Wednesday, July 24, 2013
You may have heard or read in the media that there was an enormous weather event in eastern Canada on Friday, July 19, 2013.
Our cottage is in Québec – right in the region where this force of nature struck. And we are at the cottage.
The remarkable thing – given that a full-fledged tornado hit our lake at the height of the storm – is that among the people that we know, and in our near vicinity, there was no personal injury, and there was minimal damage to either structure or vehicle. For example, a huge maple tree came crashing down on the clearing where we leave our cars. It would have flattened both of my neighbours’ cars, had they been there, but both were away from the lake. Other trees just missed porches, or patio furniture.
But the trees did hit powerlines, and hit them all over a vast area of deeply forested but inhabited Québec. The resulting power outages were widespread; in fact the provincial electric utility has not experienced such extensive damage to its grid since the great ice storm of 1997.
As a result we have had no electricity at the cottage since the storm, which was five days ago.
This has had an intense effect on our enjoyment of the lake. No power means no refrigerator, no stove, and no running water. Moreover, last Friday our occupancy of the cottage was to reach its peak: my oldest son Chris, his daughter Alexa, and our new step-grandson Nicholas Kosowan (who joined our family when Troy married his mother on June 8) were all here, and my daughter Rachael, along with her fiancé Michael Green, arrived on the Saturday.
We ourselves were not actually at the lake when the tornado hit. My brother Tim was here, though, and says that it was like an enormous freight train roaring through the forest.
We were about 70 km. away, visiting friends in the town of Hudson, Québec, arriving at their place at the same time as the storm. Rain came down as if a lake were emptying itself over our heads. Lightning flashed directly above us with a deafening bang. But there was no tornado. We sat in our friends’ sheltered porch, in the strange storm-generated daytime twllight, and even rather enjoyed the weather drama raging around us. And, by early evening their power was restored, and we had a lovely dinner all together.
But returning to the lake we found that things were not so nice. Branches of green leaves littered the forest road as if they had been ripped off the trees; the farms, and the cottages that we passed, were in darkness. Then, as we pulled into our parking lot, we saw the giant maple lying across the clearing. Obviously something very intense had transpired.
It was only the next morning, when I drove down to a little convenience store (called a “Dépanneur” in Québec) that I learned how serious it really was. The proprietress told me of firefighters who had come into her store telling of emergencies all over the region, that had kept them hard at work most of the night. And these same firefighters told her that what had happened at our lake was, in fact, a tornado.
Still, we have coped. We got ice for the cooler, and cooked meals on the propane barbecue. A high-tech camping lantern provided illumination for the evenings.
And, our visitors mostly had a good time. And helped with some of the clean-up too! Christopher enjoyed learning chainsaw technique as he helped my neighbour cut up the fallen maple; Nick stacked wood as the two chainsaws roared away.
But as the days went by it became more and more wearing to be without electricity. Our various guests (except for Nick, who is staying until August 3) returned to their homes, and still I was making trips to town to get ice, and trying to cook meals and boil water on a propane barbecue. All the normal little tasks of cottage life are so much more difficult and complex without electricity, and this old man began to find it pretty wearing.
Then, too, there was the matter of electronics. You are reading something created on a laptop; and I have extensive email correspondence. Heather, too, uses a laptop, and in the heyday of her business frequently needed the printer and fax machine that we have at the cottage. Although she permanently closed her law office on June 30, and is mostly retired, she has follow-up work to do on her business, and is also acting in an advisory capacity for the firm of Pullan, Kammerloch, Frohlinger. Laptops eventually run out of battery, and without electricity the cottage printer/fax machine is useless. Mercifully, the phone system was only out briefly, so Heather has taken several phone calls, but sending printed material by fax or email is almost completely out of the question.
I developed a complex work-around by using the car. There is a device called a “power inverter” that I keep for use on extended driving trips, when I have no access to electricity. This device converts automobile current into household current – not enough to run a refrigerator, perhaps, but quite sufficient to re-charge a laptop computer. So, on my trips to town for ice and other supplies, I would take one of the computers and charge it up as the car travelled. I would send and receive emails through my cellphone (which I can’t use at the lake – our place is too remote), or I could send and receive them at the cottage via “dial-up” with a newly recharged laptop – although the latter depleted the laptop’s battery more quickly than I liked. So Heather and I were both able to do our electronic communicating in a limited way, and thus the days went by.
Finally, when I returned to the lake after today’s trip to town, there were Hydro Québec trucks on every country road, and as I crossed the lake from the parking lot to my cottage, I could hear men shouting directions to one another along the hydro line up the hill. Repairs were underway!
By 6:50 PM this evening, power was restored, after slightly more than five days of blackout, and I have to say it’s a very welcome relief.
Next: An Outrage of Outages!