Residents of a tight-knit North Island community had each others backs during a particularly dark time last month.
Port Alice was hit by a three-day power outage, starting at noon on Nov. 17 and lasting until 2:25 p.m. on Nov. 20, the result of a powerful windstorm that had caused wide-spread damage to the power grid.
Combined with anxiety over the raging pandemic, the long dark nights and the cold made for an especially gloomy time in village, but the gloom was made lighter thanks to neighbours helping each other.
The Port Alice Community Centre opened its doors to the public Wednesday through Friday morning, offering coffee, tea, hot soup, meals and warmth. Cots were available for overnight stays. The centre had a generator, so people were able to charge their devices. Approximately 75 residents passed through during the outage.
Many people lost food due to lack of refrigeration. Port Alice Family Foods lost approximately $20,000 worth of perishables. The grocery store depends on a three phase electrical system to run its fridges and freezers, so, according to Bill Faeder Jr., “we would need a massive generator… so that’s why we don’t have one.”
Marny Graham at Port Alice Petroleum Products had a generator that was able to make the gas pumps work, but not much else. She could accept cash payments or let people charge up if they already had an account, but she could not accept debit or credit payments. She said it was “busy like the summer” with people dropping in to buy gas for their generators and coffee to keep warm.
Stacy Hickman maintained limited operations at the post office, though it was very dark and cold making work somewhat treacherous. She talked to many customers who were sad because of the loss of food and income. One couple expressed a determination to move away from Port Alice.
Walking into the Port Alice Health Centre, with their well-developed backup generator system, you might have never known there was a power outage going on. The Pizza Place and the BC Liquor Store stayed closed.
Many residents who had generators shared their power with neighbours by allowing them to plug in, charge their devices and/or by storing food for them.
Colette Young did well with a gas barbecue with a side burner. She occasionally dropped in at the gas station to get coffee, warm up and charge devices.
Nicky Bellis had a generator and a wood stove. She was able to cook, eat and have light, and she even read two books.
Donna Larade stayed warm by her wood stove and was able to cook simple meals, like wieners and beans. She saved her food by putting a blanket over her freezer. In the past, when she had a much larger freezer, she would fill kitty litter jugs with water and line the bottom, as well as add some bottled “survival water” on top to keep food cold.
One resident didn’t lose any food, simply because her freezer was filled to the brim. She even still had ice cubes by the end of the outage.
Corrinne Tiberghien had an incredible ordeal coming home to Port Alice with her granddaughter from Port Hardy the day of the storm. According to her, “There were so many branches scattered on the road you could barely tell we were on pavement.”
About 12 km past the turnoff to Highway 30, she encountered trees blocking her passage. She decided to turn back, dodging a couple of falling trees in the process. After waiting at Beaver Lake, she ended up travelling in a convoy of several vehicles, the first two driven by guys with chain saws. They were literally sawing their way home while, “branches were blowing around and trees were still coming down behind us.”
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