Watauga County in the Western North Carolina Mountains got hit with a massive ice storm, that rained heavily for over 18 hours in below freezing 26°F temperatures. Rain, upon hitting the trees, power lines and the roads, froze instantly to everything that got wet.
My Personal Survival Story
I was all alone on Christmas Eve 2009. I walked out onto my front porch in the dark, to see what was going on with the intense rain storm that had just started coming down very hard. It was very cold out, well below freezing – Not a good sign. The front porch was covered in a thin layer of ice, which I didn’t even notice, until it was too late. I slid sideways across the front porch and fell down the front stairs, hitting each of the 8 stairs on the way down – Ouch! I ended up laying face down in a snow bank at the bottom of the stairs, alone in the dark, and in a lot of pain, quickly being drenched by the heavy freezing rain. I was all alone up there and I had no one to call for help. I thought I was going to die. I managed to get slowly untwisted and turned around and crawled back up the icy steps and into the house. My backside was black and blue for days and I was in a lot of pain.
Christmas Morning 2009, it had rained on and off all night, but it was starting to come down very hard now. It was 26°F, well below freezing. It was beginning to look like a frozen disaster area, as you can see in this large Ice Storm Photo. While I was on the phone with my parents, I heard a loud snap and a big crash – Something big had just hit the front of the house. The phone line went dead along with the power. Something had snapped my utility lines from the pole to the house. I could see the wires laying on the ground from the side window. I now had a large tree branch sticking out of my front porch roof – Great!
Christmas Day 2009, the rain was still coming down very hard, instantly freezing to everything it touched (Photo: Right). I managed to make a raincoat out of a heavy trash bag, and with my old 1954 Rotary Phone in a plastic bag, I made my way next door to my neighbor’s house, hoping he still had a land line and power. That wasn’t very easy to do, as their mountain driveway was longer, and in worse shape than mine. It was ice covered and very slippery. All I could hear around me was snap and crash, as tree tops were falling all over the place. One encounter with a tree branch, and you were dead. I had to climb over a few fallen trees to make it up their driveway. It was a real mess up there. When I reached their house, a tree branch was laying across the roof of their truck. As expected, their phone line was out as well. I had something hot to drink and headed back home again.
Christmas Night 2009, the road was now blocked in both directions by many large fallen trees. I was now trapped here until help arrived. The freezing rain finally stopped and had turned into heavy snow. I could hear generators running down in the valley all night. The next night was totally quiet. Most generators only have enough gas on hand for about 6-10 hours of run time. My Portable Police Scanner was the only thing that was still working – Good thing I had extra AA Lithium Batteries and NEBO LED Flashlights. None of the local radio stations were on the air.
On Day 2, the Police Scanner reported that the main road at the end of my street was clear. I was very hopeful. On Day 3, still without power, I could hear chain saws off in the distance. Later that afternoon, the North Carolina State Road Crew showed up with a bulldozer and a two guys with chain saws. Rescued at last! I was able to get my truck out onto the road and into town that evening. Everything around me was a total disaster area. There were tree tops and broken branches laying everywhere on the sides of the road, and piles of ice everywhere. It took 2 more days to get the bottom end of my road cleared, and that was only a single lane rut.On Day 5, the Utility Company finally got around to hooking up the main power lines to the road.
I had reported the day before to the Utility Company that my ground wire was still laying on the ground next to the pole. When the house power finally came back on, everything that wasn’t behind the protection of a UPS Device blew up, due to 220V being put into the 110V circuit. Three overhead fluorescent ceiling light ballasts exploded with a loud bang all at once, sending large pieces of glass and burning molten plastic down into the center of the three rooms in my house. My furnace transformer smoked.
My CO2 Detector was cooked. My Smoke Detector was smoked. One of the older UPS Devices was smoldering, but it took the bullet for the stereo it was protecting behind it. Two of the house circuit breakers were toasted, so some parts of the house still had no power. I had two ground fault plugs that would not reset. I had to turn off the main power input and wait another day for this to get fixed. Green Energy or not, I will never install another overhead florescent lighting fixture in my house!I was trapped alone in my mountain cabin in the woods for a total of 3 days. I had no power for 5 days and no phone or internet for 11 days. The biggest problem was being all alone and trying to keep your mind active, and not knowing if or when you are going to be rescued. Yes, it can happen to you!
Lessons Learned in the North Carolina Power Outage
- Be prepared to be stuck without power for many days – Not just a few hours!
- Have a Secondary Heat Source – My Jøtul Propane Stove kept the house at 69°F.
- Have Sleeping Bag for each person.• Have an Emergency Cell Phone Charger.
- Have Lots of Food and Water on hand – Enough for a week or more.
- D-Cell Flashlights and Batteries were totally useless. Most were dead and leaking.
- White Glow Sticks worked for 10–12 hours each. These are highly recommended.
- Portable Police Scanner was my only source of news. No radio stations on the air.
- Tactical LED Flashlights with Lithium Batteries worked great.
- Have some paper plates, cups, paper towels, toilet paper, hand wipes, trash bags.
- When you have wires down, turn off your main breaker.
- Have the Utility Company check the main feed before turning the power back on.
- Pretend you are camping in your living room – Without the tent or the campfire.
- Have Books, Board Games or Cards – Try and keep your mind active.