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Disaster preparedness advice from a former castaway

Disaster preparedness advice from a former castaway


Don’t you hate it when the infamous Creek Sixth Sense proves factual?  On September 1, 2017 I got this “bad feeling” about Tropical Storm Irma that had just formed off the Cape Verde Islands. I wrote an article,  Where Hurricanes Strike the Atlantic CoastNow our worst nightmares are coming true.

The current projected path of Hurricane Irma includes the regions, where most members of the People of One Fire live.  Hurricane Jose’ seems to be also headed toward the Atlantic Coast. We won’t know for sure about either storm for a couple more days, but it is good time to get prepared.

If you are caught up in the hurricane or resulting floods and have an emergency question about first aid or post-storm survival, please text message me at   Your regular internet service and electricity probably will not be working.  I will also eventually be in the vestiges of the storm, but will probably still have internet service, since both my internet and electric power lines are underground.  If I don’t have the answer immediately,  I can look it up and get back to you.  My power didn’t go off last March when the tornado took off the roof on this cabin!

In the mean time, here are some things that you can get at Walmart or a similar store today, which will assist you in the after storm survival:

(1) First aid kit and several days of non-perishable food, plus bottled water, if it is still on the shelves.

(2) An inexpensive inflatable raft or canoe . . . if you can afford it.   A $30-$50 raft would have prevented most of the drowning deaths in New Orleans and Houston.

(3) Two or more large RubberMaid plastic storage containers with lids for storing water from your tap before the storm and catching rain water later. 

One of the most astonishing things I observed in New Orleans after Katrina was that nobody except me thought of catching the rainwater from Katrina or later thunderstorms for drinking water.   I observed thousands of people waiting in lines during a thunderstorm for US Army trucks to bring them their rations of drinking water.  No one in the long lines made an effort to catch and store the rainwater.  The same thing happened recently in Houston.

(4) One or more winding, self-generating flash lights.   Flashlight batteries don’t last long these days and are easily shorted out in floods.

(5) LED electric lanterns with solar panels.  These are surprisingly inexpensive at Walmart.

(6)  Several large bottles of hydrogen peroxide.   During the 20 years I lived on remote mountain farms, I saved many an animal’s life by boiling out the infection with hydrogen peroxide.  Hydrogen peroxide will prevent gangrene or flesh-eating bacteria from getting established until you can get the wounded person to a hospital.

(7) A propane camping stove or burner for boiling water and cooking food.   Buy as many gas canisters as you can afford.  Immediately before the storm hits, the store shelves will be empty.

(8)  Hunting knife and hatchet.   These are handy for making tools from saplings.

(9) Sleeping bags and waterproof containers for storing the sleeping bags.   I talked with several people in the suburbs of New Orleans, who forgot to put their camping equipment and sleeping bags in waterproof containers, so this survival equipment was useless after their houses were flooded or roofs blown off.

(10)  Solar or wind up chargers for you cellular phone.  You will have no communication with the world, when your current batteries run out of power.


The scenery was beautiful, but there was no potable water on the entire island.  Fortunately, the hurricane had filled a cooler with water.

Learning survival the hard way

View from our first camp at sunset

The US Navy gave me a survival course in NROTC, but it became useful long before anticipated.  In late August before my Fifth (Thesis) year at Georgia Tech,  two fraternity brothers and I hatched a scheme to spend a long weekend on uninhabited Cumberland Island with three nursing students from Brunswick and Darien, GA.  The island was then owned by the state and I was an intern in the governor’s office.  Governor Carter asked me to study the resources on the island and I intended to make the job assignment a party. 

We planned to sail over to the island from St. Marys and set up camp.  The gals were to come separately the next day in motor boat so their parents wouldn’t know they were on an “extended” date.  Unfortunately,  it was the highest tide of the year that night and by 2 AM our campsite was under two feet of water.  The salt water shorted out our marine radio and AM-FM radio so we didn’t know that a hurricane had done a U-turn and was headed our way.   The girls never showed up because of the hurricane warning.  There was no such thing as cellular phones back then.

View of the tornado from the inside of my doomed tent.

Thinking that we had been stood up, we elected to stay on the island all weekend, so I could write my report to the governor on what I had seen.  Late in the afternoon of the third day, the hurricane struck.  Its winds wrecked the mast and sail of our sailboat.  That night a tornado struck the campsite, scattering our tents, equipment and food containers across the tidal marshes. We rolled ourselves up in our sleeping bags, but were all knocked out.  We woke up the next morning, bruised but not seriously hurt . . . but also from 50 to 100 feet where I tents had stood.

For the next 11 days, we lived like Stone Age hunters.  We made wooden spears and moved to the southern tip of the island where there were tidal pools, which trapped fish and crabs.  We also learned how to balance our diet with sea oats, wild grapes, Yucca roots and prickly pear leaves.   Eventually, we got so good at being savages that we caught a baby wild pig in a trap, but no one had the heart to kill it.

On the eleventh day of being castaways, a fishing boat came close enough to shore for us to wave them down.  The fishermen graciously turned around and took us to the docks at St. Marys.  A small crowd was cheering us at the docks when we landed.  It seems that after the storm,  local fishermen had found the shredded remnants of our tents and inflatable rafts in the Cumberland River on the west side of the island.  Everyone assumed that we had been tossed into the river by the tornado or waterspout . . . whatever its was.  So, Department of Natural Resources rangers had been looking for our bodies.  Actually,  we woke up very close to the water’s edge so that could have happened.  We saw the small DNR plane flying back and forth along the west side of the island, but couldn’t get its attention from our primitive camp, consisting of three wickiups, made out of palmetto fronds on the southeast tip of the island.  

As “Little Big Man” would have said in the movie of the same name . . .  That ended the castaway period in my life.

Now you know why spending the better part of 2010 in a tent in the Southern Appalachians was like a picnic!    LOL

I have written a book about our experiences on Cumberland Island.  It is a glimpse of the Georgia Coast before it was changed by progress.  In St. Marys,  the Gullah People still spoke Gullah back then.  The electronic version is $12.50 and can be downloaded directly from the publisher.  If interested, its URL is:






The daily trek to spear fish at the tidal pool. The beach is a mile wide on the south end of Cumberland Island. 

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.



    Nice of you to pass on advice to people in such dangerous circumstances Richard. I shall tweet and re-.tweet it.


    You always give us “Heads Up” along with knowledge to aid us if we are in a bad situation. Thank you Mr. Richard for your diligence and expertise. What a great movie with so many good quotes. I haven’t thought about it in along time. Gives me a smile from the past. About the time be you were stranded.


    The drinking water thing blows my mind too. In recent days, some people in the Keys have paid up to $70 a gallon for bottled water. Keys tap water isn’t just acceptable, in fact it’s good. Comes from deep aquifers under the Everglades. Needs very little treatment. We bought five gallon jugs of Crystal Water for a storm years ago. Kept the jugs and fill them with tap water before the weather goes to hell.
    Your Cumberland Island story is a good one. And your advice is spot on. I’ve condensed my own advice to a succinct few words: Don’t be stupid. Do be lucky.

    • David,

      Surely you have left Key West by now, David. The current path of Hurricane Irma is headed toward Key West!


    Richard, your Cumberland trip sounds fun now, but probably not at the time! I would much rather live the primitive lifestyle than what we do today. Problem is trying to afford the amount of land needed to sustain yourself. You have been through many adventures in your life and I am glad you share them. Stay safe and good luck with the storm. We are in Jax, Fl but are boarded up and ready. Looks like it will weaken considerably before reaching us. God bless you and your pups.

    • Thank you sir. While Florida is boarding up, we are having beautiful weather and I am splitting firewood. Supposedly, there are over 10,000 Florida refugees in our county right now. There are a lot of Florida tags on the road.


    Always useful information in your postings. Thanks.

    Also wanted to point out a few things and give you an update. First off, the wikipedia page for History of the Jews in Colonial America has this entry “A few Jews were among the traders who settled in Tennessee, near the Holston River, in 1778, but they were mere stragglers and made no permanent settlement.”

    A couple of years ago I emailed you about my family who were early settlers in the Holston River settlements and who still live there, and told you the family story of being part Black Dutch, you told me Black Dutch was code for Sephardic Jew. Several members of the family arrived over the course of many years in the mid to late 18th century while the British had a fort in the area, but at least one of the earliest has been identified as a trader. I was unaware, until recently, of this account, referenced in the wiki page above, from a 1920s history of the Jews in America, identifying some of the Holston traders as Jews.

    Anyway, FTDNA now has a sephardic marker and it produced the following: father 15% Iberian & 2% southeast Europe & 1% North America; Mother 6% sephardic and 17% Scandinavian. The rest is British Isles, Eastern Europe and Central and Eastern Europe. I highlighted the scandinavian result because of your writing on the topic.

    For the record, both are from small and early European settlements in East TN that have remained small and bottlenecked genetically. My father’s family lives on the Holston River about a mile from the old British Fort. Mother just off the French Broad River at the Boyd’s Creek settlement (ten miles maybe from DeSoto’s old fort).

    I was surprised by a 15% Iberian result given the number of years my father’s family has lived there and that, prior to you, I’d heard almost nothing about the presence of Spanish in the area. Perhaps it is unremarkable from what you’ve seen, but it suggests to me a significant Spanish presence that never left if it can still generate a 15% presence 7-8 generations later with no known influx of Spanish in the intervening generations. I understand that 3% Iberian is the common British Isles percentage.

    Does any of the above surprise you for any reason?

    • Hey!

      That is very interesting. Most of the ethnic identities in the DNA profile are typical of Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal. The Sephardic Jews intermarried with the Iberians. A lot of people, who think that their ancestry is Spanish show up being Sephardic Jews, who converted to Christianity. The Scandinavian may indicate that your Sephardic ancestors lived in Catalan. The Goths were from Sweden. I worked in Sweden prior to taking the grand tour of Europe via a Eurorail Pass and a Swedish Youth Hostel Association ID card. Knowing French and Spanish, I picked up Catalan almost instantly because many of the Catalan verbs are Swedish verbs also. That stunned the people in Barcelona.

      I am basically Scandinavian, Creek and Maya . . . a strange combination indeed. My Scandinavian comes from eastern Scotland.


    Richard, shore up your home, Irma is leaving Jacksonville, and headed your way. We faired ok, hope you do too. We are praying for you.

    • Oh, I will be fine up here in the mountains. The water flows quickly off the slopes and heads south. I am afraid that middle Georgia will be devastated by tornadoes though.


    Hi Richard .. being out here on the west coast, in the Cascadian subduction zone, emergency preparation has claimed a good part my attention. There’s a site called ”” with a wealth of info that applies to anyone anywhere. Since a major shift in the Juan De Fuca plate could devastate much of the west coast, the results could affect systems far beyond the shake zone .. possibly into the New Madrid area.


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