A Lesson in Self-Reliance = The Ice Storm of ’94

The day before, it was 74 degrees. Gorgeous spring day, daffodils popping. I had a 5yr life plan and it was working. I was happy. That night, the temps dropped to 23 degrees and an unexpected Ice Storm formed over the Mid-South. We were blind-sided. Mother Nature wanted to see just how adaptable we could be.

It was a life lesson, and it changed me and everyone around me. I’ve been through hurricanes and blizzards, but nothing prepared us for this……..It was trial by fire.

At the time, I was finishing up degrees at Ole Miss. The poli-sci degree would be done by May, Acct degree done by December, and had just received news I had been accepted to Law School a few days earlier. Jack (we’ll call him Jack for this story) and I had been dating since ’91, were quite an item, and lived together at the “little house”, as we were in negotiations with owners of “the big house” (which would become the Bed and Breakfast) for the prior two years. Owners were stubborn and my dream of the big house ebbed and flowed.

Understand, the ice storm came in at night. Many of our friends were farmers. Jack owned a construction company. These were men who planned their livelihoods according to The Weather Channel. These were men and women who understood and read the Farmer’s Almanac. They KNEW. They were always prepared.

There was no warning.

There was no ….. going to the store three days prior to buy milk and bread.

There was no sharpening of chainsaw blades, clearing of gutters and drains, no maintenance test of the city water systems/telephones/bulldozers, let alone salt trucks standing by…..

I woke up and the sun was so bright, the sky was so blue, I had to shut the curtains, a blinding blue sky. I saw white on the ground in a side yard but ignored it. I jumped in the shower cuz I had to be at Ole Miss early for a big test. I was blow-drying my hair when from the kitchen, Jack said, “Um, babe, you’re not going anywhere today……”

Huh? What? Of course I was going to Ole Miss, completely prepared to ace an exam. My family was from the Chicago area originally. Under our breath, we often chided southerners who came to a standstill in a half inch of snow. We beat our chest and told tales of GREAT blizzards….. We were hardy, of course we could drive. Jack’s family was from Milwaukee. Both our families had generations of stories involving wild acts of death-defying bravery (which became MORE death-defying as years passed) during winter storms. A little bit of ice wouldn’t stop ME, heck no. From Jack, “No, you’re not leaving today…..”

He had that odd tone in his voice which all women and small children know….. Something serious was going on.

But he was putting on his coat, and put on a hard hat while still standing in the kitchen. He had never done that before, hard hats were kept in the back seat of the truck. Why did he have one inside the house? He was leaving, “meeting the guys at the shop”, he said. I scrambled. No way in hell he was leaving me behind. I bought his son, Greg, 5yrs old at the time, a BellSouth hard hat in a garage sale for 10 cents. I thought I could dress him up as a construction worker for Halloween. Taking a cue from Jack, I grabbed that hard hat as we walked out the door…..I rarely took that hat off for the next 6 days.

Just like our recent bout of extreme weather, the temps did not rise above freezing for the next 6 days. We were stuck and isolated but I didn’t realize the impact of what was to come.

I stepped out of the house and froze in my tracks. Our little porch for the lil’ house was barely 6’x9′, painted green to match the shutters. Two strides, a few steps on the ground and I could have been in the truck. But the sight before me was unlike anything I had ever seen. I stopped to take it all in.

My neighborhood was destroyed.

They say, a quarter inch of ice adds 500lbs to a telephone line…… Well, this picture is from Booneville, MS. A town fairly close to me.

We received somewhere around an inch of ice. A few areas slightly west and south of us received between 2″ to 6″ of ice. We lost 7 MILLION telephone poles in north Mississippi.

Yeah, that’s a LOT of ice.

We made it to the shop that morning, less than a quarter mile away. Little bit of slipping on the roads but not too bad…. not yet….It got worse in the following days. What was awful was the entire town. Everything was covered in thick ice. It was beautiful but incredibly dangerous.

There were seven men meeting at my husband’s shop that morning. I was ordered to stay in the car…… being a girl…. but I managed to roll down the window to hear them talking……

Life Lesson #1 – rely on competent men who rise to the occasion. These guys could have planned the Normandy invasion. FEMA didn’t have $hit on these guys. What transpired in that 30 minutes floored me. Here’s a brief description of the 7 men. The very best of men, the very best of American ingenuity. I was gobsmacked by their competence, decisiveness, delegation of human skills and resources available….. utterly amazing.

  • “Jack” – my boyfriend, would become my husband later the same year, owned a construction company. He had a scathing IQ, well educated, quiet, razor sharp, and could fix anything. Honestly, if you needed a guy to diffuse a nuclear missile or fix a dishwasher, he was “the guy”. Amazing skills but also a cultured PBS/classical music snob.
  • “Cajun”, from Louisiana but owned a large truck stop close to the interstate. He happened to be in town when the storm hit. Funny as hell, always well armed, and loved to hunt.
  • “Scott”, the Mayor, 6’4″, total man’s man, blessed with common sense. Also owned a construction company, family-wealthy but not a snob. Loved him like my second husband and still do to this day.
  • “Reed”, head of City Maintenance. Reed was my Dad’s best friend when I was a baby, before my family moved to Chicago then New Orleans. Reed and family lived next door to us. Reed changed my diapers on more than one occasion.
  • “Robert”, Chief of the Fire Department. Tall, long strides, a man with “presence”. Robert was married to Charlotte, who baby-sat me as a kid. Charlotte and her parents lived on the other side of my folks.
  • “Jimmy”, a lawyer, thick black glasses/pocket protector, hadn’t changed his hair style since the mid-50’s. Wealthy with family money, right of right-politically……. and he owned an oil company close to the community cotton gin. Major player and decision maker. Made thing happen behind the scenes.
  • “Steve”, my boyfriend’s best friend, became like my second husband, owned a large farm 7K acres, and had equipment sheds the size of Delta’s airplane hangers. He also had an airstrip and fuel tanks on his property and over a dozen farmhands who could build a city or stop a Russian invasion, if required.
  • Within minutes, other men from Police and Entergy, owner of one grocery store, joined them…..

They started talking, and I soon realized the importance of what they were saying. Keep in mind, I was barely 30yrs old, had lived in metros and suburbia most of my life. The idea of doing something to SAVE A TOWN was far beyond anything I could conceive. OTHER people did that. I was the kind of person who would have stayed in my condo and waited for the lights to come back on.

Oh no, not this time. This time it was me – or US – who had to take action. I could almost feel the rush of adrenaline, eyes narrowing, blood rushing, it was time for action! No time to object, no time to be scared, no time to think about saying NO, no time to be helpless. It was time to save our town. Be damned if they weren’t going to try. I rooted around in the truck to find paper/pen and begin taking notes. The severity of our situation became clear……… crystal …… clear. Lesson #2, always carry pen and paper in a crisis.

First thing we had to do was save our systems/infrastructure as quickly as possible.

First priority was water, and maintaining water pressure. Reed had JUST done a scheduled maintenance check on the water system a few weeks prior. We got lucky. Reserve generator was there to “pump” water to the RISE of the tower, but the generator only had 4 hours of diesel fuel. We had to manually tap the tanks at Jimmy’s oil company to draw enough diesel for the generator running the pump…….. and don’t ever let it run out of fuel. Otherwise, our water would go down and we could never get it back in these weather conditions. Jack went to tap the tanks at Jimmy’s, fuel secured, safe…….. and water POURED out of the top of our water tower for days……… men awoke every three hours to check fuel supply to the generator, dodging icicles, for days………. but we NEVER lost water pressure.

For almost 6 weeks until the last house in rural parts of the county came on line, we were the only town in a 30 mile radius which had water…… saved by quick action of the men that morning. Divine intervention? Many other towns had devastating fires in the subsequent days. Volunteer firemen was hamstrung with no water pressure, unable to do anything but watch their towns burn…….. sickening.

Second priority was manually taping the fuel tanks at the truck stop. We had to clear main roads, be able to get people to the hospital if needed, get doctor and staff TO the hospital from their homes. “Steve” had the farm equipment to clear roads to town. City workers could begin to clear streets in town, but again, we had to have diesel fuel. Again, Jack manually tapped the tanks and an angel of a lady at the truck stop kept MANUAL records of charges – for the next 10 days, probably longer, cuz all the electrical systems were going down, couldn’t even run a register.

Remember all those long gas lines after Hurricane Sandy – it’s because no one manually tapped the tanks. It could have been so easy to let the fuel flow – until they ran out of fuel and were resupplied.

Third Priority was setting up shelters. Hailing from metros and suburbia, that made sense to me….. always done in hurricanes but this was now happening to me. Trial by fire. I was drafted by the guys (only girl at the meeting) to handle setting up the Baptist church (and later other churches), biggest one in town which also had a gym and large dining hall, restrooms in abundance. Okay, I could do that. Jack dropped me off at the church by 8:00am and wished me “good luck”.

We did get lucky. The church had gas heat HVAC, but electronic switch for the fans to “blow” the air. Again, Jack re-wired the fans and put the blowers on a generator, which required fuel every 4 hours. Yet, the church and kitchens had HEAT. We could operate and use it as a command center. I’ve never seen so many cots, sheets in every color, pillows from the hinterland flowed into that church……… and the food………. OMG, the food was divine. We ate like kings.

City Hall and Fire Dept also had gas heat, but electronic blowers. Again, rewired the circuits and City Hall and Fire Dept were up and running. Police Station had electric heat, no way to save it. Yet, we found Benny, old maintenance guy from the local BellSouth substation around the corner from our house, who REWIRED the Police emergency phone lines to the Fire Dept by 10am. Wow, amazing skills, amazing men, in the right place at the right time. Same thing at the hospital, gas heat……….. hospital was saved. Same thing for a few of the buildings at the local college. We needed a lot of fuel and sharp maintenance guys for checking the fuel every 4 hours. No problem. Everyone understood and worked together.

I’ve never seen such cooperation across class, color, young and old. Never would have happened in Manhattan. Yet, we all had the same sense of foreboding. We knew we were isolated and had to work together.

Life Lesson #3, a 30yr old city girl trying to organize a bunch of elder church women who were the MOST self-reliant women on the planet……… Plus, I was a Presbyterian. BWahahhahaahaaa, they had MAD skills when it came to emergency preparations. I was an ignorant infant when compared to them. So….. I quickly deferred and handled all communications with the guys, cuz I was quick/precise/to the point/could make decisions. Liaison and General of supplies was my new task.

Priority #4 was saving telephone lines and power lines. Again, we got lucky. Entergy was our energy company, in charge of electric for 7 states. The CEO was a local girl, who at one time, had a hard crush on my soon to be husband – she was most annoying. Entergy had a substation down the street from my Big House, and was as well stocked as any substation could be. The linemen were locals, coaches of our kids little league teams, well known to all of us. We had equipment, and the men to put the city back together… but we only had so much equipment. We would need to re-supply as we all expected transformers to begin blowing….. and they did. Several phone and power lines were restrung IMMEDIATELY, to keep communications from the college to City Hall/Fire/Emergency to substation and BellSouth substation, to the hospital/convalescent center and truck stop. Basic communications and power.

They let the old phone/power lines fall to the ground…. with a thud and shattering of ice like a thousand glasses breaking at the same time. Impressive.

Prescient decision making. Stunning strategy and leadership. It saved us.

Priority #5 was clearing interstates so people could get to us. Conifers/Pine trees are the first to snap in ice storms. They started falling across the interstates, isolating us from towns further south or north. The roads north, to Memphis were completely blocked, we learned by farm radios and ham radio operators. Clearing the road south to Jackson and help from New Orleans would be our best bet. “Scott” the farmer and his men began to clear interstates…… and they were joined by a legion of farmers with BIG equipment, running diesel fuel trucks 24/7 to keep them working, non-stop, for about 30 miles.

I’ll never forget it. At one point I ran food out to the farmers on the interstate… which became a regular thing. I got to sit high in a combine and as far as I could see was bedlam, a war zone, and American farmers clearing a path, working together. Brought tears to my eyes, ……27 yrs later, I’m still tearing up just thinking about it. I’ve never been more proud…. hit me in the gut.

They taught me what it meant to be an American. Life lesson #4 stuck with me forever.

One by one, stranded truckdrivers were saved from interstates and returned to the churches. Those women fussed all over those boys. We opened a little charity/ministry who also had a Salvation Army type used clothing store. Had to have plenty of clothing – we made do. Then the truckdrivers, some who had wives with them, chipped in to help.

Priority #6 Organizing our own families. It was time to check on Grandmas, elder members of the community. Make sure everyone was okay. Jack and I were living in the lil’ house at the time, barely 1100sq ft, two bedrooms, nice kitchen but no dishwasher, one bath……… but we had gas heat with a manual switch. We moved my soon to be mother-in-law to our house, and gathered up Grandma Della and her two dogs. Those two women spent the next week sleeping on my stepson’s bunk beds, but they were happy to be warm and THRILLED to be at the center of the action. We also picked up my stepson. Lot of family members in a small space……. we got extremely comfortable. Greg loved every minute of it.

I could write a whole ‘nother book about checking in on people during that ice storm….. amazing stories. Because Grandma Della was close to me, and Jack had his elder mom, we were tasked with checking on hundreds of elderly throughout the community. Briefly, here are a few highlights:

  • I went to check on the elder lady next door. It just so happened I had been making candles for Christmas, thus I was RICH with candles for an ice storm. I knocked on her door to share my supply of candles and she met with with a shotgun. She didn’t need my help.
  • Jack’s mom belonged to several lady’s clubs and Della belonged to the rest of them, most were widows. One by one, we checked on them all…..and a funny thing happened along the way…..
  • I went to check on Miss Francis. She was a retired school teacher who had an incredible voice. All she needed to ever do was record children’s books. The voice of a fairy godmother with looks to match. I run out of adjectives describing the perfect tone of her soothing voice. Her skin was flawless and her gray hair perfectly coiffed, even in an ice storm. I found her in her living room, roaring fire, pistol beside her lap blanket. We moved to the kitchen, and she handed me 12 chicken fryers and bundles of vegetables and homemade preserves, 20lbs of flour, to feed the men at the church. She was eating shrimp for lunch.
  • I went to check on HER. She was fine but told me to come back if I needed anything else.
  • Life Lesson #5, When the freezers go down, people eat the filet mignon/steaks and the shrimp, first. Chickens are for the soup pots, which we kept going for 10 days. My mother-in-law was a genius with a soup pot.
  • As we went to check on other elder ladies, I accumulated enough food to open a grocery store. I shuffled many of elder ladies to the churches to cook, organize, and I’ve NEVER seen them so happy to be useful, necessary, needed and loved in the midst of a disaster……
  • Life lesson #6, In a disaster, every person has skills they can bring to the table. It’s human nature to want to help. Put them to work, honorably. Then, stand back and watch the magic happen.
  • And my GOD did they cook. Thousands and thousands of cookies, an assembly line of pies, cakes…….. enough fried chicken for an army, the biggest soup pots I’ve ever seen configured to propane grills outside —- with a steady stream of women adding peeled carrots/onions/celery and more sacrificed chickens.
  • We had plenty of fresh milk from local farmers trucked in. We were not about to throw it away and used every container we could find. Loads of REAL butter, precious saved homemade cheeses….. and when was the last time you had REAL fresh cream…….. from a cow …… where you KNEW the cow’s name? There was no 2% or skim milk that week.
  • Some of the best vegetables I’ve ever put in my mouth. REAL crocks of pickles in a line in the dining room with hastily written nametags of the owners — those women wanted their crocks returned but were happy to share their pickles.
  • The green beans….. OMG. Usually green beans are obligatory. No fanfare. You know how you have to sample food before you put it on a buffet? Well, I tasted the green beans and stopped, dumbstruck. The women over the pot, cooking the beans was a large black woman whom I did not know. I whirled her around and looked at her like I had just seen John the Baptist in my kitchen. “What did you do to those beans?”, I screeched. She grinned, I was so stupid back then…… She confided in me, fresh ground black pepper, a little garlic, a little bit of fatback, and 10 lemons in a big pot. Best damn green beans I’ve ever had. Hands down. Like candy….
  • Oh the secrets I learned from those competent women…………
  • Do you have ANY idea how much jam/jelly/preserves are “put up” by 4000 southern women in our city every year? I caught a glimpse as the jewel-toned jars headlined the parade of food in the church kitchen, and the biscuits, and homemade yeast breads, and homemade sausages…….. It was a culinary wonderland.
  • One morning, I turned out 1600 pancakes, over 3000 scrambled eggs, and about 50lbs of bacon. We upped the bacon the next day. I do love a big kitchen.
  • But the coffeemaker was a divine contraption. I told you my mother-in-law was brilliant in her own right. With a little bit of help and a lot of odd spare parts, including punched coffee cans, and a fine linen damask tablecloth cut and sacrificed, she rigged a drip coffee maker over a gas burner. It was a miracle. We had COFFEE.
  • An entire other subset of women organized prescription medications. We SHARED high blood pressure pills, insulin, arthritis medication, and over the counter band-aids/aspirin/Tylenol/Benadryl setting up a makeshift first aid station with Ace bandages and makeshift splints for those who slipped and fell on the ice. Regular meds and important meds which were necessary and life-saving. We shuffled week long supplies to needy residents. It worked.

Priority #7 The grocery stores. Because the ice storm hit with no warning, the grocery stores were NOT allowed to open in the morning, meat and frozen food sections of the stores lost power, thereby, officially, it was a health hazard. We ended up creating “cold rooms” – Life lesson #7 set up a cold room for food storage. Because the temps stayed below freezing, we needed rooms which were still “frozen” to hold food, and rooms which remained at about 37 degrees for what would serve as “refrigerator” space. We closely monitored the temps with outdoor thermometers stripped from porches. Last thing we wanted to do was make people sick. Yet, we cooked a LOT of that meat, chicken, eggs, etc.

And the kids………. all you can eat ice cream and popsicles………. for the first day.

A little at a time, we cordoned off the meat and frozen food sections of grocery stores with police tape. People were let into grocery stores, a few at a time, but had to use cash…… which presented another problem.

Priority #8 Cash, banking, how to buy things. Fortunately, our ice storm happened in ’94 and not in today’s cashless society. Most of us kept a little wad of cash for an emergency. Yet, our community bank opened, manual records only, which was a minor miracle in itself, and we dispensed money a la George Bailey’s Building and Loan……… as in…. how much money do you really need to survive………. and don’t take it all and close your account. It worked. Again, it would have never happened in Miami nor Manhattan and NEVER would have happened in today’s polarized society.

The first night was scary.

Large pine trees bordered our property with the next door neighbor. As we finally all settled into bed in the lil’ house, the trees started snapping. Gunshots in the middle of the night. We prayed no large limbs would demolish the house. In the six months after the ice storm, I can’t tell you how many of my neighbors removed their pine trees from areas close to the house. We learned our lesson. Life Lesson #8, Don’t ever plant pine trees close to the house or pool, near an interstate or roadway. Gray ended up sleeping with us. Yeah, it was scary.

Our own electric went down when a transformer popped at the pole right beside our driveway. BLUE LIGHT. And Eugene was IN the cherry picker about 10′ away when it blew. I thought surely, he was dead. He made it. Thank God.

The days and details run together after a few decades, but there were major highlights in the following days.

By Day 3, the farmers cleared the interstate and pathway south to Jackson. One of the first to arrive was the Attorney General of our state, here to arrest a man who raised prices on a hotel room rate. He was hauled off to jail with great fanfare.

When the path south cleared it meant the utility trucks could arrive. And the men came, and came, and came………. which presented a new problem.

Priority #9 Open the liquor stores. With that many utility linemen in town, we had to have beer and bourbon. We commandeered the keys to the liquor store and called it “emergency funding”. The Bourbon flowed.

Life lesson #9, In a crisis, beer, Bourbon, and cigarettes become tradeable commodities. Keep a stash… just in case.

Priority #10, bringing the city back to life, one street at a time. You might recall these stories from Super Storm Sandy or other Hurricanes, but it represents another facet of brilliant planning on the part of our local leaders, those same 7 guys and a few more. You see, utility crews will only restore power to a home with a working and certified meter base, properly attached to the house. Well, in our ice storm, as in Super Storm Sandy, the meter bases were ripped from houses, in our case – lines were hit by falling limbs. This presented a unique problem for utility crews.

Think about it. A utility lineman is working on your street and you get excited, thinking your power will be restored in a few minutes by beautiful big burly men……. only to have them get out of their truck, take the time to assess you power supply, and pass………… on your house………. until you get it fixed. To read the license plate of a utility truck….. which has passed you by……. is demoralizing. PLUS, it took extra time for the utility crews to assess your power supply.

Enter the brilliance of our Mayor, Steve, and the can-do attitude of ingenious southerners. Nothing short of another miracle. I recall we did pray a LOT during that ice storm but God was REALLY paying attention to our little town.

We had the problem of spotty utility work and people complaining, cuz they thought, of course, their service should be restored and they KNEW better than the linemen. Total quagmire, angry citizens, and wasted time and effort. We were discussing the problem…….. when I watched them fix it. Amazing.

Here’s what happened.

We had another friend, Charlie, who owned another construction company in town. He and his headman were OUT of town in Daytona for Bike Week? or the Daytona 500? Can’t remember …..but he was trying to get home but couldn’t make it through and was stuck in Jackson when he left a callback message on Jack’s pager – and mother-in-law returned the phone call. Which was a stroke of luck or a Divine Hand. Mother-in-law told Charlie to “stay still, and she would call him back”.

My mother-in-law called Southern Electric in Jackson, where we had a commercial account. They gave her a bit of trouble but I got on the phone….. cuz I have “the voice”. We then rented two semi-trucks in Jackson, Charlie et als loaded them with 100 and 200 AMP meter bases plus enough 12 gauge to wire an air-craft carrier. Charlie and head man drove the trucks home to our town, escorted by highway patrol the whole way. What a welcome sight he was.

Meanwhile, we organized.

Jack’s company had 8 licensed electricians and we recruited every other licensed electrician in town. They worked as a team, both sides of a street. Our men worked ahead of all utility crews and threw up a red flag (made by Grandma Della and her little lady friends) when a house was clear and ready to be restored. Cost for the meter base and service was added to local bills over an year period, extremely discounted, affixed by the Mayor. That way, we could bring up a whole street at one time, house by house, in record time. Smooth, effective, competent, LEADERSHIP. Again, it would never happen in the northeast and their citizens suffered. If only people worked together…… !

No, I am no electrician, but to this day, I could probably still wire a meter base………. blindfolded. We all worked hard. We did what we had to do.

One other big memory……. it was close to the end of our disaster.

A scrawny guy found me. He was SENT to me, directed to find me and he was on a mission, with a head full of steam. He couldn’t have been 5’4″ and maybe 120lbs dripping wet. He was with Red Cross Emergency Management. A regional DIRECTOR!!!!!!! I was thrilled to see him and hugged him……. even if he was days too late. Problem was, he wanted to BORROW a 25K generator from me.

Are you kidding me? YOU’re the Red Cross but you came to me for help? To borrow equipment? No, really?

Life Lesson #10, never give up a generator in a crisis- unless maybe it was a hospital. I didn’t need instruction for that one.

There were so many life lessons learned in those few weeks. When the lights came back on, power restored on our street, my stepson softly cried as Grandma finally blew out the candles over our board game. He thought the “fun was all over”. He had such a good time, lavished with attention and activity for over a week. He even learned to play poker.

Others went weeks without power and major services.

As we gained an early foothold, we set up a smooth operation for people in neighboring towns to deliver water/food, etc. People in rural parts of the country went without water for up to six weeks. The problem of no power or phone or water changed and got worse every day we remained BELOW freezing. We learned to not stand under trees because of falling ice or a limb eventually giving way. It made everyone jumpy – and wear a hard hat.

Not a single business was looted. No one died, not even a heart attack in those 6 days. No riots, the only person arrested was the hotel owner who was gauging prices. Everyone was on their best behavior. We had to be. We were all in it together.

For weeks, Scott’s army of farmers used heavy farm equipment to drag utility crew trucks through fields to re-string our infrastructure, a piece at a time. Remember, we lost 7 million telephone poles in our little region of north Mississippi.

About 20 minutes south of us.

For years, the bureaucrats performed “after action assessments” and our little town stood out as an example for all. Steve, the Mayor was successful at every turn of a major crisis. Solid as a rock. He was later tapped to head Economic Development for our State.

Robert, the Fire Chief, similarly cool and successful under fire, was tapped to head State Emergency Management, and oversaw the disaster of Hurricane Katrina……. where he was again, successful (especially compared to neighboring Louisiana). He was elected National Head of Emergency Management for ALL states. He’s still Charlotte’s husband and he’s still a terrific guy.

The churches were cleaned up and returned to normal. White Pickle crocs were returned with huge hugs, we were all a little more friendly in the subsequent weeks.

EVERYONE had a hand in saving our little town. We were proud.

We bought the big house and closed three weeks later, March 7th, 1994. Part of the agreement was we would clean up the ice storm damage. At the time, the day we closed, there were so many limbs down, you couldn’t see the first floor of the house. Governor passed an ordinance, allowing us to burn downed limbs/logs. We had a 60′ tall bonfire with the BIG logs, for the firemen, police and city crews. BBQ all ’round. Lots of beer.

We renovated the house and opened in Sept of ’94. Married in December, surrounded by those same competent men and women. It was odd and strange. A feeling like whatever God, an enemy, or Mother Nature threw our way, we would survive…… we felt confident…….. until 9/11 hit and everything changed ….again.

Yes, by the end of 1994, it felt like we were all family. Completely unlike a metro or urban environment. Trial by fire and we made it through the storm. Yes, we were all a little wiser by the end of ’94. In fact, several sections of our big house STILL have gas heat with manual switch, just in case we lose power again, and the game room was specifically renovated as a command center. Electronic ignition was removed from my stove – so I can cook no matter what. I was SO GRATEFUL this past week during our snowstorm. And, all the relays for electric blowers for EVERY HVAC unit are wired to ONE location, ready for a generator. We learned our lessons well. We definitely forged friendships which would last the remainder of our days.

Nothing like a crisis to bring people together. The leaders rise to the top. Phenomenal men and women. Americans.

Today, decades later, when the utility crews pull out of our substation to head to Louisiana, Texas, the Carolinas to save other citizens…….. I ALWAYS get a lump in my throat. It’s impossible to stop the sting of tears in my eyes, and I rush to pack their dashboards with chocolate chip cookies from home. We will never forget them.

And somewhere in this house, I still have the t-shirt.

May God Bless Texas and all those suffering in the aftermath of the great storm of 2021.

Stick together. Never surrender.


9 thoughts on “A Lesson in Self-Reliance = The Ice Storm of ’94

  1. Awesome story.
    Can’t imagine living in a place that cold.
    Gobsmacking logistics management by coolheaded practical people who left their egos out of it.

      1. Glad to see you mentioned that some went higher in disaster response. They won’t be useless oxygen thieves

  2. I had just graduated HS in ’93. I moved to TN in that storm to live with my Mom for a bit. Moved back to Md a year and a half later. I got lucky and went around the DC beltway on the east side and went down I95 towards Richmond and 64W. Had meant to go on the west side and take 66W to head onto 81S. Good thing I didn’t though. 66 and parts around were shut down from the storm. My Aunt got caught in it. By going south first, I missed most of it and had a nice snowy ride. Thanks for the story!

  3. πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘ Another tale about awesome citizens!! Love it, Daughn πŸ’–πŸ’–πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ

  4. Love this one
    And oh, so prophetic!

    Watch if you haven’t seen this, it’s funny as hell. Re-watch if you have for the same reason.

    They’re ALL progressive Democrats from Central Casting.

    The invisible narrator – who knows all their secrets – is Donald Trump.

    The Democrats’ “stage was set for an awesome ballet of death”.

    It’s called The Gunfighter.

    OR (if you will)

    Cuomo Walks Into A Bar
    (after Orange Man Bad is gone)

  5. Awesome history, Daughn!!!

    People grow away from shelter, heat, water, food to their detriment….it takes clear vision and decisive action to roll things back to snuff when they get clobbered.

    1. Ya’ know Cthulhu, I had lived through big blizzards and hurricanes —- but as a citizen or a KID who was far removed from decision makers.
      Closest I got to them was watching a presser on television.
      To see the process work, battling out which systems to save – first, and such stellar leadership, was mind numbing.
      If they had not tapped the tanks for more diesel fuel, immediately, thousands of people would have gone without water for weeks — just like all the surrounding communities suffered through.
      If they had not IMMEDIATELY restrung phone/power lines about a mile, from college to substation to city services to hospital to truck stops, picking up a few big churches on the way, the city would have fallen. There would have been no place to PUT utility workers/women working in kitchens, and keep people warm and communicating.
      To cut those lines and watch them drop, loaded with ice, was a brilliant and dramatic call. Yeah.
      Took balls of steel.
      No other mayor did it. No other leadership of a town did it.
      I doubt anyone else suggested it.
      Our guys not only thought about it, they did it.

      When the whole world goes to hell, those are the kind of leaders we need.

      And because we were actually doing something….. the level of enthusiasm among general public, elder women, young kids, people saved who were stranded, even opening the liquor store….. it was incredible.

      And at the time, I was fresh from Miami. Amazing cultural difference. Would have never happened in a metro. Not like that.

      So when my friends watched the drama unfold after Superstorm Sandy….. we were screaming at the television. Even housewives knew the fuel tanks should be tapped, or that meter bases should be bought by local utility and added to bill to restore power faster.

      It was a lesson in efficiency and bold leadership.

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