Sunday 29 December 2013

Ice Storm

In the days leading up to Christmas our area was hit was a massive Ice Storm which caused us to lose power for about 80 hours. I will be totally honest, it wasn't a fun experience.

Saturday December 21st started off normally - mom headed into work, dad and I decided to see a movie (Saving Mr. Banks is awesome!) and Brian was driving down to Buffalo to pick up a Christmas gift. We ordered pizza that night partly because everyone was coming and going at different times, but mostly because it was cold and miserable outside so no one felt like moving off the couches and away from the fire and blankets... Little did we know how much time we would be spending in our family room over the next few days.

The power first shut off at around 4:30/5:00pm so we called the local power company and reported the outage. Within an hour or so they had trucks on the street fixing whatever had blown. I occupied myself resding on my tablet so it wasn't a big deal. At about 9:30 the power came back and I was excited because it meant I could watch the Christmas episode of Saturday Night Live with Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon. However that plan didn't work out as there was a loud bang outside my window and by 10:30 everything was dark. From my bedroom I could see a street lamp burning off - changing colours, sparking and looking pretty dangerous so I called the outage line again. This time I figured I may as well just sleep because nothing was going to happen anytime soon. 

The next morning I was surprised to see we were still in darkness, however that surprise was nothing compared to the one I got when I went outside. There were large branches of trees down everywhere - on the roads, on properties, all over our backyard, on my brothers old truck, in between cars - it looked like something from a disaster movie. The driveway itself was a sheet of ice, and every few seconds you would hear an ominous "crack" sound coming from the ice covered trees. All afternoon those cracks continued as more trees had their limbs come crashing down. Ice was everywhere - the street, on the house, and on our outside Christmas decorations but it was the trees which drew your attention. Despite all the destruction they looked magical, as if we were living in a winter palace or a scene from the movie Frozen. 

Our house next door (which is vacant and used for electrical supplies) had the electrical wires come right down and the hook up meter ripped from out from the side. Our damage was nothing compared to houses further down the street who had trees on top of their homes and electrical wires all over the place. 

All six of us managed to get luke-warm showers (thank god!) but we used up the last of the hot water in the process. Our phones are on a business system so all we had for communication were our cell phones - which had pretty crappy service. Sunday morning was spent hanging out in the living room, reading, cooking whatever we had in the fridge (we are fortunate enough to have a gas stove) and checking twitter for updates from the power company. The outage was wide spread - most of Toronto and Durham were without power. Slowly updates trickled in of small pockets regaining power so we were hopeful, but ultimately not one of the lucky areas. 

Sunday ended up being a lazy day - and very boring. We managed to charge our phones through the cars, which also offered a bit more warmth. While we have fireplaces they are gas and put out limited amounts of heat. That night we went to bed cold and a bit grumpy hoping it would be fixed come morning. 

It wasn't. 

Monday December 23 had us going a bit stir crazy. Dad and I went to a Canadian Tire to get a car hook-up. We had to go two towns over before we found a store that was open and with power. They had signs on the door making it clear they were all out of generators, road salt and propane heaters. Dad found a plug that would hook up to the car and headed home. The hope was he could plug the hot water heater in and get warm water through the hook up. Sadly the product was faulty and didn't work so freezing cold showers were the only option. At this point we started to question our Christmas plans. We always host Christmas but weren't sure it was possible this year. We still had no power and couldn't start shopping and prepping until we did. Thankfully my aunt and uncle had power in their area and agreed to take it over. What was supposed to be a relaxing day for them was spent rushing to multiple stores trying to get everything. It made things chaotic for them, but meant Christmas would still happen. At this point Mom and I started getting annoyed at my grandparents as they wouldn't leave their home. Their house had even less heat then us (their gas fireplace is pretty much for show only) so we were trying to get them to come to our place, a hotel, my uncles - anything warmer. I have to mention how awesome my Aunt Honey and Uncle Beau were through all this - in addition to throwing together a last minute holiday meal (which turned out delicious and awesome) they kept inviting us over to shower, warm up, camp out - anything to try and help. 

Brian grabbed his laptop and tablet and took off to find a open Starbucks. He hung out there all day as he was unable to sit around and do nothing (those who know Brian know how he needs to have something to occupy him) and Adam went to finish Christmas Shopping. Monday night we went to my other uncles house for dinner, so we were able to escape the cold for a few hours. On the way back my friends began texting me that power had returned to their homes so I was hoping I would see lights in my neighbourhood. My hope was answered because I did see lights when I pulled into the neighbourhood but they stopped about halfway in. We live in an older area and close to the Durham/Toronto line so our power was being impacted by Toronto. Until they were able to fix certain areas, our power company (there are two seperate compaines for the separate regions) couldn't start. Monday night was freezing cold, and it made it incredibly hard to sleep. Finally I gave up and laid downstairs by the fireplace under as many blankets as I could find. 

Tuesday was Christmas Eve and none of us woke up in the holiday spirit. Mom and I decided we had enough of the freezing cold water and packed a bag for the rec center. We have gym memberships there and it was being used as a warming center so we went and had hot showers. It was awesome to stand under the hot water, and finally do something with my crazy hair. We took a trip to my grandparents place and were happy to find them packing for a hotel. Their house was horribly cold and I can't believe they stayed there as long as they did. We dropped off gifts at my great-aunts house which was somewhat sad. Every Christmas Eve I attend church with my grandparents and then spend the evening at my great-aunts home with all my extended family. It's something I have been doing for years, but the ice storm changed those plans. My great aunt was still hosting it - but in the dark. They said Brian and I were of course welcome, but Nanny and Pappy weren't going to be there, and I wanted to seek some sort of warmth because the cold was really starting to take its toll on me. 

Brian again took off for Starbucks, so mom, dad and I went to see a movie. They went to some action/violence one but I wanted something happier (it was Christmas Eve and my mood was not the greatest) so I choose to see Frozen instead. It was a wonderful movie. We met up with Brian for dinner at a local Irish bar/restaurant, it wasn't bad but not at all festive. We returned home to our still dark and freezing house. I helped wrap some presents for my brother which was a bit hard by flashlight so they ended up looking ridiculous, and then went to bed. I'm not happy to admit this, but I was pretty grumpy at this point as was everyone else so there was a lot of snapping and miserable behaviour in our household. I was too cold to fall asleep so when the power finally returned around 11pm I was the only one awake for it. I quickly woke everyone and we chalked it up to Santa Claus bringing us a gift! 

To me - and too many people who encountered the power outages - it was a miserable time. The fact it changed/ruined people's Christmas's is still something being mentioned and talked about. There were people that remained without power until almost the end of December, so there was and still is a lot of frustration. There has been some negativity aimed toward the power companies which I totally disagree with. Okay fine, maybe above ground power lines aren't the greatest but its what we have and up until now functioned without incident. This wasn't Veridian (our company) messing up - it was weather related. And their response was amaizing. They utilized social media frequently to keep everyone updated and issued numerous progress reports. Their crews worked through the night, through the holidays and even had staff cancel their vacations and holidays to come in assist. They brought in trucks from other areas, and other companies to assist. In my mind they did a fantastic job. 

But looking back I can't help but be a tad ashamed at what a huge deal/impact it was on me. It's very much a case of "first world problems". There are so many people out in the world who don't have heat, or hot water, or even a proper home and this is their every day life. Driving through areas in the Caribbean I have seen tiny shack like houses basically destroyed by hurricanes still housing large families. Turning on the news you see the conditions overseas. I think it's really easy to forget how fortunate we are to live where we do and have what we have. The fact that those 80 hours made me get to such a miserable/grumpy place makes me upset at myself for not just being grateful that my family and friends were all safe/healthy and grateful for all the good things I  do have going for me. Especially since this all happened around Christmas - the season of good tidings - I wish I had been more positive. The lack of power yes was an inconvenience, but it wasn't the end of the world - looking back I definitely recognize that. 

Here are some of the crazy photos of the damage around our home. (The quality is poor because my regular camera wasn't changed so I had to use my phone).

All the trees are covered in ice 

The hydro hook up next store was ripped right out

Trees down all over 

A tree went right on top of a neighbours house 

Trees hitting the trucks 

A tree on top of my grandparents neighbours house 

Tree falling on my brothers truck