Woefully Unprepared

Blackout 1

That was my husband and I this weekend after back-to-back tornadoes struck our hometown of Ottawa, Ontario on Friday evening.  The storms – a rare, although not totally unheard of occurrence – tore through the city in a matter of minutes, leaving utter destruction in their wake – flattened homes, uprooted trees and a completely decimated power station, which knocked out electricity to nearly 180,000 homes and businesses, ours included.

In the eerily still moments that followed the lights going out, it began to dawn on us that we were not in the best of positions to ride out anything longer than half a day’s power outage.  In an effort to curb mindless munching, we keep precious little “emergency” food in the house – crackers, granola bars – or even easy to prepare things like salad and sandwich fixings.  So we had no food, and a rapidly thawing freezer full of things that could only be heated up.  We also live in a condo apartment, so we have no barbecue, gas stove or hot water heater.  Also a multi-storey walk down to and then back up from the garage in order to check the news on AM radio because neither one of us carries a data plan on our phones, choosing instead to tap our home or public wifi, which is great practice in terms of saving money and curbing poor phone habits, but terrible in the event of an actual emergency, because when the power goes out, so too does the wifi.

On Saturday evening we braved the roads – signal lights out, all intersections down to the mostly respected honour system – and went over to check on my parents, who were having a veritable blackout party when we straggled in, weak from a diet consisting of nothing but dry Mini Wheats straight from the box.  Bustling about their gas fireplace-warmed kitchen in a cozy-looking jewel toned robe, my mother laid out their bounty of “eat this now”s, expressing concern that it wasn’t much (my mom’s definition of “not much” being wildly skewed, of course; their granite-topped kitchen island was crammed with a tantalizing assortment of salads, deli sandwiches, dips, heaping bowls of leftovers and half a chocolate cake!  I nearly burst into tears, but crying would have gotten in the way of all the eating; we fell on this unexpected feast with gratitude.  My parents are pretty awesome.

We rode out the remainder of the weekend in our apartment doing what we did all weekend long – cramming as much reading as we could into the daylight hours before passing out from boredom about two hours after sundown.  When the power came back on, I nearly cried, again.  It was a bit of an emotional weekend.  Having the power off was its own challenge, sure, but it was the weekend-long information vacuum we were plunged into that made the whole situation that much worse – I was utterly furious that for all our expensive devices we have jacked up in our faces at all hours of the day, when it really comes down to it, we’re still just sitting in the dark, clueless.

And the silence – it was deafening.  I never realized before how much white noise I like to have in my life.  I have slept with a full box fan bearing down on me virtually every night of my life.  I score nearly everything I do – cooking, cleaning, blogging, driving, personal care, working out, travel, socializing – to a vast assortment of playlists and favourite music.  I work on an asskicker of an Alienware gaming computer that pumps out a low, never-ending hum.  I nearly always have a movie or a show queued up on our TV; extra white noise points if it’s one I’ve watched hundreds of times before (jest not, I’ve definitely seen Beetlejuice and The Lost Boys more than 250 times each.)  At one point Saturday night as I lay in bed struggling to fall asleep to the deafening din of nothingness, I thought, “Is this what Simon and Garfunkel were singing about in Sound of Silence?”

In our defence, I will say we weren’t completely lost souls in all of this.  We actually had a very productive weekend – my husband, who fought off an emerging cold all last week, finally gave in to the germs and allowed himself to just rest.  I used the downtime to finish one book, start another (on the Wall Street implosion of 2008, for pity’s sake!) and take up the entirety of our second bedroom floor.  And last night, in something of a stroke of waste-not, want-not brilliance, I cannibalized three different Hello Fresh entrees that I was utterly crushed at the thought of having to dispose of, cobbling together a rather posh and large feast of Tex Mex-inspired salad and balsamic-drizzled caprese salad with naan bread, by candlelight.

The power came back on about 10:30 Sunday evening, and we were beyond thankful for it.  Then we started to get a picture of the true destruction to our city, of which we were mostly spared.  Aggravated and inconvenienced for two and a half days, yes, and I had to throw out virtually all of the contents of our refrigerator (once again, I nearly cried; I absolutely loathe wasting food) but thankfully spared the indignities of so many of our neighbours – leveled homes, flattened cars, uprooted trees and lives.

But this entire incident has taught us a few crucial lessons.  First, Mother Nature hates us, and she has good reason to.  Climate change exists; you simply can’t deny the negative impact our wildly wasteful lives have on the environment.  And if you do, boy howdy, do I have a one-way ticket to Mars for you right here, my friend.  But secondly, and most important to our immediate lives, we discovered, as I stated off the top, that we are wildly unprepared for any emergency situation, big or small.  So we’re formulating a more responsible plan for next time, because there will be a next time, because see above, re: climate change.  And also something about history something-something and being doomed to repeat it.  Unless we learn our lessons, to close off this circular argument.

And now we rebuild and heal up and try to return to something approaching normal.  Get better soon, Ottawa.

Blackout 2

4 thoughts on “Woefully Unprepared

  1. We had tornado warnings that same Thursday, but just some rotation, nothing touched down. Shel was trapped with his students bc it was right at the release of the school day and all the local schools were locked down for an extra 1 hr and 15 minutes. Making things worse, he was getting super sick with a cold and just wanted to get home to take meds, a nightmare situation for the poor guy. Your weekend sounds pretty rough, mom and dad to the rescue, yay.

    Have you ever seen the docu-series Vice? HBO only I think. Their climate change episodes are excellent, big downers, but also somewhat hopeful. The interesting takeaway for me is that ppl can deny it as long as it’s not happening where they live, for example: Miami has begun experiencing “sunshine flooding” which is flooded streets, waterways and sewers during non-storm periods due to rising sea levels. So, it would be insane for their Republican mayor to deny it’s happening, instead he is using innovative methods to try to balance out the water system working with climate change scientists. You can’t deny what you can see on the daily, now if politicians and city planners can work on these solutions before the shit hits the fan, we’d see less destruction the likes of what happened to Houston with last year’s hurricane. Perhaps the upcoming generation can make more headway, if the current one doesn’t send us straight to our doom.

    Anyway, we have some blackouts here during springtime due to unstable electrical systems and Shel likes to play this game as we’re bored out of our heads sitting in the candlelight. It goes something like, you have to deliver the ending moment of a story and the other person has to work his/her way backward to try to figure out what happened, asking ?s if needed. It can be fun,but ugh, nothing makes you feel less secure than being w/o power and you know, more importantly, internet. I am wi-fi dependent too, it sucks.

    • Oh my god, I just wrote the longest reply to your comment, only to have it disappear, with no option to undo! Blast you, WordPress!

      Too sick to write out again: power outage weekend sucked, and we weren’t the only ones unprepared – the city’s tornado emergency alert system (apparently we do have one) failed and most people, myself included, didn’t get a notification. Lots of city hall meetings over that one over the last couple of weeks.

      I’m glad you guys were spared, although your in-the-dark activity is so great and creative – much better than just sitting there sullenly wishing for the power to come back on!

      • Same thing’s happened to me, I’ve cursed WordPress aplenty. Twas only a weather blip here, had some branches and plants knocked down, nothing resembling Ottawa’s hammering. From what you’ve mentioned previously about the bureaucratic inertia, why am I not surprised the emergency alert system failed? That’s a shame, but a wake-up call I guess. BTW, as I’m typing this comment at work, a weather alert scrolled across my screen announcing a Tornado watch in this county. WTF? Isn’t it beyond tornado season, or are the seasons shifting and erratic to the point we have to expect the unexpected?

        Oh and I still sit there sullenly wishing for the power to turn on, but at least my brain’s working on creating or solving a story, I’m a begrudging participant.

      • I think the seasons may be just that erratic – yesterday in Calgary (three or so provinces over in the Prairies) they had a record snowfall. Snow squalls are not uncommon at this time of year, but full on blizzards are. WTF?

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