Off the Press

April 19, 2011

By Kathleen R. Merrill

You really should prepare for disaster

I’m sitting at my kitchen table, far from Japan and its earthquakes, tsunamis and radiation that have claimed the lives of thousands of people, and far away from the American South and its tornadoes that have killed more than 40 people in just a few days.

Kathleen R. Merrill Press Editor

But such things don’t happen here in the Pacific Northwest, right? Well, yes — until they happen to you. Those people never thought they would see the things they’re seeing now, or live through the things they just experienced.

More than a decade ago, a tornado ripped through the part of Tennessee where I lived and ran a newspaper. The winds ripped the roof straight off my house, turned it over and dropped it pretty as you please in my backyard.

If that wasn’t scary and damaging enough, torrential rain poured into my then roofless house, ruining prized possessions. Still, I occasionally find something with black mold on it — mold that started back then. It’s not as bad as in the first years after the tornado, when I would have to throw out numerous items every Christmas when I unpacked my decorations. Or I would open a box of something during a move to find more molded things that hadn’t gotten dried or cleaned properly.

Food in the cupboards that wasn’t canned or bottled was gone in an instant. No power for some time took away everything in the fridge and freezer. The expense I incurred from that one terrible night — where friends and neighbors lost their entire homes and in some cases, their lives — was hard to recover from. I will always cherish — and contribute to — the American Red Cross, for helping with rent and food and repairs after the storm.

If you had told me I would go through such a thing, I wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, in some weird twist of the mind, some days now I can hardly believe I went through that.

I think many people operate from that mindset — those kinds of things don’t happen here; such things happen to other people, not me.

Every time it even snows here, people rush to grocery and other stores to “stock up” on things. They line up to put gas in their cars and compete with everyone else for what is suddenly a finite amount of resources.

What if a major quake or some other disaster happened here tomorrow?

My car would have enough gas, because I learned the hard way to keep it at least over half-full, if not three-fourths. I would have enough water for me and my pets for some time, because I have lived without water and I plan not to again. We’d have food for some time, even if we can’t get to a grocery or other store, again because I’ve learned that might occur. I’ll be able to make repairs to my house if it’s damaged, because I know I might have to do that myself, too.

We tend to think that government or some magical entity is going to come through and save us if the unthinkable occurs. But it might be every man for himself one day, all of a sudden. How will you fare?

Please go back and re-read our story from the April 6 Press. (You can find it online. Go to and search for “emergency prepared.”) It has great tips to help you get ready.

Which worst-case scenario would you rather have:

There’s an emergency and you are waiting and hoping for someone to come help you while you go hungry and thirsty and can’t take care of yourself and your family?

Or you ride out whatever storm there is with some confidence and comfort and security, knowing you and your family (people, plants or pets) will be OK until some semblance of normal returns?

Kathleen R. Merrill: 392-6434, ext. 227, or Comment at

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