Cleaning Up After Fiona

It’s a month since Hurricane Fiona hit Nova Scotia, and the effects can still be seen. Which isn’t the slightest bit surprising, considering the strength of the storm.

Fiona hit overnight and, being on night shift, I worked through most of it. (My choice. My employer made it clear that no one was expected to come in, but that the option would be open for anyone who wanted to.) The amount of work the team accomplished was somewhat less than usual, as we were busy taking bets as to whether or not the winds would actually blow one of the bay doors into the building, and spending a fair bit of time watching the wind and rain screaming across the parking lot.

I bailed from work when the power went out around 3am, and had the most incredible drive home. Due to bridge and road closures, I wasn’t able to stay on the highway, and ended up on a twisty, turny route running alongside a lake. It’s a popular scenic drive in the area, and while it’s pretty during nice weather, and absolutely gorgeous during the autumn colour change, driving it in the pitch dark in the middle of a hurricane is something else.

Now, I don’t mean a bad something else. I’m not particularly fazed by driving in poor weather, and experiencing this road in a new way was awesome. I always knew there were a lot of trees along the route, but gained a new awareness of just how many there are when the only thing I could see was them flailing in my headlights. Parts of the road were so heavily carpeted with fallen leaves that driving over them felt squishy, and I had to thread my way through lots of fallen branches.

My only concern was that I’d come upon a fallen tree that I couldn’t get around, turn back, and find another tree had come down behind me and I’d be trapped on that road. Otherwise, I’m just disappointed that I didn’t think to bring the GoPro to work with me to film the drive home, because it would’ve made a helluva video.

Once the storm had passed, after a quick look at my property confirmed that I’d luckily experienced no damage, I took a walk around the neighbourhood to assess things. The damage was mostly fallen trees and downed power lines, and the buzz of chainsaws could be heard everywhere as Haligonians cleaned up, Canadian style – bilingually.

Not all the damage was minor, though. A street not too far from my place had clearly been a wind corridor. Utility poles were snapped, trees had fallen, and lines were down. It was a big jarring, walking down the sidewalk and having to be careful not to trip over utility lines, and it drove home the seriousness of the storm.

After seeing damage this severe so close by, I took it as confirmation that it was likely to be a few days before my own power came back on. (No surprise there. Post-storm power outages at my house tend to last in the neighbourhood of 72 hours.) So I turned my steps back towards home to update Ron and make a plan for how we’d handle the down time.

Step one was getting a meal. With no power to cook, and needing more than the nibbles we’d been, well, nibbling on all day, we headed to Dartmouth Crossing, an area of town that we knew had power.

Us and most of the rest of the city, it turns out.

Not that it was a surprise, exactly, but it was kind of mind-boggling to see the lineup of cars at the McDonald’s drive-thru, and it was honestly heartbreaking to watch the staff at Tim Hortons desperately trying to close, only to see people driving around the barricades they’d placed at the entrance to their parking lot. (Seriously, what the actual fuck is with Canadians and Tim Hortons, anyway?)

Ron and I avoided the fast food mess, opting for a sit-down restaurant instead. While waiting for our table, a couple of men in work gear came in, asking for seating for a couple dozen people from Nova Scotia Power. The hostess’ eyes got wide at that, but they reassured her they didn’t have to sit together, and that they all wouldn’t be there at the same time. In an impressive feat, the staff quickly and efficiently redirected their traffic to clear out a section in the middle of the restaurant, and linesmen rotated through those tables the entire time we were there.

They weren’t all from Nova Scotia Power, though. Volunteers from power companies in other Canadian provinces, as well as from the northeastern United States, had made the journey to Nova Scotia before the storm hit, to lend a hand in the recovery efforts, and with 80% of the province being without power, we were appreciative of their presence. (In an aside, when we got home from supper, we discovered our power had already been restored.) Dartmouth Crossing was clearly their base of operations. And looking at the trucks, it was a treat to see some of them have a sense of humour.

Their sense of volunteerism and community could be seen everywhere post storm. (Except, as previously mentioned, at fucking Tim Hortons.) While I was out on my walk, Ron was across the street with his chainsaw, helping a neighbour chop up a willow that had come down during the storm. (It was one of the sadder stories we heard in the storm’s aftermath – the tree had been planted by his sister in the ’80s, and now it’s gone.) Our neighbour appreciated Ron’s help, and gave him a bottle of rum in thanks.

I witnessed this sort of caring time and again after Fiona. A city worker was chopping up a tree that had fallen across the sidewalk and out into the street, and the resident of the house it had fallen in front of came out with a bottle of Gatorade and set it next to the worker’s chainsaw case. People who had generators were running power lines to neighbours that didn’t, to keep their fridges running and their food from spoiling.

That care is why, a month on, another walk around the neighbourhood shows how far we’ve come in our recovery.

The scars are still there, and some of them will be for a long time yet. But we got through it.

Just like we always do.

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