Stormpocalypse 2018: We were not ready

It’s been quite exciting here on Vancouver Island the past few days. Thursday December 20th we were hit with one of the largest windstorm’s BC has seen in recent years. Off the coast of Tofino wind gages clocked hurricane force speeds. Waves were over 20 feet high. Thousands of trees fell knocking out powerlines, homes, and blocking roads. Ferries were canceled. Schools were closed. It was chaos. We were not ready.

The water treatment plant first suffered a power outage. Then the back up generator failed. Once back online, the mechanical failure was beyond repair for over 36 hours. We were not ready.

Grocery stores that had power sold out of bottled water within minutes. It took the City of Nanaimo more than 24 hours to set up emergency warming stations. Hundreds of thousands were without power. Some still are without power and will be until well after Christmas. We were not ready.

Some residents had back-up stores of food and water. Many had no heating, no method of cooking, no way to wash themselves, communication was horrid. Most notifications went through social media. With no access to electricity, no wi-fi, and no cell service as phone batteries died—residents were in the dark literally and figuratively as workers and volunteers worked (and continue to work) around the clock to restore services. We were not ready.

As a resident of Nanaimo, located directly on an active fault line, I’m concerned at the City’s (and the province’s) complete utter lack of adequate contingency planning. How is it that we have a multi-million dollar brand new water treatment plant that had such a catastrophic failure after a wind storm? What if this was an earthquake situation? With the amount of seismic activity we’ve had of late registering at 5.0 or better, it’s scary to think about what would happen. Residents do not have enough food or water to make it through more than a day or two.

At our house, we went through our very expensive emergency kit and noticed it didn’t even have a real first-aid kit. We’ve since remedied that. We saw the storm coming for days and people went on about their business like it wasn’t coming. As the storm hit, and in the aftermath, shopping malls remained open even though traffic lights were out causing 34km long traffic jams on the main highway. This blocked emergency service routes. But people still got to do their Christmas shopping, so crisis averted I guess.

Some took the chaos seriously, but most did not. Businesses were posting on social media that they were still open and available for holiday shoppers. Restaurants were maxed out and turning people away. No food supply shelters were set up, or are set up. The gulf islands are still without power, food, and water. No state of emergency has been declared, and it is unlikely that it will occur.

Another storm hit Vancouver Island Saturday night. A look at the forecast shows we will have multiple systems of varying strength continue to hit us until the end of December. Clean up is taking a very long time. BCHydro has sent ferries of linemen and crew trucks to help with over 800 workers arriving by Sunday morning (according to BCHydro’s website).

Food is spoiling in grocery stores as power is yet to be restored in some communities. The local government continues to ask us to have patience. I am extremely disappointed in how this was handled and the utter lack of emergency preparedness of local government for any kind of large-scale disaster. I am very thankful Nanaimo has just elected a new council and new mayor who unfortunately inherited this mess weeks before it came to light. Here’s hoping they learn quickly from this event as climate change will only increase the frequency of similar incidents.

Will we be ready for the next one? My house is. I can’t speak for the rest of the region, but one would hope so.

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