After Tornadoes Struck – Powerless Without Power

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I woke up with a start. The sun-filled bedroom was the same as usual. I let out a sigh of relief. Maybe it would be a normal day.

I reached over to grab my phone, plugged to the charger because surely, the power must have been restored at one point during the night.

Battery – 12%.

Damn.

Okay, maybe I didn’t plug it properly. It’s an old phone, the charger port is a bit loose.

I do denial very well.

I got up and switched on the small pink IKEA light on my desk.

Nothing.

Fuck.

Feng and Mark weren’t home. I called Feng on his cellphone, or at least I tried to—no network.

I toyed with the idea of going back to bed. I wanted a refund on my morning. The power should have been back on and somehow, I had woken up in a world without power and without network.

Clearly, I needed coffee.

I washed my face with cold water, got dressed and headed out. It was a nice day—warm enough, barely any wind. Tornado weather? So yesterday!

I took the Experimental Farm pathway to the neighbourhood’s Starbucks, a fifteen minutes’ walk away. Once on Clyde, I realized there would be no coffee. Walmart was closed and across the street, Loblaws was closed, Starbucks was closed, Tim Hortons was closed… and I was apparently the only crazy woman assuming stores would be open because the parking lot was completely empty but for one person desperately looking the magic one bar on his cell.

I tried to call Feng again and it went through.

“Eh.”

“Eh.”

“I went to check my parents’ place.”

“And?” I asked with a hint of hope in my voice.

Feng laughed. “No power in Barrhaven. Actually, none of the neighbourhoods I drove through had power.”

“Same at home.”

“See you there?”

“Yep.”

We held a “what now?” meeting in the kitchen while throwing out food—the fridge had turned into a big pantry at room temperature.

We almost always have a plan B. If internet is down, I use my phone or work at the closest Starbucks, within walking distance. If we can’t make it to the supermarket or cook for whatever reason, we usually get takeout in Chinatown. If the heat won’t turn on, we can go to Feng’s parents or to my friends’.

But what do you do when half of the city is in the same boat? This Saturday, there wasn’t a working plug just around the corner.

“Two tornadoes, one in Ottawa and one in Gatineau so power is out for half of the two cities. The Merivale Hydro Station was destroyed so several weeks needed to fix it,” I read when one of my friends’ text messages magically went through.

“Yeah, seems pretty bad from what I heard on radio. I mean, Hydro Ottawa is working on it but there’s no timeline. Could take days.”

I tried to check Twitter but the network was down again.

“Should we leave?”

“Well, if we go to, let’s say, Montreal, we need to book a hotel before. I’m sure many people had the same idea.”

“The thing is, how long can we last without power? Cold showers, no heat, no hot food… a day or two?”

We decided to stay and we prioritized. First thing we needed was to charge our phones and the laptop, which is a convenient power bank to charge the phones again if needed. We needed up-to-date info. Possibly hot food for Mark.

I decided to walk to the city centre. Feng and Mark would meet me at the Central Library which, according to my friends, was open.

I walked through Merivale, no power. Carling, no power and fallen trees. Little Italy, no power. Chinatown, no power. Bank Street, no power. Most stores had signs, many had closed in a hurry.

Finally, at the downtown end of Bank Street, I saw the first working street lights. Power! I stopped by Starbucks where dozens of people were charging devices—much like the migrants in Nantes this summer—then I met Feng and Mark at the library. We plugged in the laptop and the phone but the Wi-Fi network was down.

I took Mark to Sobeys, one of the only supermarkets open around, and I bought bread, a can of corn, an avocado and bananas.

The hours went by. We took turn sitting in front of the devices charging while Mark was discovering the concept of a library and life without TV. I was checking Twitter when I had a network signal. I had my friends on the phone several times, also killing time, also monitoring the situation in Gatineau, where they lived.

We were exhausted.

The whole situation was a mind fuck. There’s no other way to describe it. We were trying to plan how to deal with something we had never planned for—a power outage in most of the city. You don’t realize how crucial is power until you no longer have it.

At first glance, it looked like a usual Saturday. The weather was fine, pretty warm actually. People out and about, sunshine and a few clouds. But on a closer look, everybody was charging something, any food place open was unusually busy and the word most uttered was “power”, as in, is it back on or not?

Getting information was difficult. CBC tweeted news and Hydro Ottawa was amazingly responsive and transparent on Twitter. However, the power outage map was impossible to access most of the time—too much traffic, I guess—and you can’t ask a team of workers to solve this kind of situation quickly. It was bad. It would take time.

But how long?

Around 4 p.m., my friend called me. “Apparently, the power is back in our neighbourhood. We’re driving home, come over!”

It didn’t take long to convince us. “This is why I have friends strategically positioned all over the city,” I joked.

Once again, I plugged in the laptop, and I gave Mark a hot shower. We chatted, shared our experience.

Feng had bought tickets to the movie theatre, the one by Bayshore, the neighbourhood spared by the outage. It was our backup plan—sitting somewhere warm if we had nowhere to go. We drove home around 10 p.m.

Power outage trick #1 I learned—it’s easy to tell if a neighbourhood has power, just look at the traffic lights.

On the way back from the theatre, we noticed the lights were working at a few random intersections. “Nope… Kirkwood is still in the dark. Oh, Merivale has a few lights working! Nah, over there it’s dark.”

“Wait… do you think…”

“Oh YES!”

The Tim Hortons was open, which meant the power was back on in our street. I’ve never been so happy to see that Mark left the lights on in his room.

All good? Maybe not quite… (to be continued… bear with me, power outages and all!)

Saturday morning, Starbucks closed at Baseline and Merivale

Fallen tree on Carling Avenue

Westboro on Saturday

Westboro on Saturday

Westboro on Saturday

Somerset on Saturday

Plugging in at the main branch of the Ottawa Public Library

Sign at the movie theater on Saturday

Closed business on Sunday

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

15 Comments

    • Nice 🙂

      So, I’m absolutely not knowledgeable when it comes to infrastructures and powerlines but I know that in this specific event, the main issue was that the power stations themselves were destroyed, it wasn’t the usual case of broken powerlines (like it happens during ice storms, for instance). Basically, the source of power was hit.

  1. Hey. I spoke to my friends the night it happened and on the East side from vanier to orleans they all had power. On saturday my only goal was to get the car from the garage. We pulled the red cord and got the hell out. We went apple picking and had a blast in orleans. Then when i saw on the net that power was still out we decided to recharge our cells at bayshore. There was no way i would have stayed there with my crazy asian parents. I think they tormented themselves and listened to the radio all day long. Power only came back on Sunday at midnight.

    • I wouldn’t say it was a terrible experience for us (again, no damage) but it definitely made me realize how much we rely on power and other conveniences in our life!

  2. I did not know It was that bad in Ottawa! My friends and family live in Orléans and Avalon, so I guess it was better there.
    But it is scary to realise how we depends on those things, and it’s a relief it was not that cold!

  3. I don’t depend on the grid habitually, I have what I need to charge my devices in my truck. Maybe buy a small 150 W power inverter that pour info the 12V socket of your car, it can charge phones and laptop,itcan be useful on a trip.

    • It was great to be able to charge my phone in the car.
      It was stupid that it took me a few hours to realize this was a thing.
      I don’t spend enough time in cars. 😆

  4. It’s so impressive… we looked at it from afar and just got stucked when we needed to contact various governments stuff on Monday but I can’t imagine, it must be eerie like a zombie apocalypse.

    • The weather was nice enough after that so at first glance, it looked like a normal day. Except every five minutes, we were like “… but we can’t without power” or “… won’t work without power” 😆

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