Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Back to Normal

Waiting for Gustav

Monday when Hurricane Gustav visited the Gulf Coast, I spent most of the day in pajamas hunkering down in the small hallway between my bedroom and my bathroom - with 5 other people. Some of them were really noisy. There were lots of feet in faces and other body parts trying to fit without offending others. Some tickling. Some complaining. A real family bonding experience.

After waking up at 5:00 to find out how we were faring the storm, I finally woke everyone up and rounded them into the "tornado safe" (yeah, right) hallway around 6am. These warnings lasted until 9am. I usually ignore. But this time the local weatherman was describing these twisters and telling us that in a few moments they would be at the local elementary school so I woke everyone and made them go to the hall. As soon as each warning expired, we all exited the hall and went to do something else until the next one. In total there were 6 tornado warnings yesterday and we took cover for all of them. I was supposed to clear out my big walk-in closet the day before (What? It's full of Creative Memories stuff from when I was a consultant years ago. very full) but I was so busy getting the alpacas ready I never got to it.

Steve boarded up half the house in prep of Gustav. I filled up every water bucket I could find for the alpacas in hopes that I wouldn't have to mess with the generator. That brings me to the big question you are all probably wondering..."How DO you prepare for a hurricane with over 50 alpacas?" Good question.

The Deep South Alpaca Connection has a good emergency preparedness document. For our farm, the first thing we do is decide if we should stay or go. This time I was sure that we had too many animals to evacuate so we were planning to stay. Thanks to the many alpaca breeders who offered to help us with evacuation. Turns out that was an option after all. But for Gustav we decided to stay because we were out of the "danger" cone a couple of days prior to landfall.

If you stay to ride out the storm you need to have one or more generators and plenty of gas to run them. This is necessary for when the power is out and you need to crank up the well for water and the fans to keep the animals cool. It is a good practice to start your generators once a month and run them for a half hour each time to make sure that they run properly when you need them. We try to do this the first Tuesday of each month. Having lots of water around is good during a storm, so fill all the buckets you can before it arrives. Other things you will need are chainsaws, extra chainsaw blades, tarps, medical emergency kits, (I even bought a few suture kits though I'm not sure exactly how they work. I figure if I need them I will learn how to use them quickly!) halters, and leads. Temporary panels are helpful in case your fencing becomes compromised and you need to quickly put together a pen to hold the animals.

Another thing you will have to determine is whether you will lock the alpacas into the barn/shelter or let them run outside in the storm if they so choose. We had Morton Buildings build our barn, and it has a 10 year wind warranty. Meaning that if it blows down within 10 years of being built they will come and rebuild it at no cost to us. Keeping that in mind, I generally will lock my alpacas in during a hurricane and some tropical storms. It depends on the wind speeds that are projected. Sustained winds above 70 miles an hour and I will lock mine inside. But this is only because I know my barn has withstood a category 3 storm (Ivan). This time it wasn't supposed to be quite that bad so I locked the North doors and let them roam in and out at will. During the lulls in the feeder bands the alpacas did go outside and graze. Some people will tell you to always leave them outside in a storm. If you aren't confident that your shelter will make it through the storm, do let them go outside so the building doesn't collapse on them. Personally, I worry that if they were in the field during a hurricane they would get hit in the head by a roofing tile from the construction next door or something. However in a tornado, alpacas are supposed to be safest outdoors, away from buildings. No one has a perfect answer. Let's face it, the best we can do is make a decision and live with it. So far we have been very fortunate.

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