A Practical Survival Guide for When Hurricane Irma Hits the Fan

What to do When the Plan “A” Items Are Sold Out


Josh Darling


Yesterday, my life partner got out of her teaching job early so we could go stock up on “hurricane supplies.” At one in the afternoon, our local grocery store was so packed they didn’t have shopping carts available. The canned food shelves were empty. The soup and beans gone, the choice emergency staples nabbed. We found the water aisle barren. In the commotion, we overheard a woman listing other stores without water.

As a Florida resident, my Irma worst-case scenario is a rough one. Six people stranded, two adults, four children (ranging in age from 5 to 17,) with no water, no food, and no shelter. So, what do you do when the Plan “A” items have sold out? Here’s a hint: The Bar-B-Q aisle is your friend.




Sterno Cans. If you haven’t worked in catering, they are the cans with the flames coming out of them heating the chaffing dishes.

Purpose: Whether you’re on your roof or inside your house, you can use them for cooking and all you need is a spark. They are also reusable and resealable.




Charcoal. The charcoal is NOT for cooking, but for drinking -ish.

Purpose: Rather than buying drinking water you can always make some. Charcoal can be used as part of a water filtration system. If you’re on top of your house surrounded by crystal-clear water you still can’t drink it. Microbes, parasites, silt, pollution, human waste all exist in floodwater. Remember, the sewer system under the roads and the water around your house are connected.

How to Use: Crush the charcoal into pebble sized pieces. Then wash and clean the pieces of coke (coal dust, and don’t snort it.) Fill a sock or available cloth with the crushed charcoal. Since the world is pretty much a garbage dump, grab two plastic bottles floating by. Cut the bottom off one of the bottles. Put the bag of charcoal into the open bottom, then pour the water over it using it as a sieve. Repeat this a few times to help clean the water-catching bottle.


To make the water drinkable: Use the Sterno cans and boil the water killing microbes etc.


SAFETY NOTE: DO NOT BURN CHARCOAL INSIDE YOUR HOME. IT WILL KILL YOU. Do not use ready light charcoal. I don’t know what drinking lighter fluid does to a human, but if you’re lucky getting the shits is the worst of it.




10-lb Bag of Rice. The canned foods were gone so I grabbed a 10-lb bag of Rice. The only thing you need to cook rice is water, which you can now purify. A few pounds of rice will stretch weeks after your canned supplies run out.


Other stuff:

There were a few things I already owned. In case of a natural disaster, hurricane, or zombie apocalypse, I’d suggest tossing this stuff in your bug out bag.




Mag bar, A.K.A. “Magnesium Bar,” A.K.A. “Fire-Starter.”

Purpose: They do everything matches and lighters do but Mag Bars do it wet or dry. You’ll need something iron or steel to strike against the Mag Bar to create a spark. An axe or knife will work. Yeah, most grocery stores don’t carry these. Even in Florida, you’ll need to make fire and not just for sustenance.

In Florida, hours after a storm, it could be 90 degrees, 65% humidity, and sunny; and you’ll still need fire to save you from swamp foot. During WWI “Swamp Foot” was called “Trench Foot.” Symptoms include itching, pain, swelling, cold, numbness, blisters, and a “pins and needles” feeling. Following this, the skin dries out, dies, and then falls off your foot leaving your foot susceptible to serious infection. Prolonged wading in water causes it and prevention is easy. To avoid getting Swamp Foot, every 3-4 hours dry your feet and footwear. Fire will expedite this.




A Bed, Hammock, or Cot. Pending on the environment, a bed can be more important than shelter or food. A person can go days without food but die in hours if sick or poisoned without medical attention. I’m defining “bed” loosely. Anything keeping you off the ground while you sleep qualifies. A sheet tied between tree trunks for a hammock qualifies. A frame made from  sapling trees, this isn’t about comfort, it’s about not shitting tape worms.

Purpose: Protection from the creepers. Florida is home to a plethora of venomous spiders, bugs, snakes, and poisonous fish. Sleeping on the ground increases the chances of waking covered in fire ants or cuddling a cottonmouth.

If you’re on the ground, and the water rises slowly, it can be easy to wake up in an inch of water before noticing. This creates a risk of bacteria and parasites entering your body through your orifices or skin. Nothing says “fun,” like a case of the shits because you swallowed something floating up from a septic tank.




Bug Repellents. I fucking hate bugs. In addition to bug spray, I own a face bug net. In Florida, the dangers from bug bites range from Lyme disease to Zika. And the bugs will bug you. If you have things to do, whether sandbagging or hunting the neighbors for food, it’s way easier if you’re not swatting bugs out of your face.




A Strong Mind. The reality of survival lists is they often leave off the most important aspect of surviving: your mindset. Thriving in an adverse environment is about figuring out what you can do with what you have. A positive mindset is not a Polly-Anna attitude where “Everything will be great.” A positive mindset is looking at the things around you and asking, “How can I solve this problem?” “What else can I try?” or “How can I use as else?” Survival demands the same kind of creative thinking as artistry. The list of what you “can’t do” counts for nothing when you need to eat, stay warm, and sleep in a safe place. What you can do is the only thing that matters.


Born on Long Island, Josh Darling had his first short story published at the age of 17, back in the days of zines. Struggling with learning disabilities, he dropped out of college and wandered across the US for years. He worked oddball jobs to make ends meet including short order cook, answering phones at the Home Shopping Network, and telemarketing for conmen. He currently resides in Florida, with the love of his life and their son.


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