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B.C. storm: How we survived for 10 days on Salt Spring Island without power or water

Salt Spring Island resident Patricia Robitaille had to live without power and water for 10 days following the powerful Dec. 20 windstorm.

The dos and don'ts of living in the aftermath of a storm.

Patricia Robitaille, right, and her husband, Randall Miron, had to live without power and water for 10 days. (Submitted by Patricia Robitaille)

Patricia Robitaille is a Salt Spring Island resident. She and her family were without power and water for 10 days following the major Dec. 20 storm. This is her account of how they got through it. 

The storm had been forecast for Salt Spring Island and the other southern Gulf Islands. But we had experienced many winter windstorms and didn't think this would be any different.

It was.

Winds, 120 kilometres per hour, howled around the house and through the trees. It was terrifying and all I could do was worry, pace and pray that one of those massive firs I was watching hinge over in the winds wouldn't hit the house. Eight trees came down on our property.

We lost power early in the storm, at around 12 p.m. on Dec. 20. Later that evening, we lost water service too. We would not get water and power back until 10 days later. 

Here's what I've learned that I hope may be useful to others.

We didn’t have rain barrels, so instead we used large garbage cans to collect rain water. (Submitted by Patricia Robitaille)

Water

We are lucky enough to own a hot tub, and would draw bucketfuls from the tub and pour enough in the toilet tank to flush. It took half a bucket to flush our low-flow toilet. Have at least one low-flow toilet in your house. We had just renovated our ensuite bathroom and the difference in water use between the old toilet in the guest bathroom and our new one is considerable. This becomes important when every drop of water counts. 

I would also suggest filling bathtubs with water if you get enough warning ahead of a major storm or earthquake.

Cleaning

The second day after the storm it poured rain, so we put a large Rubbermaid garbage can under one of the eavestrough drains and buckets and pots out to catch rainwater. They were full in no time, and we boiled this water on the wood stove and used it to wash dishes and ourselves.

We also had friends who had water and power back before us, and we gratefully took them up on invitations to shower and charge up our devices.

Our wood burning stove brought a lot of comfort, not to mention comfort food like grilled cheese. (Submitted by Patricia Robitaille)

Eating and drinking

We had four cases of soda water on-hand and also bought three 18-litre jugs of water.

Our flat-topped wood burning stove really saved us. It kept the whole house toasty warm, and the flat top made it a cook-top too. Every morning my husband would stoke up the fire and I would put a small pot of water on it to boil for coffee.

I also cooked spaghetti, mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables, heated homemade soup from the freezer and made grilled cheese sandwiches on the wood stove. We also cooked on the BBQ, so it's good to have a second full propane tank as backup. 

A rat's handiwork. The outside is fridge-temperature at this time of year but make sure to keep food in solid coolers. (Submitted by Patricia Robitaille)

The good thing about a storm in winter is that in coastal B.C., it's fridge temperature outside. I would suggest a large metal cooler for storing fridge items outdoors. At first we had some fridge items stored outside in a plastic laundry basket, until one morning I discovered that a rat ate his way through a good amount of butter. So we moved these items into a green Rubbermaid storage container.

A strange noise woke me up one night. I grabbed my flashlight and shone it at the food container outside the glass door. No rat, but I did spy a pile of Rubbermaid-green shavings near one corner of the container. Oh no, he was trying to eat his way into the container! We grabbed it and put it in the coldest room in the house for the rest of the night.

Patricia Robitaille's collection of hands-free flashlights and candles. (Submitted by Patricia Robitaille)

Light and communication

Don't buy traditional cylindrical style beam-of-light type flashlights. They aren't practical when you need to use both hands, or you want to light up an area larger than a beam. Lantern style LED flashlights can stand up, hang or clip onto things, and are perfect for these types of situations. Don't get a flashlight with rechargeable batteries. Have a large supply of batteries on hand.

Buy multiple boxes of 'emergency candles'—7" long white candles that burn nice and bright for six hours. Also a big power bank to charge your devices will come in handy. We were lucky that cell phone infrastructure was not damaged, as social media was my main way of staying in touch with what was happening in my community.

How did we pass the time? A lot of crib. A lot of reading aloud. Wine definitely helped things go by smoothly. And even though we once again have Netflix and everything is back to normal, I'll be prepared if Salt Spring Island ever experiences a blowout 2.0. 

Listen to Patricia Robitaille's All Points West interview:

Salt Spring Island resident Patricia Robitaille had to live without power and water for 10 days following the powerful Dec. 20 windstorm. 11:55

With files from All Points West.

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