Monday, February 11, 2008

Chapter Thirteen

Next to health and finances comes weather as one of the biggest topics of conversation. Its discussed at home, at work, on the news and you will find that folks have an endless fascination for it. For the Chapmans, living in central FL, the cooler weather they are now experiencing is actually a relief because even with only occasional black outs, there have been days of unbearable combined heat and humidity. There have been higher than normal deaths due to heat because places that used to allow seniors and the homeless to congregate, to get out of the heat, no longer exist. They have been converted to other uses such as barracks for National Guard troops or neighborhood clinics. Additionally, if people run out of drinking water before the power comes back on, they can quickly suffer from dehydration. Dehydration, regardless of its origin, can quickly lead to death.

While the family's area is finally feeling relief, their more northerly counterparts are beginning to suffer from the other extreme. The mass deliveries of cords of wood to families that relied on wood burning stoves and fireplaces for some - or all - of their home's warmth are no longer occurring. They have to gather wood by hand and/or chop wood from whatever source they can find. Green wood doesn't burn as efficiently as seasoned wood does and it smokes and leaves dangerous deposits of creosote inside the chimney. It also doesn't heat the home as effectively. For those whose homes were built to use heating oil, even if it is available, getting supplied is cost prohibitive. For those whose heating is dependent on electricity alone, they are at the mercy of any rolling blackouts or permanent power interruptions. Those homes in the best position are those with redundant heat sources. They aren’t dependent on just one source.

Nationwide there have been thousands of deaths due to exposure. While the pandemic flu is striking the able-bodied adults, exposure is taking the very young and the very old. The prepandemic homeless population has been decimated into near extinction and the new homeless, displaced by infrastructure failure or caught away from home for some reason, have taken their place with no better success. Less acutally, as they haven’t had time to develop their survival skills.

Deaths also result from carbon monoxide poisoning and from inhaling smoke from fires contaminated with poisonous wood. There have been problems with fires getting out of control because there was no water to pump or not enough firefighters in the area to deal with the fire. In some cities where the utilities are stretched very thin, or are non-existent, fires starting in one home have grown to take out whole streets before burning out. The worst example of this happens in Chicago when they suffer a fire similar to the Great Fire of October 1871. Only this one isn’t cause by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow but by sparks ejected up the floo of a dirty chimney.

It is during this next phase of the pandemic that you can tell the preppers, and the extremely adaptable, from the people who did not recognize the potential enormity of the threat. Mitigation strategies give people more opportunity to survive, prepping gives people the resources to apply the mitigation strategies.

The Chapmans are taking full advantage of both ideas. While their goal was originally to prep for a year-long catastrophic event, they only made it comfortably to the a nine month level. With the pandemic only 3 months old, they are still much better off than most people. Because of their food storage plan, they have been able to save their cash to put towards maintaining a balanced financial plan. What this means is if they need to eventually return to purchasing items from a store before the pandemic is over, they still have the money to do so.


"What babe?"

"I’m stretching the food almost as far as I can. Any further and we’ll be hungry all of the time."

"How much do we have left?"

"Counting everything in the house we have any where from seven to eight months."

"I thought we only started with nine months. Its been three already. Shouldn't that leave us with six months or less?"

"It was nine months of preps. I never counted in the stuff in the refrigerator and freezer. I also didn't count some of the regular groceries in the kitchen cabinets. Then on top of that, we only eat two meals a day once or twice a week. All of that has added up to the good for us."

"I hear a ‘but’ in there somewhere."

"Yeah. I’m still worried that we will run out of stuff and not be able to resupply. And who knows how long this recession is going to last on top of all the other pandemic issues."

"Well, we already talked about some long term plans but I can’t change the cost of groceries."

"We won’t have to go to the grocery for a good long time yet; especially if we supplement with fresh stuff. I want to expand our edible landscaping and get stuff growing in my containers. It may not bring in a lot of food, but anything will help."

"Do me a favor. Instead of telling me what you want to do, make a honey-do list and James and I will get started on it tomorrow. That sound OK?"

"That sound wonderful. Lucky for me I remembered to pick up all that quad-ruled paper. It’ll be easier to put a garden design on paper. I’ll get started on it as soon as I get the girls hanging this load of laundryout on the line."

With the help of Scott and James, Sissy starts adding to their long-term storage supply by planting cool-weather crops like beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, collards, lettuce, mustard greens, onion, English peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach, strawberries, and turnip greens. It will be about 20 days before they see their first radish and mesclun greens. This should be just in time for the US traditional celebration of Thanksgiving.

Other people in their neighborhood are trying their hand at gardening as well. One of the most sought after barter item at their neighborhood market is vegetable seeds. More people than expected had a packet or two of flower seeds or vegetable seeds tucked away. It turns out most of the seeds are viable and germinate. The local grocery stores also offer seed packets for sale, though they are a premium item.

On the same empty lot where the trash burning and market happens there is a small common garden tended by everyone in the neighborhood. If they expect to benefit from it they had better tend it. And if you don't or can't tend it, you take your turn to help guard it. This is such a serious bit of work that the neighborhood created their own "Mayflower Compact" and all adults signed it, at least those willing to cooperate did. Like any place, the neighborhood has a few people that are into being takers-only. People who will only take have quickly found themselves segregated. If you won't work together, if you won't work period, you don't benefit from the group effort. Unfortunately one of these families has young children and the neighborhood does its best to look after the children without giving the parents anymore than they can help. But it is a catch-22. Everyone knows the parents are wringing from the situation everything they can, but people do it for the kids' sake.

Those families that are trying to grow their own gardens eagerly seek the advice of experienced gardeners in the neighborhood. Knowledge is as good a barter item as any, and that is how many of the elderly in the neighborhood are getting by. They trade their experience and knowledge for whatever people are willing to share. It is a true win-win situation for everyone.

For many Americans this is a very tough time. With November here, the weather is changing from pleasant to frosty in many locations. The last big harvests have been made north of the Mason Dixon line. The majority will now have to make do with whatever they have been able to set aside . . . food, fuel, and clothing, all of the basic necessities.

And the hardships include more than just trying to hold the body together. Almost every family has experienced some loss, if not in their immediate family, then in their extended one.

In Hillsborough County, FL - where the Chapmans reside - there was a population of 1,192,861 in the April 2007. Thus far in the pandemic, the community averages about a 30% compliance rate with mitigation strategies. The schools closed fairly quickly, public gatherings were cancelled, and a strict curfew was imposed. Many entertainment and tourism based industries tried to remain open but were ultimately forced to close and implement stringent business continuity plans. All of this helped to lower the attack rate of the virus compared to other cities who either did not implement mitigation strategies or that implemented them less quickly.

Even so, the overall attack rate of the virus remains about two percent of the total population in this area. At three months into the pandemic this means that of the total population of Hillsborough County approximately 5,800 people have been taken ill with the pandemic flu virus. Due to the high CFR of the virus strain of those 5,800 people over 2,300 have died. That is in Hillsborough county alone, over three months.

Though those numbers may seem small compared to other locations, especially those that are being reported in Third World countries, the effect has been devastating. First, there are the physical logistics involved with dealing with that many deaths – and remember, this does not include the "normal" deaths experienced by the county. Nor does it include the deaths that occurred from infrastructure breakdowns (i.e., lack of medication for chronic illnesses, untreated infections, lack of timely medical transportation from scenes of accidents, less prenatal care, etc.). This doesn’t even begin to factor in that lack of mitigation means that the attack rate is much higher than two percent in some areas.

Just working with the CFR from influenza, 2300 deaths mean that in excess of 25 funerals would have been held per day since the beginning of the pandemic. Funerals exist as the end of one part of the grieving process and a beginning of another. Without funerals or memorial services, many people have a difficult time psychologically transitioning between the initial steps in the grieving process. There is a loss of "shared grieving" when family and friends come together. Unfortunately, during this stage of the pandemic funerals and memorial services where people gather are prohibited because of the mitigation strategies.

Even if they were not prohibited, the sheer number of burials has overwhelmed the funerary and burial services in the county. In some areas of the county, there are not even enough burial plots to service the community’s dead. Those individuals that had pre-paid for their burial and plot are still being placed as time allows in their chosen location. However, most people who die of pandemic flu, are being processed as quickly as their remains are identified and interred in trench gravesites.

Trench graves are not mass graves. How it works is an appropriate site is chosen. A long trench is dug. Bodies are laid side by side in their body bags (remember, not enough coffins) with appropriate number and identification attached. The location of each body and its identification is carefully recorded and the trench is back-filled. Plastic stakes with identification numbers marked in indelible ink are placed at the head of each body’s location. Then, the numbers with their cross-referenced identification are logged into a statewide database set up expressly for this purpose. The statewide database also dumps information into the national Casualty Roster.

In Hillsborough County, the "appropriate sites" are thus far in unused portions of existing cemeteries. However, there is simply not enough room in the existing cemeteries to accommodate the high mortality numbers expected. Other sites are currently being marked in north, south, and eastern regions of the county where there is still some open land available. The water table in the land to the west is too high, and the area too densely populated.

These burials practices have caused a great deal of contention in some parts of the community. Some families have religious considerations, some ethnic, some racial, etc. The local government has tried to address these issues by saying that panflu has killed without consideration of religion, race, economics, ethnicity, etc. and therefore they must attempt to (to the best of their ability) address the resulting consequences in the same way. Many families remain unconvinced. The result is a is protest on the steps of City Hall by angry and grief stricken individuals, many of them parts that have been forced to give up the bodies of their children for burial in what they consider unhallowed graves. Regardless of intent, all this does is give the virus another venue to exploit and the city has another minor "spike" occur when several protestors come down with influenza.

Guards were put on the burial sites to prevent people from covertly disinterring their family members or holding religious ceremonies in an area that is considered a biohazard zone.

As the number of dead continues to grow, the time to try and identify bodies is shrinking. There is a special burial area set aside for unidentified dead, such as people who were blatantly part of the homeless community or those bodies that were found without identification. Many bodies that have been found out of doors and are made even more difficult to identify because animals have begun to see these corpses as a food source. The medical examiner has also noted on more than one occasion that it was extremely likely that the individual wasn’t quite deceased before they became prey, only extremely debilitated or comatose.

Tampa is coping as best it can under the circumstances. There are weekly memorial services being broadcast simultaneously on public television and radio stations. There are moments of silence through the day. Many local psychological counseling centers have volunteered to staff call-in centers to help people cope. Discussion boards are set up specifically to help identify the unknown dead, deal with the grieving process, reunite children with guardian adults/family when they’ve been found alone, and to pre-screen potential adoptive families. The Foster Care system of training is the framework for this pre-screening. Many families that would have passed before now are missing the financial ability to adopt and the state has no money to subsidize foster care. It is with great reluctance, but with a realization that it is more cost effective during these times, that the outdated system of orphanages comes back into use.

Families all over are dealing with all of these trials, and more, as best they can. The postal service, despite its irregularity, helps the Chapmans stay in touch with family and friends that cannot be reached by phone or email. Scott and Sissy frequently wait until the kids are abed to screen the letters they receive. With every letter there is both good news and bad as evidenced by a letter Sissy received just a couple of days ago.

Dear Sissy,

I’ve got time on my hands while the kids listen to their dad read the next chapter of The Swiss Family Robinson and I decided to take this time and finish a couple of letters in case the postman runs tomorrow.

After a couple of weeks of rolling "brownouts" the power is now out and we suspect will stay out. Phone service is erratic. Local service still going, but long distance is iffy. FIL received one last frantic phone call from Grandpa in another state. Grandma had passed away in the night. Born during panflu year 1918, she luckily did not succumb to the current flu, but went peacefully in the night. Grandpa is frantic though because their caretaker daughter, in the upstairs apartment is ill, and he cannot get anyone to help him, with her illness or with Grandma's body. He is 92. FIL tells him to contact the other daughter who lives about an hour away, but Grandpa doesn't know if she can come-because of the quarantine. Then the phone goes dead. A couple of hours later, phone service comes back up. Dh runs a laptop off a power inverter in the car and sends out as many e-mails as he can-he tries to connect to Grandpa, but we get no response. FIL tries the phone again-the call goes through, but just rings and rings on the other side. There is no answer.

Dh has had to put one of our dogs down. A German Shepherd, getting on in age, she was suffering from hip displasia, and we could not get her to a vet for treatment. The other dog does not go out unless a person is with her to keep a sharp eye out that she does not come in contact with other animals. Its somewhat risky, but she does have to go out sometimes. The cat is permanently confined to the house.

The house, and us, are starting to feel grimy. I would just love to soak in a hot bath for a long time. FIL has moved in with us. He sleeps on the couch, though we have a spare room, he says he prefers the couch and that way he can guard the front door. He's cut WAAAY back on his smoking-he did stock up on tobacco but he's trying to make it last. I can't let him smoke in the house-allergies and asthma, but I also feel like I can't ask him to totally stop either as its one of very few comforts he has. So he does go outside, but the cig smoke gets in his clothes, and washing and bathing are minimal now so now the couch reeks of cig smoke. It irritates the hell out of me, and then I feel petty about it.

We've managed to keep the garbage issue manageable. Dog gets any food scrapes left- any organic waste-coffee grounds, veg peels etc. gets composted along with paper/cardboard. Glass jars and tin cans are washed-canning jars put away for next season, tin cans bagged "for recycling" but occasionally the bits of metal come in handy for things. Tin foil washed and reused til it falls apart. Other trash is carefully burned after dark so no smoke is seen.

Homeschooling has become difficult with no on-line lessons-I’ve about tapped out my math knowledge. Also FIL likes to "help" by giving the kids long extemporaneous lectures which may or may not be factual. Dh tries to draw him away into some project but then they get into an argument about how the project should be done and there is either much banging of tools in the workshop-which is directly under the dining table where we homeschool, or sulking, often both. Doesn’t make for a good study environment.

The house is a little chilly, because we don't have fans to blow the heat where it needs to go, so one favorite homeschool activity is to huddle up under blankets on someone’s bed-usually dh and mine cause its the biggest. Can't use the couch because when we want to use it is inevitably when FIL decides to take a nap, and also, its stinky now and we really don't want to use it. So we get toasty under blankets and read.

Sometimes they read textbooks, but mostly they read the classics. Sometimes I read out loud to them to help with concentration and to explain things to them. (I really really miss the Net for this!) If the day is nice out, we wait until after supper and very often dh joins in. We alternate with some fun reading as well-though often what they consider fun books goes into the "classical" category. For example, I read Robinson Crusoe aloud, then dh read "Selkirk's Island" which is what Defoe based his Crusoe book on. (We will skip "Journal of a plague year" however) Everyone loves this, even FIL. Their math and science might be shaky at the end of the year, but they will have a dandy classical education.

Dh has enclosed our back deck in plastic sheeting to trap a little more heat for the house and also to act as a greenhouse. He's thinking of ways to build a real connecting greenhouse on to the back of the house. He has already built a great outdoor oven from field stone, and we fire it up and do some baking. We do baking on overcast days to camouflage the smoke.

It is eerily quiet. Although we live some distance from the road, we used to occasionally hear cars or trucks. We've not heard any traffic in a couple of weeks, nor have we heard any planes go over. There’s no tv of course, no appliance hum. No phones. Sometimes hubby cranks up the windup radio. Most stations have gone off the air. The government has taken over Public Radio and the news broadcasts are ridiculously cheery, nothing close to how things really are around here.

For a while we used the cb to connect with a ham radio operator to get outside news but he died of the flu. Most of the cb traffic now is rants about how the government has failed us miserably which is true, but not very helpful. FIL enjoys listening to this, but it gets on the rest of our nerves.

In the afternoons Dh, ds and sometimes dd are building a medieval trebuchet with hand tools. This is something they've wanted to do for a long time. I try to distract myself from gloomy thoughts with complicated knitting patterns-I'm working on Scandinavian Mittens, along with the occasional plain old sock. If dh is reading aloud in the evenings I quilt, but quilting in quiet afternoons leaves my mind free to go places I don't want it to go.

We try to use the solar charged lanterns in the evenings as much as possible, and save our lamp oil and candles. It gets dark at five in the wintertime, so there’s a lot of dark. Also, many days are overcast and we can't get the batteries and lanterns fully charged. Sometimes we just go to bed early. I try not to fret in the long dark, but I do. I wonder how my mom is-if she is still alive. I haven’t heard from her in so long.

Well, story time is over and the light is fading so I’ll sign off here. You are in our thoughts as I know we are in yours.

Greenie and family

Cities in the US that were already burdened with population density so thick that cemeteries filled up faster than land could be found to enlarge them are having to take drastic action. Mass graves that did not attempt any body identification are being put in anywhere they will fit. Some landfills that have huge incinerators are being changed over to mass crematoriums, and they still run 24 hours per day.

Everywhere, bodies are being buried or disposed of as quickly as possible. Sometimes this means they are buried before the ink of the death-certificate even touches paper; often before next of kin can be notified. This slipshod body identification and death certificate processing will cause many legal ramifications for people post-pandemic, but as of now there is no other alternative. Bodies of panflu victims are considered a biohazard and are treated accordingly with as much – or as little – dignity as local authorities can muster.

Making the normal grieving process even more difficult during this pandemic is the approaching holiday season. People unable to reach their extended family members wonder if the last time they talked to them will be the last time they will ever get to talk to them. There is a lot of excitement if contact is made, but there is also fear that a letter may tell of an unexpected loss.

Sissy finally hears from one of their close friends out in Texas and the letter holds out hope that things are improving for some people.

Dear Sissy,

Thank goodness for the flu forums like Flu Wiki and PFI. Because of these websites, I had a heads up and a short time period before the official announcement that the pandemic had started. I took advantage of that time to alert my relatives in East Texas (the Anglo side) and my husband's family here in El Paso (the Hispanic side). DH tried to convince my mother to fly to El Paso, but she wouldn't leave her apartment. A few relatives had already started prepping, but those who hadn't done anything were at least able to get some basic food supplies.

I had a number of friends both in and out of town that I notified, and I then talked to my closest neighbors including the single Anglo man who lives on two acres in front, our new Anglo neighbors next door with the two small boys, and our single Anglo female neighbor, a retired teacher, who lives across the street. She was particularly concerned with feed for her horses. I asked if she could talk to the Mexican-American family next to her, and she said sure. I don't know them, but they also have small kids.

We called our oldest son in Chicago, and as we had arranged, he packed a bag and his flute and took the first plane home. Our daughter 600 miles away didn't want to listen at first, but we finally convinced her to leave. She ran out of gas 100 miles from home and was stranded in Fabens where she had a couple of scary hours until my husband was able to get to her. They just abandoned the car and returned in his truck. Of course our middle and youngest sons already live at home, so that was not a problem.

The first couple of months were actually the worst. The hospitals were overwhelmed, there were a few riots at grocery stores and pharmacies, but mostly people were just scared. Those who were out at the last minute were the ones who fell ill first. Hospitals and clinics were overwhelmed, and the SunBowl Stadium was turned into a temporary morgue. We still don't know the exact number of deaths yet. The border was closed with the U.S. Border Patrol (one of our niece's husband is a Border Patrol agent and we worry for him every day) is covering our side and the Mexican Army covering the other. I suspect there is an agreement for the U.S. to donate medical supplies to the Mexican government, but that hasn't been confirmed. Either way both governments want to keep the other side from crossing the border and spreading the disease. The really sad part of this is that many families have relatives on both sides of the border and are unable to contact them. Everyone is just hoping for the best.

In our house, it isn't as hard as it might have been. DH and I are pretty much stay-at-home types, and there is always plenty to do. When the power and utilities are on, I cook (bread, beans, rice, things that take some time), do the laundry, and fill the water containers. DD helps especially with my youngest, the handicapped one, by changing him,feeding him, and playing with him. DH spends quite a bit of time in the field (we planted winter crops last fall, just in case), fixing the roof, and taking care of the septic tank. The two older boys (both in their 20s) spend their time helping him or playing basketball (one of few last minute purchases was a basketball stand, I thought they would need some entertainment).

Thankfully the few neighbrs we were able to notify took our warning seriously, and they also put up some food. We've pooled resources to the extent that we can. Our neighbors on the southern side, the ones with two small boys, have a swimming pool, and the few times that we have needed some extra water they have been generous. Our neighbor in front has a Mexican-American worker who lives in a small trailer on his property, and he's been invaluable. He knows even more about farming than any of us. The Mexican-American family next to the retired neighbor has planted an entire field of corn and beans.

I was worried that when I might have to use the generator I bought that it would attract unwanted attention. The solution has been to share it with our neighbors whenever we have had no power. Filling my son's oxygen tanks (he has respiratory problems and sleep apnea so he needs oxygen daily) comes first, of course, but we have also used it to recharge batteries for anyone who needs it. We just ask that they contribute enough gas for their own use. I've told the retired teacher that if she doesn't have anything to eat, to please come to our house. She's pretty independent and more worried about her horses than herself. I also lent some books to both families with children. They've all been reading the Harry Potter books as well as some of the classics such as C.S. Lewis and L. M. Montgomery.

We've also been sharing our seeds, and everyone has planted something. The men from the families patrol the areas during the day. There are only a couple of firearms (we don't have any), but it's really the presence of able-bodied adults and a number of guard dogs that seems to convince strangers to keep walking.

Although there are no television programs, we have a world-band radio to listen to when we can catch something. Everyone in the family can play chess although the older boys always win, oldest son practices the flute for a few hours every day, I'm teaching DD to crochet, and of course our library could keep us entertained for years. I'm going through my husband's collection of Hispanic literature that I've always promised myself I would do when I had time. So far we still have supplies that we are stretching as long as we can. We hear that farmers from the surrounding small towns are bringing trucks filled with vegetables, fruit, and even eggs, into the city. They're accepting cash and barter products. Thankfully we haven't had to buy anything. There are those who need it much more than us.

Also we just don't want to go around crowds. Although we've managed to make it through the first wave, we hear that a second wave is coming, and it might be worse.

Again, we can only hope for the best.

Your Texas Primos

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