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What to do when there is no running water to flush a commode

What to do when there is no running water to flush a commode


There was a topic left out of POOF’s emergency preparedness article.  I realized my mistake, but before I could insert an addendum . . . the power went out several hours before Hurricane Irma actually reached here. 

Our forecast from the National Weather Service was “moderate rain . . . winds 25 mph to 35 mph, gusting to 45 mph.  Even as violent winds were knocking out our communications infrastructure, the NWS Emergency Radio Transmission continued to play a recording of this bogus forecast. Their excuse is that “executive budget cuts three months ago forced elimination of night shifts to monitor changing weather conditions.”

However,  Irma pitched a hissyfit when she rammed up against the Blue Ridge Mountains and a cold front hanging over the mountains.  The winds were something akin to waves crashing on a beach.  The down drafts were especially destructive . . . knocking down two cellular telephone relay towers that were designed to withstand 150 mph. horizontal winds.  So most of this region has been without electricity, land line telephone and internet service for several days.  Cellular phone service has been iffy. Since most people get their water from wells, that also means that they have had no running water . . .  unless they live near a spring.  LOL 

The banks lost their communication links with their central computers in the main offices, so they could not give people cash from their checking or savings accounts at the same time that stores were only doing cash transactions, because their communication links were down.  Most gas stations were inoperative because of the lack of electricity to run their pumps.  Those that were open could only accept cash. 

This situation illustrates one of the greatest dangers caused by the centralization of financial institutions, communication systems and executive decision-making.  Knock out communication links and an entire region . . . or even the nation . . . will become financially paralyzed.  Again as in the case of the 2008 Crash,  what is best for Wall Street is not what is best for the rest of the United States.

Municipal water systems generally do not shut down unless struck by a flood or a major hurricane like Katrina, Harvey or Irma.  However, rural folks have no water when there is no electricity. I was astounded to see an interview of a family in Beaumont, Texas complaining that they could not flush their commodes and had no place to go to the bathroom in their yard, because it was exposed to views by their neighbors and surrounded by flood waters.

The solution is simple.   Store as much water as possible before the storm, or if given no warning store rain water.  All you have to do is pour about a half bucket of water directly into the commode and it will flush.  If you are surrounded by flood waters, just grab a bucket of dirty flood water and FLUSH YOUR COMMODE!  That dirty flood water is not nearly dangerous as allowing a commode to fill up with human waste.

Keep a battery operated digital clock

This is something that I forgot about, even though I had a small LED clock from my two years of living off the grid.  When I realized that I didn’t know what time it was and there was no way to find out.  It was too late.  The battery was dead and since the cellular phones were knocked out, no one had a way of knowing the time except by flagging down a foreman for the workmen feverishly trying to clear the trees from main highway with bulldozers.

I must say that the Georgia Department of Transportation did an incredible job of clearing the roads.  The trees were pushed out of the way with heavy machinery, so that secondary crews could come by later in the day and cut them up with chain saws.  However, we still have many rural county roads with electric lines laying on them.  Much of the rural part of the region will be without power for several more days.  I was very fortunate to be fairly close to a designated emergency highway escape route.  My power came back on last night.

Fluorescent sky and cold downdrafts

I went out into the storm when the crashing of trees woke me up around 3 AM.   Obviously, something was wrong because 25 mph winds don’t knock down trees.   The sky was glowing like a fluorescent light, even though we were in a blackout because a electrical sub-station had blown up.  Apparently,  Hurricane Irma’s ferocity was in part due to many charged particles being suspended in its clouds.  Yet there was no lightning.

Periodically,  the gentle, warm winds from the east were suddenly pierced by extremely cold air coming straight down at a high velocity from the stratosphere.  When one of these downdrafts came near my cabin, if felt like walking into a freezer locker.  Afterward for several minutes the winds would blow violently in all directions.  I guess you could call these violent downdrafts, air bombs.

Thoughts on being inside a crisis

Looking out the window at night and seeing pitch black, because of the lack of artificial illumination and the moon, was scary to a lot of people in urban and suburban areas.   Having lived off the grid for two years, I was used to it and of course, had several wind-up generator powered or solar powered lights, if needed.  Nevertheless, when people have become addicted to their cellular phones, smart phones, I-pads and electric-powered conveniences,  it makes them very vulnerable to making illogical decisions . . . like welcoming a fascist dictatorship.   It is very clear that the United States needs to get away from dependence on regional power grids and centralized financial data systems.  If homes generated most or all of their electrical energy and stored all their rainwater,  such crises as we have been experiencing over the past few weeks in the Southeast and Gulf Coast would have been far less traumatic. 

As for as flood prone areas along the Gulf Coast goes . . .  it would be far less expensive to provide each home with a $30 inflatable raft than to pay for frantic rescues by helicopters and swamp boats after the fact.  There would also have been far fewer deaths during Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey.


These all are matters of National Security . . . in its truest since.   Are you listening FEMA?

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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.



    Agree, Richard.
    The raft idea is a brainstorm, but they have to be rafts or flotation devices that can be blown up mechanically, and or by breath or foot power. It would be a good idea for everyone to have a personal flotation device in their bugout or emergency bag/backpack.

    • Such rafts that instantly inflate are mass produced for the airlines. There are hundreds of thousands of them on airplanes around the world. We are not talking about expensive or radical new ideas. The technology has been around since World War II.


    Glad to see you survived Irma and the inflatable raft is a great idea.


    Hey Richard,

    Good to know information about commode operation. Until a little over 12 years ago I lived in Ormond Beach on the east coast of Florida. Over my 60+ plus years of living there starting with Hurricane Donna which was the first time I was in the eye of a hurricane all of your advice on getting along as if living in a third-wold country is valuable. As a lifetime Boy Scout I can usually get along but I continue to be amazed as what modern folks in America don’t know about day to day life and knowing how things work. I lived on the Tomoka river so we always had water to flush with but drinking water was another thing. Can’t count all the times I was without power for in excess of two weeks. After Donna at my parents house it was just over three weeks without power. We were campers so cooking and light was all up to Coleman and we were just fine as we had stored fuel and water enough to last our family of four. Donna taught me several things as a 15 year old. First was that I need to be able to take care of myself and my family through prayer, thinking ahead, and hard work. Second was to become a Ham radio operator so I could establish communications if necessary. Life lessons worth knowing. Having a copy of Woods Wisdom and my scout handbook have also been helpful. I hope others reading your POOF post this time will learn something of what they need to know when we are off the grid. Thanks again for all your efforts to keep members of POOF informed.


    Hey Richard
    Glad to hear you survived without damage. And quite interesting to hear your description of the sky glow and icy downdrafts. Not sure how smart it was to stand out there but I would’a been there also.
    The power is also still off around my family’s home in Horseshoe Bend, one trailer home nearby took a direct hit, was smashed thru (nobody home).
    As for not knowing what time it is…… The constrictions of our current “time system” , I believe, restrict us in many ways, making it more difficult to be in tune with our bodies, or be able to truly focus our minds etc. and so forth on, and on. So hope you were able to enjoy your time “without time”…..

    • Not terribly enjoyable. It was dark, cold and damp in the cabin. Most of the time, it was too dark inside the cabin to even read. So during the limited time when it was not drizzling, I carved log drums outside.


        I’d like to see the drum making in progress…… What wood do you use?? I built my first fire in woodstove during that time. Really felt good with the dampness.

        • These are log drums that do not have leather heads. A maple tree was knocked over during the tornado that struck my cabin in March. It was still partially standing and so the wood was green. My first step was to cut up the sections of the maple into the pieces for individual drums. I then used a chain saw to trim them to the approximate shape and gouge out rough holes in the bottoms. The wood will have to dry some before I work on it anymore.


    Hey Richard,
    Great advice on primitive living.
    The other day I got a great example of how clueless some people are about survival. On a national radio talk show the host was giving some of the same advice about storing water.
    Put tap water in clean containers for drinking and rain or flood water to flush the toilet. Social media went wild saying he wanted to kill people by telling them to drink flood water.
    All I could do is shake my head and feel sorry for this e people.
    Another thing people today are not used to using are candles and lanterns. Several fires are started every year because people put an open flame in the wrong place near flammable materials. Please pay attention to where you set open flame lights like candles, oil lamps and Coleman type lanterns. The middle of the room on a table is best place to put a open flame light.
    Glad you and the dogs are safe.

    • Great advice about the open flames. I don’t use them because I never know when one of wagging bushy tails of my herd dogs would knock over a candle or lamp.


    I agree. Most are not prepared either mentally or physically for hardships from natural disasters or other forms of disaster. I live in Florida (Levy Co.) but did not have any power loss or other forms of damage (I asked God for help and he provided). But, I also saw weird flashes of light during the 3 AM period of Irma but didn’t think it was lightning? Not a fun thing to endure but I had spent the week previously putting up water, cans of food, etc. so my family and our animals would have the bare necessities. Maybe people will now realize that the government nor anyone else will be around in your emergency and that each of us is responsible for our self and family. I sincerely hope so!


    When six of us distant cousins got together ten years ago; we all compared feet! And, we all had similar feet!
    Irish, scotts, jewish, nordic, french, english,many more –all female, with features you have mentioned!
    But, Gov said our people weren’t accepted!


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