Normally there is no continuity with my column from one month to the next.
However, this month’s column, and ongoing columns will be a continuation of my Jan. 11 column. I will continue sharing Islanders’ stories for as long as locals want their voices heard.
The huge wind storm of Dec. 20, 2018 not only caused an extreme amount of damage to trees and electrical wires but it also got people talking and thinking about future longer power outages. Some residents of Chemainus have thought-provoking questions for which they want concrete answers before the next power outage.
The stories I am now listening to are not like the gratitude stories I wrote about Jan. 11 which were in close proximity to the events of Dec. 20 but rather these are stories of constructive criticism, genuine concern and disillusionment. One such story comes from Gordon Hughes. He explained to me he and Bob Rawn went to the 55+ Activity Centre on Willow Street in Chemainus Dec. 21 and started up the generator with the view of having the centre warm and welcoming for seniors or anyone who was without power.
Gordon painfully shared he and Bob left the centre (after first starting up the generator) to get food with the intention of making a big pot of soup on the Senior Centre stove. However, when Gordon and Bob returned they were shocked to find the generator had been turned off as a neighbour behind the centre phoned the administration staff that the generator was noisy and disturbing. So, all of you seniors who went to the centre for assistance, like I did, now know why there was a sign on the door that read “CLOSED…NO HEAT…NO HYDRO.”
Sybille Sanderson of the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s emergency preparedness explained (to a group of about 50 residents at the Chemainus United Church on Feb. 6), an Emergency Centre only means the centre is built to withstand an earthquake; it is not meant to be a shelter to provide for the necessities during a power outage. Sanderson emphasized individuals need to be prepared before diasters happen. The individual needs to take responsibility for what that person thinks he/she will need to survive a power outage, flooding or wildfire. She also emphasized forming groups of neighbours who will look in on each other so no one feels alone during a disaster.
The only government facilities in Chemainus that had a generator were: The Chemainus Clinic/Health Care Centre and the Chemainus Fire Department Hall. The former continued to serve the general public with emergency health-related issues as well as permitting individuals to charge their cell phones in the corridor or to grind coffee beans. Thank you, Chemainus Clinic/Centre for responding favourably in helping residents cope with the power outage. However, the firefighters’ generator was only for the firefighters themselves and their immediate families.
Thus, the firefighters and their families had a large cooking facility, heating, sleeping accommodation, showers, use of electronic devices, as well as light bulbs on their Christmas tree. The explanation given by Sanderson to the group for this privilege is “that firefighters do not need to worry about their families when they are out working.” So again, now you know why firefighters and their families are possibly better taken care of during a disaster than non-disaster times.
Some residents did have a portable generator and I am told in two incidences these generators were passed around to help neighbours who did not have power. One lady told me on Day 3 of the power outage “when I brought my portable generator to an 86-year-old woman (living on her own) I found the woman sitting in a chair crying.”
Sanderson explained it is only in the case of evacuation that the police or firefighters will come knocking on an individual’s doors to tell them of the evacuation notice or the on-alert notification.
Marjorie Coakwell, who lost her husband a year ago after a 40-year marriage, shared how she coped with the power outage on her own. “I was in my fourth storey condo with no elevator. I was not afraid as I recalled when I lived in Newfoundland (where Marjorie was born) we often were without power in the winter months. So, I just put more clothes on, lit candles and waited it out.”
John Sillins wisely said “this power outage showed us what we had and what we did not have. We had water and shelter (as no houses were flattened or roofs taken off) but we did not have an Emergency Centre with a generator where all could stay warm, cook, shower and sleep, if necessary. Thus, this is what we need to make sure is in place here in Chemainus before the next storm.”
In other words, be prepared. Be conscious of what you personally need to do to be better prepared and what Chemainus as a town needs to be better prepared for the next power outage. After the fact, it has come to light there were “Warming Centres” in Duncan but realistically that does not help many seniors without mobility here in Chemainus.
We need a “Warming Centre” here is what many are talking about. And after hearing Sanderson’s explanations and advice it seems many are already making changes and thinking ahead.
In my March column I will continue with individual’s stories of how the December power outage affected them. I will share helpful hints that people are sharing of how you can be better prepared.
(Kathleen Kelly is a Chemainus resident and author of the book ‘The Tornadoes We Create.’)