Superstorm Sandy: Survival Tips from a Family Living Off the Grid

PHOTO: The Kuncaitis family of Coral, Mich., spent three-and-a-half years living "off the grid," or without electricity and plumbing, beginning in October 2008.
Share
Copy

As over 6 million homes in the United States remain powerless in the wake of superstorm Sandy, people are struggling to get by without running water, heat, refrigeration, lights and other basic amenities.

Though these millions of people have been forced into these conditions, some people around the country choose this lifestyle, opting to live "off the grid."

Hurricane Sandy: Full Coverage

The Kuncaitis family in Coral, Mich., made the decision to go powerless and lived off the grid for three-and-a-half years, beginning in 2008.

Angela and Matt Kuncaitis and their six children chose to go off the grid in 2008 as a way to bring their family closer together. They had an outhouse, oil lamps and a manual wringer for laundry. They kept one cell phone for emergencies and for managing their 40-acre farm. They kept a blog of their experience by visiting a local library to use the computer.

Without Internet or television at home, Kuncaitis had not heard many of the details of superstorm Sandy but encouraged people to be resourceful and conservative with their supplies. Kuncaitis noted that choosing to live without power and preparing ahead of time is very different than being forced off the grid, but had some survival tips for those waiting for their electricity to return.

"You can live without a lot," Angela Kuncaitis told ABCNews.com. "I know that."

Kuncaitis said that the top three necessities to take care of, to her, would be food, water and going to the bathroom.

Photos: Assessing Sandy's Destruction

"Ration your food. You'd be surprised. You don't need to have the helpings you usually would," she said. "Try not to eat a whole lot of sodium so you're not drinking more."

She encouraged caution with perishable foods and pointed to canned proteins such as beans as a good resource. She said to keep foods out of direct light and encouraged people to have can openers that are not electric.

"Don't open your freezer. Keep it closed as long as you can," Kuncaitis said. Every time the freezer door is opened, air is allowed in, which speeds up the spoiling process.

As former head of emergency response and preparedness for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ABC News Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser has similar advice for families coping with power outages and preserving resources.

Dr. Besser said that perishable food should be thrown out if power has been off for four hours or more. He said that food left in a full and unopened freezer will be safe for 48 hours following the loss of power. However, if the freezer is only half full, this window of safe time becomes 24 hours.

He advised people to exercise common sense and to not take chances with food that has an unusual smell, color or texture. Visit the CDC website for more tips.

Kuncaitis also said that it is important to be cautious with water, making the conservation of drinking water a priority.

"You don't want to waste your bathtub water," she said. "Start thinking of a plan b for the restroom." In the absence of an outhouse, she said to keep waste in a contained and closed area, like a garage, if possible.

Some states, like West Virginia, have experienced severe snowfall and been under blizzard warnings. For those without heat, Kuncaitis encouraged people to be careful with makeshift heat sources.

"If you're using an alternate heat source, be sure you're using that safely. You won't have a carbon monoxide detector. Don't use a gas oven to heat your home," she said. "Don't sleep too close to your heat source. Your bedding is flammable."

People should also exercise caution when using generators for power, Dr. Besser said. Generators emit carbon monoxide when running, which is an odorless and colorless gas that can be deadly.

Generators should never be used inside the home or garage, even if the windows and doors are open. The generator should be 20 or more feet away from the home's doors and windows. Battery-powered carbon monoxide monitors should be in every sleeping area in a home, Dr. Besser said.

Gas Fires Still Burning in New Jersey Where Threat Remains of Possible Explosion

Kuncaitis said to keep children away from candles and warned people not to fall asleep with lit candles or leave them unattended.

"If you're still in your home and don't have a heat source, you're going to want to wear layers," Kuncaitis said. "Wear a hat, wear layers that breathe."

She said times of need bring people together, encouraging people to cautiously reach out to neighbors, if possible.

Speaking at the Red Cross headquarters in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, President Obama said it could be important for people to look out of for their neighbors, especially older people, while first responders are tied up.

"You know, if you got a neighbor nearby, you're not sure how they're handling a power outage, flooding et cetera, go over, visit them, knock on their door, make sure that they're doing okay," the President said. "That can make a big difference. The public can be the eyes and ears in terms of identifying unmet needs."

The Kuncaitis family was forced partially back onto the grid in 2012 when Angela Kuncaitis contracted the H1N1 flu and became seriously ill. Water was swelling around her heart from pericarditis, which is the inflammation of the sac-like covering around the heart, after doing wringer washer laundry four times a day.

The family now has three outlets that they use for a washer and dryer, but they still use an outhouse and heat and cook with wood. Their six children, ages 3 to 19 all live in at home and pitch in with the farm.

"Try not to panic. If everyone starts panicking, then they're going to feed off each other and that won't help any situation," Kuncaitis said. "It's going to be okay. It really is."

null
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...