Frustration is growing among Nova Scotians, including thousands in Colchester and Cumberland counties, who are now into Day 11 without power after tropical storm Fiona hit the province.
Keith Elliott and his family live on a road near Wallace River off Route 6. They lost power about 12:30am Saturday as the storm hit. When the Halifax Examiner spoke with Elliott on Monday morning, the estimate for restoration according to the Nova Scotia Power outage map was Tuesday at 11pm.
But on Monday night, Elliott, who’s been tweeting some of his family’s experiences living without power, shared that the new restoration time is Saturday, Oct. 8. He said this is the longest they’ve gone without power.
“I think when Juan hit here most people were without power for about four days,” Elliott said. “It’s easy to be prepared to not have power for two or three days. You can run water off and whatnot. That’s not a big deal. Anything more than six days starts to be a slog.”
During the first few days, Elliott said they worked to clear the 30 trees that fell near their driveway. They have a woodstove for heat, a propane stove for cooking, and they borrowed a generator from a friend to run water from the well.
Elliott and his wife, Krista, both work from home. Elliott is a stonecutter while Krista works remotely for a company in the US. Each day they charge their phones and computers to work as much as they can. But Elliott said it’s not as efficient as usual.
“I can’t run tools for very long and they need to be charged up again and some tools I can’t run at all,” Elliott said. “We’re doing pretty well as far as living goes. Haven’t had a hot shower, but we’re eating well, we’re warm, and we have water. I can’t complain. I’m sure there are people in worse shape.”
Elliott has two boys, nine and 13, who didn’t go to school on Monday because they didn’t have a proper shower. They spend their days outside helping to clean up brush and branches, while at night they play boardgames or on their tablets, which they charge during the day.
“They’re doing remarkably well that way,” Elliott said, “but routine is nice and routines have been so broken up the last two years.”
Examiner reporter Joan Baxter is still without power, phone, and internet where she lives outside of Tatamagouche. She’s been spending her days at the Tatamagouche Library where she can connect to its wifi.
“The carnage there was quite something,” Baxter wrote in a message. “Trees and power poles all mangled together. Power and phone lines tangled all over themselves and draped like tinsel. The power pole on our property also snapped in half so I have dead power and phone lines draped over the yard and roof.”
Like Elliott, Baxter has been tweeting about going without power, when she connects to that wifi. And on Monday night, she got the news of the latest restoration time: Sunday, Oct. 9.
“Maybe before #NovaScotiaPower comes up with these estimated restoration times/dates they should come themselves and have a look at the havoc Mother Nature on steroids from human-caused #climatechange has wreaked on their weak power poles and outdated infrastructure,” Baxter tweeted out Monday night.
Almost 14,000 households still without power
According to the Nova Scotia Power outage map, there are still about 14,000 Nova Scotian households without power as of Tuesday morning. The Examiner reached out to Nova Scotia Power and spokesperson Jacqueline Klaus said there are 1,500 people out working to restore power, mostly in the northeast regions of the province, as well as Cape Breton. Klaus said the outage map is the best way to learn about estimated restoration times.
“We know how difficult it is to be without power for this long,” Klaus wrote in an email. “Crews continue to work day and night to remove trees, repair and rebuild power lines, poles and other damaged equipment, to get the lights back on for our customers. While progress is being made, these repairs are proving to be multi-layered and complex. Due to some of the more extreme damage in the hardest-hit areas of the province, most repairs and restorations can take several crews and several hours — even up to a day — to complete. Please know we are working to restore power to our customers as quickly as possible.”
Klaus sent along this explanation of how decisions are made on how and when power is restored:
- We restore power in a specific order starting with any emergency safety concerns.
- Then we restore power to the substations and main power lines that bring electricity from power plants to our towns and cities.
- Then we focus on critical services identified by the provincial Emergency Management Office (EMO), like hospitals, police, fire, water and communications.
- Next, we repair power lines that will restore power to the greatest number of customers in the least amount of time. For example: high density buildings or neighbourhoods.
- Once these repairs are made, crews restore power to smaller groups of customers and individuals.
- Due to some of the more extreme damage in the hardest hit areas of the province, repairs and restorations are requiring more crews and more time to complete and can take several crews and several hours – even up to a day – to complete.
- As fallen trees are removed and we are able to gain access, crews are able to restore power safely, as quickly as possible.
Gloria Demers has no faith in the outage map. She told the Examiner on Monday that estimates for restoration of power to her house have changed a few times. Demers lives alone in a house in Truro Heights and said she’s been without power since Friday, Sept. 23 at 10:30pm as Fiona was sweeping over the province.
“I don’t trust it after four or five times of being switched,” Demers said.
Demers said she had lots of water and thought she had a lot of food, but that has since all spoiled. She uses a propane burner to boil water for drinks and food. She said she has lots of light from solar lights. She doesn’t have generator and has no way to heat her home. At night, she bundles up in sweaters and blankets. She said this is the longest she’s gone without power.
“I’m getting tired of it after 10, 11 days, whatever it is,” Demers said. “That’s the hardest part. Just waiting. Right up until now, I’ve been able to cope, but now that the weather has turned with frost, it’s pretty cold. The house is cold.”
She works in an office nearby, so she spends her days there.
“It’s been a godsend because I can just jump up out of bed and into my clothes and I’m here,” Demers said.
Demers said she almost had her power back on Sunday night, the day after the storm. But as the crew turned on the power, a transformer on the street blew and wires caught on fire. One of those wires was from a line connected to her house.
“I thought the whole back end of my house was gone,” Demers said. “It was like a big surge of power went through the house.”
Her house filled with smoke. She called the fire department who helped clear out the smoke and gave her the go-ahead to stay. She called an electrician who replaced some wires. Now, she has to wait for the power to come back on her street, then the electrician will come back to check everything. She has an insurance claim open.
She said her neighbours have helped clear her yard of fallen trees and offered her a place to stay for the night.
“Right now, I don’t have too much damn faith in the power company because they’ve been jerking us around, it seems. They leave us to the last minute. I don’t know why. It’s hard to take their word for it when they say it’ll be restored. I know they’re busy and they have a lot of big trees and wired tangled in it. It’s a mess.”
Comfort centre opens in downtown Truro
In downtown Truro on Monday, there were power trucks on some streets working on lines. Much of the cleanup of trees seemed complete. Many homes in the town had piles of wood and trees sitting at the end of driveways or along the edge of their yards. Still, there are residents here without power.
The Red Cross was scheduled to set up a comfort centre at the Truro Fire Service station on Victoria Street downtown. Fire Chief Blois Currie said town council decided to open the centre at the firehall because it was central and accessible to downtown residents still without power. About 50 beds were set up for anyone needing to stay the night while the Salvation Army served hot meals.
“We’re just trying to add what’s already out there and close that gap,” Currie said. ‘We have an older population in our community that can’t do some of the things the younger population can do. At least they can come here and talk and have a meal.”
Blois said if residents needed help, to let the fire service know, saying “we’ll get it cleaned up and we’ll come out at the end of this.”
“It was a bad storm. I don’t think people realize how bad the storm was,” Currie said. “You can drive 50 kilometers one way and it’s like there was never a storm. You come here and there were trees down all over town. Victoria Park is a mess now. We lost infrastructure, we lost power poles. It’s a tough time, but it’s nice to see people coming together.”
The Rath Eastlink Community Centre (RECC) served as one of dozens of comfort centres across the province. Here, residents could get a hot shower, charge their phones, get fed, and just hang out for the day. They also opened up a filling station where people could get potable water. Workers at the on-site restaurant, Nourish, made meals, snacks, and coffee for visitors. Many of the line workers from Nova Scotia Power stayed here for the night because the hotels and motels in the town are booked.
Michael Smith, director of partnerships and communications at the centre, said the centre opened up on Sunday night, Sept. 25. During the first days after the storm, up to 400 people were here each day. Now, about 20 to 30 people show up.
Smith himself is still without power at his home in town. All of his neighbours have power, but a tree on Smith’s property fell on a power line and pulled off the power mast. Smith said workers from Nova Scotia Power were at his house Sunday night to remove the line. An electrician came out to replace the power mast. Smith said Nova Scotia Power will have to come back to reconnect him to the grid. He said he’s looking at another week or so before he has power back. Smith said he and his family have been staying with his parents nearby.
“I know some people are way worse off than I am, so I am not complaining,” Smith said.
He plans on buying a generator to be ready for the next storm, including those winter storms,
“A lot of people are worried we’ll have a winter storm and it’ll get cold and knock things out again,” Smith said. “This was manageable with the weather we’ve had but add in the cold temperatures and it’s a different ordeal.”
That’s one of Demers’ concerns. She plans on buying a small wood stove for her basement to warm her house if the power goes out again. She also plans on applying for the $100 the province is offering to Nova Scotians who lost food. Demers said she lost a fridge and freezer full of food, including meat she bought for the winter months.
“That’s just a drop in the bucket,” Demers said of the $100 reimbursement from the province.
Back in Wallace River, the cleanup continues on Elliott’s property. He said there are “hundreds and hundreds” of trees on the power lines in the area. He he’s seen crews cleaning up, but he hasn’t seen crews in the last couple of days.
“I’ve heard more than one person say they work around woodlots and it will take a generation or two for those woods to come back. Just around our property of three acres, I’d say there are 200 trees gone. Whatever is not in the driveway or not in the way, we’ll just have to slowly deal with it and turn it into firewood.”
Next storm, Elliott said he’ll get a generator that can run water and he’ll definitely stock up on more fuel.
“I know the guys are doing everything they can. This isn’t normal,” Elliott said. “There is a lot of extra help. I get a little frustrated when they keep bouncing timelines around. I know they don’t have any idea, but at the same time, I can’t tell anyone about my business. I’m at least a week behind, maybe more, by the time I get everything rounded up. There are a lot of unknowns right now.”
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Six months ago, I contacted NS Power to cut trees away from the power lines in front of my house. An arborist won’t touch the tree until that has been done. NS Power bluntly advised pruning wasn’t a priority and they wouldn’t be doing this work any time soon. I’m still waiting.
Hundreds of huge, century old trees infiltrate main power lines throughout my Dartmouth neighbourhood. I have lived here for over a decade and I haven’t seen the power company prune trees a single time.
If they aren’t doing basic line maintenance in the core HRM, I expect it’s similar across the province. This must have contributed to the enormous impact of the storm.
Don’t be distracted by their spin about the heroic, hardworking linemen coming to save your family. NS Power must be held accountable for the mess they’ve made of our power grid.
Public utilities can’t be profitable. Tax payers will always subsidize in the end.
Pictou County east, Avondale / Piedmont / Lower Barney’s River area, we are on Day 11 with no power or running water. NS Power has “updated” our restoration time to Saturday October 8th, two full weeks after the hurricane. Limited cell signal access in the area, no internet or landlines of course.