On May 21, 2022, a series of tornados, referred to as a derecho, swept across the National Capital Region, knocking out power for the entire region. Ottawa Hydro worked around the clock to restore power as quickly as possible. [A derecho is a storm system of intense, widespread, and rapidly moving windstorms, sometimes involving thunderstorms, that moves across a great distance and is characterized by damaging winds].
This was not the first tornado in recent years to devastate the region. Still, we were unsure of what to expect, especially being located at the predicted epicentre. Rumours spread quickly and conversations were fixated on the events at hand. With the mass amount of information at our fingertips, we had no idea what was fact and what was fiction. Some declared that power would be restored within the next 24 hours, while others claimed to have heard from a “reliable source” that it would take at least three days to light up the entire city.
As images of damage, especially in our area, appeared in daily papers and on social media, it was clear that we weren’t getting our power back any time soon, despite what some would have us believe. High-voltage power lines were down and light poles were snapped like twigs as far as the eye could see. Several transformers were also damaged. This was clearly a natural disaster.
Press forward with steadfastness
In complete darkness, residents of our condo complex, like others in the city, were in a crisis, particularly those with special health concerns and needs, such as residents who were dependent on oxygen to survive. Management quickly realized the threat and requested gas be delivered to power a generator, which would allow residents to access a common room for necessities. Notably, health monitoring could be done and electronic devices could be charged to help keep in contact with relatives. This also allowed for meal preparation.
A few days prior to the derecho, we had completed our shopping list and refilled our refrigerator and freezer. But now we were without power. What could we do in this terrible situation? We were going to end up throwing out everything we had just purchased—pork, chicken, vegetables, cheese, and other perishable products.
Once we heard that power was not going to be restored for several days, we decided to prepare as much of our perishables as possible, using the very small kitchen in the common room. As we had an abundance, there was plenty of food to share, particularly for those in need in the common area.
Fortunately, we had experience preparing for larger groups, as we had prepared abundant meals for general conference sessions, and had invited those in attendance to join in. We knew what to expect and were happy to prepare what we could for those who wanted to join us. Our 15-year-old son was also happy to be working alongside his Dad in the kitchen, while his Mom travelled to and from our unit to collect supplies, utensils, and anything else we needed for “the big feast.”
We were aware and respectful of those who wanted to use the common kitchen to prepare their own meals. While we were preparing our items, we asked those in the common area to check on their neighbours and to invite anyone in the vicinity to come eat with us. We had far too much food for our own personal needs and didn’t want to dispose of anything, especially as so many around us were in need.
Our neighbours responded. Slowly but surely, more and more people arrived and found a place around the tables that we had set up. Not only did they enjoy our abundance, they also had a chance to meet others in the building. It was a true atmosphere of belonging and of community like we had never before seen during our 12 years in the building.
Finally, on May 30, after nine long days and nights without power, the grid was restored and we once again had power in our building and neighbourhood. Everyone returned to their normal activities, with a great sigh of relief. Despite the countless difficulties brought on by the crisis, we were able to maintain a spirit of belonging, something we probably could not have done, had it not been for the derecho. Months later, when we cross paths in the hallways or elevators, residents still remember our little jests and the experience.
A challenge and a blessing
Was this a difficult challenge? Of course, it was! Some electric appliances no longer worked for residents. Lots of food spoiled in powerless refrigerators and freezers. Most had to replace items they had lost, causing a financial burden. Some actually lost salaries as their places of employment were also affected by the extended power outage.
I am personally convinced that we have been strengthened, each in our own way, by what happened. Other trials we face no longer seem as difficult. Residents who live alone know that they can count on their neighbours and community to assist them in times of need. Much like we are taught through our various experiences of fellowshipping and service in the Church, and for the persistent counsel we receive about being prepared, particularly in trying times, this outage allowed us to put our principles into practice.
I can see the Lord’s hand in my life, particularly during our most trying times. This difficult event gave us the opportunity to draw near and help those within our condominium complex. My helpful son witnessed how we, as a community, came together. Our residents were able to see a bright glimmer of hope during a period of solitude and darkness.
We learned what it really meant to “love [our] neighbour as [ourselves],” as taught in Matthew 22:39. We saw the Lord’s hand in our every action and thought, as we focussed on the task at hand and used whatever we had at our disposition to help one another.
We were truly blessed!