carried a cell phone and so did their 12-year-old daughter, Samantha. Steve and Jess would sit down with the kids at dinner and explain the potential dangers with the coming hurricane and go over the emergency plans again with them to make sure everyone was clear on the communication plans in case things got chaotic over the next few days.
Later that afternoon, Steve sent the text to Jess as he left the office. It let her know the route he was taking, his destination, and the approximate time he would check in again. He had received her text thirty minutes earlier to say she had picked up Delia, their four-year-old daughter, from daycare and started on her way home.
At Home Depot, Steve bought the lumber and plastic tubs and loaded them into the back of his Durango. He sent Jess a text just before he started the Durango and headed for home. About halfway home, he got a text from Jess saying she was already home with Delia and confirming the older kids were home too.
When Steve arrived, he left the lumber and tubs on the back of the Durango and headed inside. “Hi, Daddy!” Delia had heard him pull in. She ran down the hall and leaped into his arms just like she did every afternoon.
“Hey there, my little princess. How was your day?” Steve hugged her and stroked her long dark hair before setting her down again. He winked at Jess standing in the kitchen doorway.
“It was good, daddy. Miss Tucker brought a nanny pig to school today!” Steve smiled and took Delia’s hand as they walked toward the kitchen.
“A nanny pig?” Steve arched an eyebrow to Jess.
“Guinea pig.” Jess clarified.
“Ahh, what was the guinea pig’s name?” Steve grinned at Delia’s excitement. She was oblivious to the coming danger, and for now, he was going to cherish her excitement. Delia tagged along behind Steve as he washed his hands, the whole time she rambled on about “Wheeter, the nanny pig” and how cute he was.
Just a short time later, over dinner, Steve and Jess broke the news to the kids about the looming hurricane and went over the family’s emergency plans with them. Jeff, Sammy, and even Delia were much older now, so a few changes were needed to reflect that.
Confident that at least the older two children were on board with the emergency plan and would know what to do if separated from their parents, they excused them from the table to do their homework and get ready for bed.
“You okay for now baby?” Steve asked as he cleared the dinner plates from the table. Jess nodded, but it was evident she was deep in thought. Steve carried the dishes to the kitchen and returned. He massaged Jess’ shoulders as he stood behind her. “It’s going to be okay. Jeff and Sammy are old enough to help. We’ll be ready.”
“I know. I do. It’s just…what if we’ve forgotten something? What if things don’t go the way we think they will, or the hurricane comes in early, or….” her voice trailed off as if just thinking of the different scenarios made it worse.
“We’re going to do what we can do, and it will be enough, you’ll see. We’re strong; we have a little warning, so we’ll be ready. Whatever comes, we’ll manage somehow.” Steve wasn’t sure if he was trying to reassure Jess or himself.
There were three lives in their hands now that they were parents. Steve headed for his Durango to get started putting together the wooden window shutters. He was well aware that bugging out was best saved for a last resort option. He hoped these additional preparations would be enough, that the worst of the storm would shift and miss them, and they wouldn’t need to bug out at all. But only time would tell.
It took several hours for Steve to turn the wood he’d purchased at Home Depot into shutters that could be hung over the windows of their newly renovated home to protect it from the Hurricane that was projected to hit the coast in a matter of days. He placed the newly made wooden shutters just underneath each window of their ranch style house.
During the home renovation, he’d had the contractors install anchor points around each window in preparation for the wooden “storm shutters”. He mentally kicked himself for not having gotten these made up sooner. But at least all he would need to do now is lift the shutters into place and clip them into the anchor points and lock them shut just before the winds picked up.
He put a similar wooden shutter next to each of the exterior doors of the house which they would lock into place if they decided to bug out or just before the storm hit if they made the decision to ride it out. Since Steve knew garage doors are often the most vulnerable during a hurricane, during the recent renovation he had ordered and installed a wind retrofit kit to brace the garage door, including a heavier 14 gauge track.
While Steve worked on the shutters and readied the bug out supplies, Jess wrapped the breakable home decor and other items in bubble wrap and packed them into the plastic tubs to store under the main stairs.
Once she finished protecting the most delicate items from each room of the house, she did an inventory of the food and water stockpile and made a list of any missing items.
Jess knew that the stores would empty out very quickly as the hurricane got closer to making landfall and people began to panic. She doubled checked to make sure items she knew would disappear fast were plentiful in their stockpile such as:
- Matches, lighters, and candles
- Canned meats such as tuna, chicken, spam, and vienna sausages
- Lantern oil and replacement wicks
- Batteries in all sizes
- Cookies, crackers, and chips
- Plastic garbage bags and ziploc bags
- Extension cords
- Canned soup, baked beans, and vegetables
- Coffee and coffee creamer
- Motor oil (for vehicles and for generator)
- Paper towels
- Toilet paper
- Baby Wipes and Lysol wipes
- Solar lanterns and inflatable solar lights
Jess also checked the expiration dates on all of their food and moved any items expiring within the next couple months into their safe room which was built into the basement during the recent renovation. These supplies would be used first and if an evacuation became necessary would be loaded into the car to supplement their bug out supplies.
In the morning Jess would go through each room of the house and check the insurance inventory list to make sure that serial numbers for electronics and appliances were all included. She would take photos of the new items they had acquired since her last inventory and add them to the insurance inventory list.
Tomorrow she would also review their flood insurance documents to make sure any newly acquired items were added to the policy if needed. Only after she reviewed their flood insurance policy to make sure any needed updates were complete would she breathe a sigh of relief, knowing she had done what she could to protect the family in case any items were damaged or lost during the storm.
She was thankful they had purchased the flood insurance after hearing horror stories from friends whose homes were damaged during Hurricane Joaquin.
Many of their friends didn’t discover until afterwards that homeowner’s insurance didn’t cover flood damage and some were even denied federal assistance because they had failed to get separate flood insurance that was required.
After getting the wooden shutters into place, Steve checked all the fluid levels on their two vehicles in case an evacuation became necessary. Then he grabbed the plastic tub next to the garage door which they used to stored purchased supplies before moving them to their bug out location.
The plastic tub held an assortment of spare parts for their vehicles including fuses, bulbs, washer fluid, brake fluid, and spark plugs as well as things like baby wipes, toilet paper, and other convenience items they could use extra of at the bug out location. Jess and Steve had been diligent about picking up items whenever they went on sale and tossing them into the bin.
Their bug out location was a cabin, just about three hundred miles away, in Blairsville, Georgia. From their home in Walterboro, South Carolina, it was just under six hours straight through by car in normal traffic and seven and a half hours if they avoided the main highways.
It would be significantly more during a SHTF scenario like a hurricane evacuation, especially if they didn’t leave ahead of everyone else in the area. Steve was glad he and Jess had used their savings in the previous year to stockpile their bug out location with supplies they would need to survive up to 3 months.
It would take them over a week or longer if they were forced to walk the entire distance to the BOL for some unforeseen reason, but since two of the kids were older now, they would be able to carry enough supplies between four packs to get through at least two weeks, if not more.
Their designated bug out vehicle was the Durango. It was well maintained so he wasn’t expecting mechanical failure but he knew anything could happen. Over the last two years they had purchased four collapsible bicycles which could be transported in the trunk or on the roof of their vehicle in case they needed to abandon their vehicle for some reason along the way.
They also visited the cabin in Blairsville several times a year, since they had family in the area. Each time they traveled they took time to map the route, avoiding the US highways and taking back roads to avoid as much traffic as possible and make notes of any possible bottleneck points.
Their bug out plans now included several different routes using roads as well as at least two bottleneck points where they could go “off-road” if absolutely necessary, using old logging roads and power line easements to skirt any traffic jams.
The population of Blairsville was under 1,000 people and surrounded on all sides by forest and in an extended SHTF scenario, there was nearby access to several lakes in the immediate area.
As long as they could make it through to Blairsville, and their BOL wasn’t compromised before they arrived, they would be okay for quite awhile. It was getting dark so Steve took one last lap around the yard to ensure everything that could be put away or anchored down was readied.
The solar-powered stick lights along the sidewalk were on as he headed back inside to see how Jess was progressing with the other preparations. He made a mental note to pull those from the ground and put them in with their supplies the next day.
As he stepped inside the back door, the emergency radio crackled and signaled an incoming alert message. Jess heard the signal and came from the living room to stand in the door of the kitchen and they listened with dread.
“A state of emergency has been declared for the Caribbean which has been directly hit by the hurricane. As this hurricane makes landfall on the coast, preliminary projections indicate that a state of emergency could be declared for Florida at some point tomorrow…..” As the alert finished and began to repeat itself, Steve glanced up at Jess.
“We may have to rethink staying put if Florida declares a state of emergency because it’s likely Georgia and our South Carolina Governor will follow suit.
We will want to be out way ahead of all that traffic. But that’s a decision for tomorrow morning.” Jess nodded and slid her arm around Steve as he came toward her. “For now, let’s try to get some good sleep. It may be the last chance we’ll have for a little while.”
(continue reading chapter 2 here)