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Old 08-03-2008, 12:46 PM   #1
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SMB vs. Dolly (long)

To All,
It's hard to realize that it's been almost two weeks since my mother and I left South Padre Island in advance of the winds of hurricane Dolly. Today is the first day we have had internet access on the island so I'm going to post this quickly before it goes off again.
As I've written, I bought the SMB for just this purpose, to evacuate my mother from the island and have shelter and cooking capabilities independent of anything the local communities might provide. "No stadiums for me," says my mother.

As luck would have it, the running board lift that I purchased at great expense to get my mom in the van, got stuck in the down position the week before the storm. I got to Ford which managed to raise it and I was waiting for a part from the manufacturer when the storm arrived. To my great chagrin, I found myself shopping for a two step ladder at the hardware store hours before we left. My mom managed to climb the ladder, but it was scary because if she'd fallen or even faltered, the chances of a tear to her skin was likely. She has the paper-thin skin of many elderly and it can flay open at the slightest abrasion.

Tuesday, we got in the conga line of traffic leaving early, they ask all RV's to go first and that was my excuse to pry my mother out of the condo. I was happy that the van held all of our important belongings and we had emergency type food for a week and I'd filled up with diesel in Matamoros the day before. The storm was behind us, visibly forming in the rear view mirror so as we drove NW to Laredo about 200 miles away, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.

This ended quickly when I realized what a tense hassle it was to get my mom in and out of the van. She also disliked the porta-potty and so we risked injury to her each time we stopped for a break, which for an 87 year old, is pretty frequent. I began to think I should have denied myself the rough-readiness of the 4x4 and bought a Sprinter. Low and with complete toilet facilities.

We plugged in at a campground, but we could never agree on the level of air conditioning, 80 degrees being her preference, polar being mine. We finally pulled out and went to a Holiday Inn. And so we stayed there, watching the news, watching the reporter in his swim goggles "coming live from S. Padre beach". I thought we were set, just wait until things clear and go back.

However, when the weather had cleared on the island, my mother insisted we drive back on Friday via the road that hugs the Rio Grande back into the lower valley. What a mistake. We were driving into Dolly as she slowly came west. The winds were 60 to 80 miles an hour. The van did pretty well, I guess because it is so heavy; the buffeting made driving very unpleasant, but if the rain was reasonable, we could keep moving. When it got impossible, I got off the road and tried to nestle up to a building for shelter at least on one side.

After we exited the storm proper, we could see the results of the wind. The Rio Grande Valley is growing, but it's a fairly poor area. The small homes, the old trailers, the manufactured homes were in bad shape. The flooding was extreme, the vegetation shredded. Trees were everywhere, even on the highway.

I realized a mistake was to not anticipate the fact that no electricity meant the gas stations were not functioning. I had about 2/3 of a tank of diesel when we got within 50 miles of the island. Matamoros was similarly affected, so crossing the border for fuel wouldn't have helped. No electricity also meant staying in the van would be an oppressive nightmare. The temperatures were in the 90's, the humidity very unpleasant; luckily I found a motel with a generator and citing my mother's disability, managed to score a room. Two days later, others with reservations took our room, so we were on the move again. This went on for over a week. My mom grew increasingly cranky, my patience thinner.

Finally, we decided to drive to the island to see how bad it was. The SMB had been performing flawlessly, we were presented by many flooded roads, and the height of the 4 x 4 was a boon. We crossed water that nearly covered the wheels. BUT this was not always smart. There was debris in the water, and we picked up a nail. Fortunately, a farm hand helped me change the tire and we were on our way.

The island was trashed. Dolly spent 6 to 8 hours hovering over the area, just beating everything up. My mom insisted on walking up 5 floors to check on her place. No electricity, no elevator. She was lucky, nothing major, but she insisted on staying and so we did. The next day we got power which is good since the mildew was growing, but the elevator is damaged because the roof fell in on it, so I'm shlepping provisions up and down. The internet came on today, but no TV.
I managed to find diesel, actually, there was such a demand for gasoline, the stations were out of it, the diesel was available for longer.

So what are my lessons?
Get the damned running board lift working, and try to figure out how I can become independent from electricity. My solar panels are great, but they don't run the Starcool. The Skreenz that Bronco Hauler arranged for us are a huge help. As you can imagine there are clouds of mosquitoes and the valley has Dengue fever. I am stymied by the generator problem; I'd have to jettison the Baja box, get a new Aluminess contraption, buy a Honda 3000, and learn how to use it.
Oh, and note to self: don't fill up the water jerry can while it's in the Baja box, because I can't lift it out when it's full. Send away for the super siphon.
All in all, I give us a B-, we are intact, but would the Sprinter have been a smarter choice given my mother's restrictions?
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Old 08-03-2008, 01:30 PM   #2
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Joanna,

You and your mom are safe: A+, and all that really matters.

If you had gone with the Sprinter, at times you would have been wishing for the added height of the Ford 4x4. Hard to find a silver bullet solution for all circumstances.

Based upon your lessons learned and your intended uses of the SMB, I think you might be right in re-thinking your generator situation. I would also find some method of remote internet access (laptops with aircards are great, but you need functioning, powered cell phone towers) so you can keep track of things. A weather radio wouldn't be a bad investment either.

Super siphons are great for fuel and water. I recommend one for each.


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Old 08-03-2008, 01:55 PM   #3
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Herb, I had Sirius in the van which has a weather station, it turned out not to be detailed enough for our travel considerations. The portable weather radio which had great reception on a sunny day was useless in the storm.

The cell phone towers are still down in places. I'd sent my iBook for repair the week before, so I used the hotel business centers for internet access when the lines weren't long. The library also has a long line for it's machines.
I'm semi-literate in the world of computers and have a natural aversion to things technical (this is why I don't have a GPS mapping device) so I don't know whether it's worth it to dive further into the world of connectivity. Maybe a SPOT would be a good idea?

I think the generator is the bigger problem.

Oh, and I want to thank everyone who inquired about our whereabouts. It was a consolation.
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Old 08-04-2008, 12:48 PM   #4
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Great post Joanna...glad you're both safe. Have you ever thought about a small trailer to pull? Generator, standard shower and bath plus with a big enough generator it could run the trailer and your van.
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Old 08-04-2008, 12:49 PM   #5
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Wow, what an adventure! Glad you and your Mom are o.k.

Something to look at in generators IMHO is dual or tri fuel generators...especially for disaster situations. There is a company that modifies generators for gas, natural gas and propane. Supposedly has Yamaha's blessing and still has warranty.

http://www.propane-generators.com/ and the Yamaha generator page http://www.yamaha-propane-natural-gas-generators.com/

We were in NOLA shortly after Katrina...and gas was very hard to find...but there were propane tanks from BBQ's floating around. May be something to consider. Gas doesn't store too well, even with Stabil added it should be rotated on a regular basis...but propane to my knowledge has a much greater storage life, and may be easier to find when everyone else is trying to get gasoline.
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Old 08-04-2008, 04:02 PM   #6
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Well I think having the lift fixed would have solved many problems, but it's good to have a ladder- what would you do if the lift broke where you couldn't buy a ladder? That lesson might have been worth the trouble on this trip.

I never liked the baja box design because of the top access- I can't imagine being able to reach in and take a generator out, and it seems like all the small stuff would just be stranded in the bottom. However the box mount and swing out are good, so perhaps a local shop can put a "front door" on the box and a "floor" for the top section (you wind up with a top 6-8" deep and a compartment that opens to the front for the generator).

Not going back so soon would have possibly solved some of your other problems. Your tire could have picked up a nail anywhere, as one of the first vehicles back any thing distributed on the roads would be yours to find. Going back after fuel, water and electricty were available would eliminate (or reduce) the necessity for a generator and the extra fuel, and possibly mitigate some of the other problems. Of course if you'd opted for the 2wd Sprinter returning so early wouldn't have been an option!

Finally, the goal of keeping your mother safe was accomplished, despite occasionally conflicting with her wishes. For that you deserve a gold star to go along with your A+... just remember you're keeping her safe and that means sometimes disagreeing with what she wants.

Glad you're both safe!
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Old 08-06-2008, 05:00 PM   #7
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Hi Joanna,

I, too, am so glad you and your mother are safe, after such a harrowing ordeal! Wow!

You mentioned SPOT, so I thought I'd let you know about our 2-trip (so far) experience with it. We are in our late 70's +. We got SPOT this summer, mainly to let our family know we're "O.K.," plus having the 911 button for a life/death emergency. We do really go into the boonies and sometimes don't see another soul for days. Cell phone reception is mostly nil. We all are VERY pleased with it. Every day we sent a "We're O.K" signal, and they would get that message, via email or a text, plus seeing exactly where we were, via satellite on Google Earth. If we ever had to push the "Help" button, they would know to call AAA to send a flatbed truck to the rescue. You can't communicate verbally, however. Anyway, we decided to do this over getting a satellite phone, due to the cost. The SPOT only costs $150, plus a $100 per year fee. I don't know if this would fit your situation or not, but I thought I would share our experience with you and anyone else who might be interested. (There's more about some of this earlier, under the electrical section of the forum).

Continue to stay safe, and enjoy many happy times with your mom in your great SMB!

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