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All I Needed to Know About Surviving Post-Hurricane Sandy I Learned From Post-Apocalyptic Novels

2012 November 21
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Hurricane Sandy was a devastating natural disaster. While I write this somewhat light post, I am well aware that many people have lost their homes, and the destruction the hurricane caused was tremendous. Our local communities and groups have coordinated many efforts to donate clothing, food, and other supplies directly to affected families. These efforts are ongoing, so please consider helping out in any way you can. If you are not on the Eastern seaboard you can help out by donating to the Red Cross (text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief), Salvation Army (Text the word STORM to 80888 to make a $10 donation), and other organizations.

On October 29 Hurricane Sandy blew through my state — New Jersey — wreaking havoc as she went. We live about an hour away from the shore, so we were fairly confident that we would lose power, but still be okay. That turned out to be true, but it was also the scariest natural disaster I’ve ever personally encountered. Sitting in our dark house late at night feeling the house shake and hearing the winds howl was a nerve-wracking experience that reminded me that we are still always at the mercy of nature. The days that followed were so strange that I found myself saying many times to my husband, “Thank goodness I read all those post-apocalyptic novels — I know just what to do!” And so here you have my survival guide to our post hurricane days, as learned from post-apocalyptic YA fiction.

Lesson #1: Make Alliances

In all the books I’ve read, this is a number #1 lesson: you have to have people on your side, someone you can rely on when disaster happens or the world is ending. In a novel, that might be a partner with a gun who’s got your back (Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse — an adult novel, but a good one!), someone who prevents a zombie or mutant from eating you (like Fade and Deuce in Enclave and Outpost by Ann Aguirre or Mary’s villagemates in The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan), or someone who shares their skills with you (Katniss, Peeta, and Gale in The Hunger Games).

In our case it would be neighbors who have tractors and chainsaws. People really came out after the storm and spent time with their neighbors, and ours were invaluably helpful to us in removing our fallen trees. And sometimes your friends are the people you’re in it with. In Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden, the first book in one of the best series I’ve ever read, a group of teens return from an overnight camping trip to discover their country has been invaded by an enemy. The friends become a guerilla team fighting the intruders.

Lesson #2: Get Cash and Non-perishables

When I first read Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, I was impressed by her mother’s quick response to the moon being whacked out of orbit. She pulled her daughter out of school and ran to the store with a lot of cash. They stocked up on all kinds of things, including canned goods (a scene which has made imagine what I would have in my pantry to survive). A few days before the storm hit, my husband went to the ATM for cash and I wondered why he would do that. But, indeed, when power came back to the local Wawa a few days later, it was a cash-only deal. As for my pantry? It is always well stocked with non-perishables. If I followed the advice thoroughly from this and pandemic novels I would have stocked up on Band-Aids, rubbing alcohol, aspirin and other pain relievers, and bandages, too.

Lesson #3: Have a Transportation Plan

Transportation seems to be an issue in a lot of apocalyptic stories. If it’s a pandemic, there simply may not be enough people to operate public transportation; plus it’s not smart to use transportation that has lots of potentially germ-spreading people in it. If it’s a political-economic crisis that results in the breakdown of society, gasoline may be too expensive to use. Also, if society has broken down it may not be safe to travel into different zones. Other crises often result in clogged roadways.

Immediately following the storm gas was difficult to come by. There were long car lines as well as long lines of people with red containers seeking gas for their generators. Our plan was to fill our tanks before the storm and not travel unnecessarily. I just so happened to be reading a new book during those very crazy gas days called Adaptation by Malinda Lo, which I definitely recommend. It’s not really post-apocalyptic, but it features a crisis (airplanes simultaneously flying into flights of birds and crashing to the ground) which results in clogged roadways, military presence, and an intense scene at a gas station. It was enough to make me stay close to home!

Lesson #4: Know How to Build a Fire

When the moon is out of orbit in Life As We Knew It, the climate results are devastating. An endless arctic chill settles on the earth. With society breaking down (meaning no fuel deliveries and sporadic electricity), people must rely on fire for warmth. Fortunately it wasn’t too cold where we were, but the temperature did drop as the days went by, and we relied on our fireplace to heat our house. (And take a lesson from Jack London’s To Build a Fire and know where to build your fire!)

Lesson #5: Scavenge

In the world of Paulo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker (2011 Printz Award winner), scavenging the remains of the previous world (in this case, oil tankers) is big business. Post-storm we, along with many others, became scavengers of firewood. Sawed up and discarded trees and logs waited at the edge of the road for the taking. If all those discarding perfectly good firewood read this post, they will know they should have saved some for the next disaster, per Lesson #4!

Lesson #6: Expect the Inevitable

In The Dead and the Gone the same story is told as in Life as We Knew It, but the setting is different. It’s not so much a sequel, but a companion. It turns out that the same event is lived out very differently in a city. The unreliability of electricity is a critical point in the novel, and I immediately thought of this when, on the Monday evening of the storm, a friend posted a picture of the sign her landlord had posted in their elevator advising residents to not use it because they’d be stuck in it for who knows how long when the power inevitably went out.

Lesson #7: Accept and Adjust

One of the things that struck me about The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker was how ordinary life and feelings went on for Julia after the Earth’s rotation suddenly slowed, thus affecting the climate, tides, environment, time, politics, and everything. Terrible stuff was happening, but she still coped with her adolescent friendships and her family life. She also got out there with a new friend and tried to enjoy the world.

After the storm, my friends and neighbors quickly established new routines, incorporating things like visiting a hotel daily for some WiFi time, washing hair in cold water, eating on the grill, and so on. One of the best adjustments we made was to just drop in on our nearby friends and while away hours visiting together. With everything closed and no place to go, the new routine was just being together. And you know what? It was pretty nice.

So there you have it. If you read enough post-apocalyptic novels you’ll know everything you need to know to get through a disaster!

— Sarah Debraski, about to start This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer. (If it’s as good as Life As We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone, it should have the effect of turning me into a Doomsday Prepper.)

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5 Responses
  1. Jessica Miller permalink
    November 21, 2012

    So glad to find that I’m not the only one to use my epic reading of ya dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels to joke about being prepared for disasters! I loved all of your tips. :)

    • November 28, 2012

      Glad you liked it! We’ll be in good company when the world crumbles :)

  2. November 27, 2012

    This post is AWESOME! Books are good for so much more than just entertainment. Dystopians rock!

  3. November 29, 2012

    Genius!! I remember telling my fiance, as Sandy was hitting, that I knew the best prep and survival skills b/c of the YA zombie/dystopia/apocalypse lit I read. I love this article for articulating my thoughts!

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