When Idaho’s Teton Dam broke on June 5, 1976, the people downstream in the towns of Wilford, Sugar City, and Rexburg had only a short warning to vacate before the waters from the breaking dam hit their homes. Many people were able to grab a few cherished belongings before the flood waters took everything away. There isn’t much time to dither and debate over what to toss into the car when you know that you may lose your life if you take too long. All in all, only six people died from the flooding, while several more died because of heart attacks or accidents.
My family lived in Germany in the early 1980s. We understood that a war between the East and West could break out at any time, and we hoped that there would be enough warning during the escalation of hostilities so that civilians could be evacuated first. We knew that at some point a command would be issued for us to gather our 72-hour kits and head for the airport to be flown back to the States, while the active-duty family members would stay at their stations.
A decade earlier, when we were living in Florida, a hurricane made landfall. We had two options: either leave the state while the storm came up, or ride it out at the house. I remember the family listening carefully to the radio and watching TV as the storm approached. Finally we decided to stay put. It’s been too many years now, so I can’t remember whether we stayed because the storm was forecast to pass us by, or because it was a weakened storm when it finally hit. But my parents pondered their options before they made the decision to stay.
Mount St. Helens suffered many minor earthquakes and eruptions before it finally blew one Sunday morning in 1980. People had been warned of an eruption before it came, but scientists converged on the mountain despite the threat. And some people chose to wait it out. One such person was Harry Truman, an eccentric old man who chose not to leave his cabin even when people warned him of the danger and told him to evacuate. He refused, and he perished.
While our family was in North Dakota, I remember waking up one night to the sound of tornado alarms. We spent the next few hours in the basement while the storm raged overhead. I remember learning later that three tornadoes had been spotted that night. Knowing what we needed to do that night made the waiting easier.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have shown how important it is to listen to the authorities, and to prepare to leave the path of danger. Another thing this disaster showed us is just how much we are on our own, especially right after a disaster strikes. You should not plan on getting any aid or assistance for between 72 and 96 hours after a disaster. So you should be prepared to care for yourself and those around you for at least that period of time.
Are you prepared for a disaster? You may think you won’t have a disaster where you live, but I challenge you to name a state in the U.S. that is free of natural disasters in any form. Along the Gulf and East Coast there are hurricane threats. Massive winter storms strike the Northeast. Tornadoes hit the midlands, and extreme heat, drought and flash floods affect the desert Southwest. And we on the West Coast are in constant danger of earthquakes, volcanoes and liberals.
So do you have what you need to last the 72 to 96 hours after a disaster before aid comes in? We have a 72-hour kit here at home with the water, food, and emergency items we would need to keep us going. But what we are lacking is an easy way to carry it, and at least one change of clothes. I know that just having clean socks is a great feeling when you are tired and dirty. Emergency cash would also be very handy. And while you are putting your emergency kit together, are you making sure that you have 3-4 days’ worth of necessary medicines? If you need daily injections of insulin, anti-depressants, blood pressure or similar critical medications, do you really want to run the risk of going days without taking them?
You can visit the Red Cross or the U.S. government’s Ready.gov site to read about what your 72-hour kit should contain. I know that some local hardware stores in this area sell 72-hour kits already packed in backpacks. With a minor amount of effort and money, you could have your 72-hour kits ready and available for the time when you need it. I know of one family that has a 72-hour kit backpack hanging ready in the garage for each family member. While you are at it, you could also have a kit for your office. You never know where you may be when disaster strikes.
While you are outfitting your 72-hour kit, you should also be doing three other things. First, know where and how to shut off the water, electricity, and gas at your home. Some homes were spared additional destruction after the Teton Dam broke because the owners turned off the gas and electricity before they fled. I guess they could have turned off their water too, but with the amount coming from the dam, I think that would have been a wasted effort.
Second, there should be someone your family can call to report in after a disaster. For instance, after an earthquake, everyone could call Grandma in another state and explain the situation. After a disaster, the phone lines are usually taxed to their limit as people try to call loved ones; it’s better and easier on the phone lines to contact a single source.
Third, learn what the possible disasters are in your area and devise plans to handle them. This means that my wife and I should know what to do in case of earthquake, volcanic eruption, or the sudden advent of hippies. And since we live downstream from a dam, we should also pay attention to what happened in Idaho 30 years ago.
While we can’t stop natural disasters, we can certainly be prepared for them. And “if ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” D&C 38:29-30