2018-01-10

Boom boom: out go the lights

by Charles Mandel, Keith Corcoran And Gayle Wilson

Cars careened on the black ice, trees and power poles snapped in the howling wind, and thousands of people lost power.

The first storm of 2018 caused chaos and walloped the South Shore with storm surges, lashings of rain and hurricane force winds in the first week of January.

Wind speeds reached 140 km/h while some 30 to 50 mm of rain hammered the province, shutting down both schools and businesses for the better part of two days.

At one point in the late morning a transformer in Bridgewater lit up with a blue flash,causing power to fail on the city's east side.

In the late afternoon another report came of emergency crews on their way to a report of sparks from power lines on Highway 325, with smoke coming from the roof of Oakhill Commercial and Recreational Equipment also off of Highway 325.

Ahead of the Nor'Easter Nova Scotia Power ramped up the biggest pre-storm mobilization of personnel and resources in the company's history.

NS Power called in crews from as far away as Hydro Quebec and lined up more than 1,000 people dedicated to storm response, including frontline crews, damage assessors, planners, engineers, support staff, and customer care representatives.

The utility predicted that the storm would be bigger than the one that took out power to some 158,000 people for up to three days on the South Shore Christmas Day.

Ultimately,in the January storm more than 280,000 people province-wide lost power, with some 4,300 of those on the South Shore.

One of those was Wendell Eisener. He lost electricity for 50 hours at his Italy Cross home in Lunenburg County during the Christmas storm and feared he was in for more of the same after the power blinked out around 4:30 p.m. on January 4.

The lights went off while he was watching a James Bond movie; right at the time of a loud gun shot.

"Bang, pop," Eisener described to LighthouseNOW. "The next two or three words that were said can't go in the paper ... they were scatological in nature."

In anticipation of losing power January 4, the university professor made sure dishes were washed, nothing was left in the washing machine and there was a bathtub full of water.

But it was largely a sleepless night for Eisener who kept feeding the wood stove to keep the house warm and stressed about the risk of debris from high winds hitting the house.

Power was restored to his home around 12 noon January 5.

Eisener later messaged LigthouseNOW after the phone interview to say the lights had gone off again and weren't due to be restored until late night January 6.

"That'll teach me to be so optimistic," he commented.

Tamara Whynott, a hairdresser and artist living in Walden, was another who lost power that night. She was entirely on her own when the electricity failed around 4 p.m. until midnight.

A wood stove served her well, but Whynott said the winds were howling. "That was a little scary just to hear the winds."

She said she couldn't believe the weather. "I mean I've never experienced this."

In Upper Northfield, Lunenburg County, Kevin Nauss' place still had electricity on the morning of January 5, but his sport utility vehicle (SUV) bore the brunt of Mother Nature's fury.

Nauss, 32, watched trees blowing in the wind January 4 when he heard a snap around 5 p.m.

A spruce tree came down and landed on his SUV, damaging the vehicle's windshield, hood, passenger door and fender, along with some of the roof rack.

He soon took a chainsaw to the downed tree, cutting off the top so he could have a good look at his 2006 Honda CRV.

"The tree is still laying in the yard, though," Nauss told LighthouseNOW the morning of January 5. "It's a big tree."

Meanwhile, the vehicle was moved into a garage.

"I'm not going to put it though insurance," he said. "It would probably be cheaper to fix it on my own."

He has access to his fiancé's car, parked behind the house, if need be.

Nauss planned to cut down a couple more problematic trees on his one hectare property January 5 "for peace of mind" once the wind died down.

He opined that the January 4 winds were stronger that what he experienced in 2004 when hurricane-strength White Juan roared through the Maritimes.

"You could just feel the house shake," Nauss noted.

Just how bad was the storm?

Saltbox Brewery announced it would close at 5 p.m. Thursday night.

The wind tore down scaffolding at the Lunenburg Academy, and smashed boats in Mahone Bay. In Lunenburg, Ironworks Distillery reported that a boat full of its rum was snapped off its mooring and tossed up on the rocky shore.

Scott Burke, Lunenburg Academy's Development Coordinator, said the scaffolding the height of the three-storey building toppled over from the strength of the wind.

"There may be some minimal damage to the building, but it would be cosmetic and the kind of work that we're doing would be repairing cosmetic issues anyway," Burke said.

He emphasized ,"We are of course very relieved that no one was hurt."

At the same time he said it was "recognized" that the storm, with "that magnitude of winds", was "kind of a once-in-a-life-time event."

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