Jack Emberly.

Along the Fraser: The time the power went out

For me, the blackout was an inconvenience. For others, it was scary, and costly.

This is BC hydro with an update on your power outage. Your estimated restoration time is 12 noon, Monday, Aug. 31.

Noon, Monday. Still no power.  On Sunday, Hydro promised electricity by 11:30 p.m. I followed a flashlight to the bedroom and went to sleep.

For me, the blackout was an inconvenience. For others, it was scary, and costly.

Saturday morning, Aug. 29. Left the farmer’s market before the 89 km/h winds struck. By noon, the fire department would receive 100 calls about the unnerving sound of moaning trees, 12 that fell on houses and buildings, damaged power lines and closed roads.

Eileen Dwillies, the market manager, was forewarned. “Maple Ridge emergency program coordinator Patrick Cullen gave us a 20-minute warning, she told me.

“Our regular vendors had weighted down their tents, but new people weren’t ready. Canopies went flying, glass vases broke. One vendor threw out food because leaves and stuff got into it.”

I live by a greenbelt. A neighbor paced in the street, eyes fixed on a row of hemlocks that swayed in all directions. A few years ago, one fell through the roof of the house next to hers. Its only occupant was shaken up, but unhurt.

There are two big cedars near my house. They’ve withstood the high winds of November and February. Will a drought and Godzilla storms this winter be too much for them?

Saturday afternoon. The hemlocks are corkscrewing. Suddenly, there’s a sickening crack. One implodes at the base and falls on a townhouse. My neighbor races to help.

“No one was injured,” she reports, “but lots of damage.”

Saturday night. Residents and businesses west of 207th Street are dark. A few were prepared. Many weren’t.

Marcelle, at Bodhi, a new natural foods market on 207th, said the lost was $100,000; food safety regulations meant perishables couldn’t be donated because Bodhi had to wait for the insurance company to document the product loss.

Even then, only 50 per cent was covered by insurance, Marcelle added.

Hydro has apologized for its communication. When its website crashed, many got news from Twitter. Businesses – thinking their financial loss might expedite communication – were frustrated.

“It made no difference if you were calling from a business, or a home,” one supermarket manager told me. “I punched in my address, and waited.”

Homeowners like Pat in Whonnock wondered why her neighbor’s house had power, and hers didn’t.

“Then, they called and asked me if my lights were on. Didn’t they know?”

There must be ways to avoid wasting food during power outages. Food banks threw out stock they’ll struggle to replace. Seniors and families rely on it. Many schools could use some for kids on school breakfast and lunch programs. It could go to church supper programs.

Hopefully, Hydro will think about this when it discusses its new plan of communication, a process that should involve municipalities, key service agencies, and organizations like GETI .

Twelve roads were closed in Maple Ridge on Aug. 29. Next time, it could be the major arteries. Food and supplies might have to be barged up the Fraser and Pitt rivers or brought in by rail. Are plans in place?

Last Monday, strong winds grounded sailboats at Locarno Beach. Another El Nino is warming the Pacific Ocean, a fact that guarantees strong winds this winter.

Will Hydro and our cities be prepared?

Sunday. Still no power. Charged my phone in the car and computer in a Chinese restaurant.

Monday afternoon. The power went on. Cut up the huge cedar branch in the back yard, swept the roof of branches, cleaned out gutters.


– Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.


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