Last week, we covered the devastating reality of life in Venezuela while the country suffered through the largest power outage in the country’s history (see that Survival Scout, Surviving Venezuela: Lessons From a Country in Chaos).
Looters filled the streets, ATMs were down, and many citizens resorted to drinking polluted water from the city river and sewer. In hospitals, babies were born in the dark, doctor’s performed operations by candlelight, and some 50 people passed away from lack of electricity--most of whom needed dialysis treatments.
At My Patriot Supply, we take any opportunity we can to get firsthand accounts and stories from perilous survival situations. It’s our belief that these stories are critical in instilling the value of preparation for our customers, communities, and nation.
We were able to get in contact with an unnamed (by request for her safety) 28-year-old woman living in Caracas, Venezuela. Though she grew up in and currently lives in Venezuela, she was educated in the United States at an Ivy League university, and fortunately, comes from a family of means in Venezuela. However, no one was left untouched by the situation. She and her family were still affected by the blackout and overall financial and political crisis in Venezuela.
Read on to hear about how she, her family, and her community rallied together in order to survive during the Venezuelan blackout, in our exclusive Q&A below.
Survival Scout: How did your family find ways to make food with the lack of electricity for so long?
Our Source: My family used a barbecue grill my dad keeps downstairs at their apartment building. For the first two days of the power loss, he used coals because gas has been hard to come by to buy. But then a neighbor found gas and all our neighbors were able to use that gas to cook supper. We usually just ate fruit or bread for breakfast. And we had no coffee. Since our stove is electric, we didn't have another way to cook. Some people have gas stoves and they were able to cook.
I grow tomatoes, avocados, and recently planted a batch of pineapples at home, but that's about it. They give us some fresh and beautiful veggies, but they're few and far between. We don't have a full-on operation, like a garden on the roof with at least some greens. Partially because I haven't gotten to planning it and building the wooden beds, but also because seeds are hard to come by. It's not uncommon for some households here to have a banana tree, mango tree, papaya tree, and or avocado tree in the backyard.
Houses in the slums don't have the space or fertile ground necessary to grow their own food and they rely on CLAP, a box subsidized by the government that they use as a manipulation tool. When it comes, it usually has some corn flour for arepas, canola oil, black beans, coffee, sugar, and rice. All the foods are off-brand and there are lots of corruption stories tied to this CLAP business.
Survival Scout: What are some other ways that people found clean drinking water, electricity, supplies, etc. that they need to survive?
Our Source: In Caracas, the capital, which is where I live, people were gathering water from a pipe or two that bring water down which comes from the local mountain, El Avila. Shared belief is that it's freshwater since it comes from the mountain, but it probably still needs some sterilization.
Even before the outage, there was already a water crisis and a hepatitis breakout because of improper water sanitation. People were wary of eating out because they didn't know what kind of water was being used to wash fresh fruit and vegetables, plates, etc.
During the first day of the outage, there were no points of sale. This means you can't pay with your credit or debit card because there's no phone line or internet line available. People use cards here for everything because ATMs have run out of cash.
The amount of circulating money can't keep up with hyperinflation. Imagine if $100 were worth $1 tomorrow, and suddenly people were trying to take $2000 to $4000 out of the ATM every time. So people resorted to asking for USD $ bills in cash, and people paid them.
My dad bought 2 gallons of safe drinking water for $6 each. That's above normal price. Same went for ice. While some people were considerate of the situation, there were others who took advantage of it. In terms of electricity, people just stayed in the dark. Some had flashlights, others had candles, people even mixed a little bit of water and oil in a jar, and lit a piece of cord in it to make makeshift lanterns. Some people have their own power generators that they used for a couple of hours at a time to charge things and invited others to do the same.
But many hospitals didn't prepare with generators. Hundreds of people have died because they have had to be turned away from the emergency room, etc. I was shocked to find that so many of them, especially public ones, lacked back up generators and water tanks.
With supplies, again, people just went out and explored to find ANYTHING that was open. Most establishments were closed. And, if they were lucky to find something they needed, then they had to pay in dollar bills. Most people just made do with whatever they had at home. But also a lot of people got nervous and went out for lunch.
Currently, there's a donation center set up for water and even just empty bottles to send to food halls that are open in the slums, where people are getting no water at all. The wealthiest get trucks with water brought home. Usually, this cost $30--with the outage I heard they were charging up to $150. These trucks are called cisternas trucks. Sometimes in apartment buildings, all the neighbors will chip in to get one when water rationing has become unbearable. Water rationing has been happening since way before the nationwide power outage.
At my parent's home, they get running water for 2 hours a day: once in the morning and once in the evening. They are lucky to have a tank, so it fills up during that time and they use the water that comes into the tank throughout the day. Again, this is a luxury of only the upper middle class. Most people, especially people who live in barrios, collect rainwater or walk somewhere to fill up their buckets.
Survival Scout: What are some of the damaging effects or stories you have heard as a result of what happened?
Our Source: There is no concrete data yet regarding the exact damages of this blackout so far. Only after the first three days, dozens of dialysis patients died as a result of the blackout, and some 10,000 more were at risk if they continued without treatment.
There's a company that makes aluminum that lost all of its equipment and infrastructure. With the power outage, the aluminum solidified mid-process, meaning it stuck to the machines before being spilled out, and they lost everything. So many businesses lost inventory, fridges, computers, electronics, and machines damaged from the power coming back and going in drastic surges. Surge protectors are key. But again, I have little data, facts, about the damage.
The most dreadful scene has been people collecting water at the sewers, and hearing that hundreds have been turned away from emergency room treatment, whatever they may need, because the hospital has no electricity.
Survival Scout: What advice would you give Americans in general in terms of how to prepare for the worst case scenario?
Our Source: Design your home so that in a crisis scenario you can be as self-reliant as possible. Have a water tank, an alternative energy source, some food reserves. Have an alternative stove, if yours is electric, or some other way to cook.
Have a water pump or water tank. If possible, even invest in your own solar energy. Grow a small garden. Any of these would help. Keep a small radio on hand that is simple to recharge. If the internet and phone lines crash, the radio will probably still have a signal. Such was the case here. That way you can stay even just slightly up to date on news.
Keep one of those backup batteries maybe if you're really dependent on your electronics and intend to keep working through it, and a laptop you can charge and use while not connected directly to a plug. Keep a cash envelope for emergencies. Flashlights, batteries, candles, duct tape, cloth, pen, and paper. And salt, to make long-lasting ice in bags filled with water when the power comes back, so that your food doesn't defrost.
Some board games would have been nice to have around too, as silly as that may sound. In our case, there was a lot of waiting in anxiety and the board games certainly helped. Cards, puzzles, dominoes, connecting with community, and sharing space - that's what we ended up doing for many days.
Survival Scout: What items did you see as most valuable during this crisis?
Our Source: Running water for cleaning, for flushing the toilet, or an alternative way to use the bathroom that is at least somewhat hygienic. Safe drinking and washing water, as well as some sort of signal or connection to the outside world for information.
After that would be food. This was in my case, but I know there are people who need to refrigerate their medicine, for instance, so in that case then an alternative power source. It depends on your priorities.
I for one did not mind eating raw fruits and salads. But once we were out of those, I literally just ate Cheetos and bread. So an alternative stove, unless you have a huge stock of fresh foods or plan to fast, is also up there on my list.
Survival Scout: To what degree did you see this coming?
Our Source: Zero. I knew about the corruption. I knew about the lack of maintenance. We had already been dealing with water rationing and constant deterioration of public services. But these were all gradual, and so people learned to live with them, around them. To survive.
But I never imagined a nationwide blackout was possible, much less that it could last for so long once it happened. That it would come back for an hour, only to go out again, was nerve-racking. The scariest part is that they say the system is still compromised. Others say the government can now use it as a tool for emotional manipulation because they control it. I don't know.
This story and information from recent days, directly from an on-the-ground source, is extremely useful for anyone who wants to be prepared for worst-case scenarios. Though we may not experience a blackout to the extent that Venezuela recently did (and still does to a certain extend in some areas with rolling blackouts), there are plenty of events in U.S. history that no one ever expected to happen.
The difference between who will survive and make it through a crisis, and who will depend on Good Samaritans or a government CLAP box (heaven forbid - see our Survival Scout: 30 Million FEMA Meals Never Delivered) will be based upon how prepared and knowledgable you are. Stock up on the essentials now, before disaster strikes.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply