Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hurricane Matthew

When I wrote my blog last week on how to care for fish during a power outage, I had no idea that Hurricane Matthew would wreak havoc on the town in which I live and that my fish survival skills would be put to the test.

Hurricane Matthew, as you undoubtedly know by now, tracked further inland than originally forecasted. I live in Lumberton, North Carolina. Once the storm was passed, townspeople discovered downed power lines, fallen trees, damage to homes, cars and property. Little did we know our ordeal was just beginning. As the Lumber River swelled over the levee in the southern section of this small town, literally half of Lumberton faced massive flooding which, as of this writing, has yet to recede. The Lumber River crested at almost 25 feet above flood stage.

Power was knocked out on Saturday, October 8. We lost running water on October 9.


My immediate concern with regard to my fish was the temperature. Fortunately, the skies cleared and outside temperatures remained in the 70's during the day. However, as we entered Tuesday, the water in the community tanks had dropped a full ten degrees, from the normal temperature of 78 to only 68 degrees. I placed a heavy blanket over half the tank, keeping the other half open to sunlight pouring through the windows and allowing oxygen from the air to reach the surface of the tank.


The water was no longer oxygenated with the loss of power. I used battery backups for filtration. I simply unplugged the air hose from the electric pump and plugged it into the battery backup. Not knowing how long the power would be off and how long the batteries would last (each took two D batteries), I ran them for fifteen minutes every four hours. I observed the fish to see if they gathered around the air wands in the tanks, and as the bubbled penetrated more deeply into the tank, I knew the water was being sufficiently oxygenated.


To help with the filtration issue, I stopped feeding the fish. Oddly, they did not seem hungry, and I attribute this to several factors: the lights on the tank didn't come on, and that always signals them that food is coming; their body temperature was dropping with the temperature of the water, as they are cold-blooded creatures.

On the third day, I lightly fed them but noticed only a few coming to the surface to feed.


I lost one fish, a neon tetra, on the third day. Another fish, a glowlight tetra, has been hanging near the surface of the water. My four angelfish that I was most concerned about showed no signs of stress - hanging at the surface of the water, gathering in one corner of the tank, etc. All other fish - plecos, corydoras, tetras, banjo catfish - have remained well.

Power Returned - But Not Out of the Woods Yet!

Power was restored on Tuesday evening, October 11. However, we're not out of the woods quite yet. The power could still flicker or go out, as the infrastructure has been weakened and repairs are on-going throughout the region.

And over the coming weeks, I will have another issue to contend with: the water supply. Right now, our running water remains out. I have a 10-gallon bucket filled with water that I filled prior to the storm. However, once our water is turned back on, we've been told to boil it before using it - for weeks or possibly months. The floodwaters have been such that tens of thousands of hogs and chickens from North Carolina farms have perished, and that could have a devastating impact on water sanitation.

This means that I will be boiling out the nutrients that the fish require for life as well as those organisms that could kill them. It's a catch-22. I plan to boil the water, treat it with Prime, and then add nutrients back in with Amazon Extract or Blackwater Extract.

We were very fortunate during Hurricane Matthew and in its aftermath. Water rose to within a few yards of my house but did not enter it, unlike tens of thousands across the state. My dogs were safe the entire time. And while we lost power and still do not have running water, we have a roof over our heads and the house is livable - unlike many throughout the state - multiple states - who are living in shelters are facing an uncertain future. Please keep all of the hurricane's victims in your thoughts and prayers.