"Powerless" - Wired's black-cover issue article on the Montreal ice storm

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The black-cover issue of Wired is now on the 'Net. Here's an excerpt from its article on the Montreal ice storm of January 1998. This is a must-read:



Inside the high school, Smereka and his staff assigned 600 evacuees to the gym and 20 evacuees to each classroom. Among them was an ample number of people - elderly, disabled, or mentally disturbed - who depended on government financial support and typically lived alone.

"These people think of their apartment as their stable reference point, and now all of this disappears," Smereka says. "You have young punks with spiked green hair and old people with bladder problems. You have husbands who beat their wives and aren't much nicer gentlemen in the shelter than they were at home, but they're sleeping next to people with psychiatric problems. After a few days, some couples have to have sex - in the middle of the shelter, they're going at it! At first the shelter is fun for the children, it's like camping, but after a week they get bored, and the parents don't know when it's going to be over.... My, my, what a package!"

The punks were immediate irritants. Despite the presence of a volunteer security force, they tried to steal unattended belongings. They forced children to give them objects they wanted, or else threatened to beat the kids up. At night they went out for beer and returned drunk and rowdy. Yet the mayor's problems were only beginning. While the high school's generator provided minimal lighting and heating, the inhabitants had to live without ventilation and hot water. As a result, no one bathed, and some people were not exactly dirt-free before the crisis began. Then, on the fifth day, the generator broke down, so the evacuees spent the night without heat. The lack of ventilation took its toll. On the sixth day, health authorities determined that the gym was on the verge of a gastroenteritis epidemic, and declared that it had to be emptied and cleaned.


-- Kevin (mixesmusic@worldnet.att.net), April 14, 1999


The events desribed the top post are true. However, are you making the assumption that this is what a large number of people will face in Jan 2000 because the power will be off for 7 days or more? Just wondering.

Johnny Canuck (whose cousin survived 13.5 days without power during the Ice Storm)

-- (nospam@eh.com), April 14, 1999.


I'm not expecting a majority of people in the United States or Canada to lose electricity more than briefly. What the people in the Wired article went through, though, could easily happen regionally, especially in rural areas.

This is not an academic topic to me. Where I was living in 1974 went for a full week without electricity due to a tornado. Fortunately, it was April and not January.

The Montreal blackout of course was not Y2K-related, but some people went as long as five weeks without electricity. If there were a power outage due to the weather or Y2K, I'd much rather be at home with some supplies waiting for the power to come back on. I'd live in a gym if I had to, but I'd rather not if I can help it.

Scout's motto: Be Prepared

-- Kevin (mixesmusic@worldnet.att.net), April 14, 1999.

Thanks for the link kevin - everybody - go out and buy this magazine, there are several great articles this month on y2k.

-- Andy (2000EOD@prodigy.net), April 14, 1999.

Thanks Kevin. And Andy is right about it being worth buying.

Besides Powerless, there are also the following good articles: "Life in the Dark" which is about survival stories from Auckland NZ, "The Myth of Order" which is a look at how software operates like any natural system, and a very interesting "This is not a Test" article about Texaco's Y2K Project Manager who was willing to speak on the record. BTW, the cover is way cool too.

-- Rob Michaels (sonofdust@com.net), April 14, 1999.


Here's a link to links on all of the articles you just mentioned:


-- Kevin (mixesmusic@worldnet.att.net), April 14, 1999.

Kevin: "Scout's motto: Be Prepared"

Agreed. Here, for those interested, is how my cousin was able to avoid going to a shelter for the duration (13.5 days) of the power cuts in his area (about 50 km south of Ottawa):

-Wood stove in basement + 2 bush cord of seasoned hardwood in back yard

- old 5 kw diesel generator

- camp stove for cooking meals

- large dose of Canadian stoicism (how else do we survive the winters up here without going completely loopy?!)

The wood stove kept the house warm (even on those -20C nights). He used the generator sparingly, mostly to power his well pump. He would fill the jacuzzi in his master bedroom a couple of times a day and the neighbours would come round and fill up their buckets. His wife is an avid camper, so cooking with the camp stove was no problem.

I asked him how people got along during this difficult time. He said that it helped that Ottawa had power restored much sooner than the rural and semi-rural areas. People would drive up to watch a movie or have a shower at the Y etc. (This could well resemble what might happen if there are power disruptions due to Y2K: the larger cities will have more of the power directed their way.) His final comment was that most people who are normally decent are also decent when times get tough (my cousin sharing his water with his neighbours is an example, par excellance), but that the a**holes generally are still a**holes.

Preparation is important. Everyone on this forum recognizes that. The divergence occurs as to what we should plan for and the duration.

Johnny Canuck

-- (nospam@eh.com), April 14, 1999.

(quote)His final comment was that most people who are normally decent are also decent when times get tough (my cousin sharing his water with his neighbours is an example, par excellance), but that the a**holes generally are still a**holes. (close quote)

I appreciate this comment,..it is in keeping with my general world view and my view about forum posters...most are good souls,...those that are not are evident under stress and while posting to Y2k forums.

-- Donna Barthuley (moment@pacbell.net), April 14, 1999.

This Wired issue is outstanding for the DGI's. We got hit by a snowstorm in the spring of 98. Our small town was without power 5 days and some of the residents had to go live in a shelter in a nearby town. Meanwhile, their basements flooded as the sump pumps had no power, and the food in their freezers was ruined. The brutality of the storm and the total lack of preparation by everyone in town was painfully evident. Those of us with gensets provided water to neighbors and others shared candels for light. There was plenty of snow to melt and flush toilets. On the 4th day fatigue and stress was starting to manifest itself. The big complaint was how everyone missed hot showers. I can't imagine what several weeks of power outages would do to stress level. The sad thing is that the same neighbors I helped have learned very little from our storm lesson. Folks, take a look at the ice storm photos in this Wired magazine.. Those alone should jolt the average joe into preparing. Even if Y2k is a non-event, being prepared for a disaster makes sense.

-- trafficjam (judgementday@ahead.soon), April 15, 1999.

Back on last labor day we had a HUGE storm, that knocked out powerfor 1 week!! It was awful! But we still had water, and food, and eeverything else... We had to continually run to the store for food...

-- Crono (Crono@timesend.com), April 16, 1999.

Last October, as I was debating genset v. wood stove (eventually decided on the wood stove), I came across a long, powerful account of the ice storm. The storm's effects started a mere hour's drive north of where I live (my parents are just over an hour north, but fortunately never lost power). Two months later in January, as I was doing a slow burn waiting for my wood stove to be installed, points far to the south (Virginia, DC and Tennessee?) experienced significant outages, at a time that New England was experiencing an extreme cold snap. I was very skittish until my stove was fully installed and broken in. I can't imagine ever letting myself be that vulnerable again, Y2K or not.

-- Brooks (brooksbie@hotmail.com), April 16, 1999.

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