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Holiday blackout for Beach

For 12 days this Christmas, all Elizabeth Hall got from Toronto Hydro was a tied-up call centre and two false reports that her house was back to full power.

Ann Black points to a tree that fell across her neighbour’s car during the ice storm that started on Dec. 22. After six days without power, by far the longest outage she has seen on Morton Avenue since moving there 22 years ago, Black was staying with her daughter in the west end but coming back daily to check on her house and her cat. Black’s neighbour, Aaron Gaouette, stayed two nights in his home without any power before booking a hotel downtown. “There were people just uncontrollably shaking out front of this hotel when we checked in,” Gaouette said. “The desperation on people’s faces was just incredible.” PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

Ann Black points to a tree that fell across her neighbour’s car during the ice storm that started on Dec. 22. After six days without power, by far the longest outage she has seen on Morton Avenue since moving there 22 years ago, Black was staying with her daughter in the west end but coming back daily to check on her house and her cat.
Black’s neighbour, Aaron Gaouette, stayed two nights in his home without any power before booking a hotel downtown.
“There were people just uncontrollably shaking out front of this hotel when we checked in,” Gaouette said. “The desperation on people’s faces was just incredible.”
PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

Hall said she knows many people had it worse.

For all but two of the 12 days after the ice storm, Hall at least had partial power in her Edgewood Avenue home – enough to keep the furnace, fridge and freezer going.

She and her husband even managed to cook their Christmas turkey by convection microwave.

But by the time they finally got full power on January 2, they had the dubious honour of being the last house in Ward 32 to get restored.

“I’ve come to the point where I can’t speak to them anymore,” said Hall, who, like many Beach residents, phoned Toronto Hydro dozens of times only to get a message about high call volumes and be kicked off the line.

With partial power, Hall said she expected her house to be a low priority. But unlike the automated phone service used by Ontario Hydro, which supplies her cottage in the Kawarthas, Hall said she could get no estimated time of arrival.

“We wouldn’t have stayed here every single day,” she said.

“Even if we knew it was going to be more than a week, that would have been helpful.”

Councillor McMahon said during the ice storm it felt as if she and her staff were running a call centre of their own.

“It was intense,” she said. “We were one of the hardest hit areas.”

On Glen Manor Drive, McMahon said a big ice-laden tree fell on a feeder line, cutting power to several streets between Queen Street and Kingston Road.

Some pockets, like the houses along Morton Road, Keystone Avenue, and the north half of Beck Avenue were out six days or longer.

McMahon said Beachers showed great camaraderie throughout the storm, running extension cords to neighbours without power, storing food in their fridges, and cheering on Toronto Hydro workers.

Now that the clean-up is underway, McMahon said she is gathering ideas for council’s special ice storm meeting on Friday.

“There’s been a lot of talk from residents and councillors about whether we should bury our wires,” she said. “It’s immensely expensive, but I think that’s a conversation we need to have.”

After hearing from many people like Elizabeth Hall, who could not get through to Toronto Hydro, McMahon said communication issues will also be key.

On an average day, McMahon said the company’s call centre gets 3,000 calls – a far cry from the peak of 128,000 and average of about 40,000 calls received during the ice storm.

“Unless you had a neighbour who had power, or you were going to a coffee shop and checking [online], you wouldn’t know everything that was going on,” she said, noting that she likes Councillor Paul Ainslie’s idea of having trucks go up and down streets with loudspeakers, as well as Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines’ suggestion of linking to call centres outside the city in major outages.

Also, given how many older trees are in the Beach, McMahon said she has been trying for a long time to start a network of Ward 32 tree captains who would help plant, water and mulch city trees on their street, and flag any that need pruning.

“We all love our trees, and this is just devastating,” she said, noting that staff have said Toronto may have lost a fifth of its tree canopy in the storm.

 

 

 

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