After days of freezing rain, there was a huge amount of ice buildup. Power lines were down all over the place. Many trees were down or had broken limbs. In some cases, full power towers collapsed under the weight of the ice.
I woke up and the power was out. I tried to find a clock that was working, and managed to find Bruce’s watch. I thought it said 6:30 am, so I got up and had a hot bath, and got ready for work. Since there was no power, I did the best I could to fluff my hair without the benefit of a hair dryer or curling iron. I was all dressed and ready to go. I checked the time again. This time I could see better, and it was now actually only 6:30 am. Poof, on came the power. That wasn’t bad.
Since I was up and ready to go, I decided to head off to work early. I walked through the park to catch a bus. Not a sole was in site. The walking was treacherous. I waited at the bus stop by myself. When the bus came along, I was the only occupant. It was a bit like something out of the Twilight Zone.
I was at my desk by 7:30 am, I was the only one in the office. My phone rang so I picked it up. It was my boss “Anne, what the heck are you doing at work?”….”Long story” I said. She explained that she was not able to get to work because there were trees down on her street, and there was no power. It was a disaster over on the Quebec side.
A little while later my co-worker called “I can’t blow dry my hair, so I can’t come to work, it’s that simple.” Okay, so that left me to run the department.
As and when people started to arrive at work, a line-up formed at my desk. “They have declared a state of emergency in Ottawa” the staff said. “Should we be going home?” they asked. I had no clue.
I found someone who used to be a VP of HR and asked for her advice. “Confirm it’s a state of emergency, and send home the staff.” “Send home the staff?” I asked. “Yes, send home the staff.” Okay. My heart was pounding.
I was able to listen to the radio and I heard that Ottawa in fact declared a state of emergency. “They are sending in the military,” the staff alerted me.
This was almost twenty years ago, and email was not what it is today. The only way for me to send home the staff was to key in a series of codes into the phone system, and record a broadcast voice mail message. I composed the message, something to the effect of “a state of emergency has been declared in the Ottawa area. Staff are asked to go home until the situation is resolved. Please discuss any concerns with your manager.” I am not going to lie, I was shaking like a leaf. I mean, who the heck was I to be sending home thousands of people? But, I did what I had to do.
A Human Resources manager (Serge) phoned me from the Montreal office, and I told him what had transpired. He was shocked, he couldn’t believe that we (I) had closed the Ottawa Branch of our high tech company down.
A while later, the President of the company decided to respond to my page. (yes, we used pagers back then). He was in meetings in Toronto, and had no idea what was happening weather wise in Ottawa. I was trembling when I told him what I had done. “You sent home the staff?” he asked. “Yes.” I replied (rather sheepishly). “Why?” he asked. “There is a real problem here Ian, there is a state of emergency.” I responded, thinking to myself “nice of you to phone me back 2 hours after my urgent pager message.” I told him that I had made a hotel reservation for him for several additional days. “Why?” he asked (clearly the man wasn’t understanding me.) “Ian, there is a state of emergency here, it is very unlikely your plane will be able to land in Ottawa.” I tried to get the message across. But seriously…I was not getting through. I am sure he was thinking of terminating me.
In any event, what was done, was done. I shook with nerves the whole way home.
The Ice Storm lasted for several days, and we were off work for the duration. People had a terrible time. Bruce and I only lost power for that one hour. However, we were glued to the TV, sitting by the fire, snuggly and warm, watching the constant coverage about power outages and collapsing towers, and road closures. It was really something.
The Vice President (my boss) phoned me at home during this time, and I confessed what I had done. “I hope that I am not in trouble, I sent everyone home.” I confessed. Thankfully, she was extremely reassuring and told me that I did the right thing.
As for the President, his plane came to Ottawa, circled around in the air for a while, but could not land. He was sent back to Toronto. I never did ask him if he was happy that I had extended his hotel reservation. In fact, we never spoke of the ordeal. Although I later learned that his wife had set him straight, and had told him that Ottawa was a disaster zone. The road they lived on was impassible as there were trees and power lines down everywhere. (Hate to say I told you so…)
Serge from Montreal phoned me back when we were back at work the following week. “Anne, it was terrible, we had no power, no gas for the car, the gas pumps weren’t working, the bank machines weren’t working, the transit was not running, I couldn’t pay for a cab.” (Told you so Serge…) It turned out that Montreal was hit really badly by the storm. Someone else from that office phoned and told me “the roof of my house collapsed.” Wow – that would be rough.
This is how the ice storm affected my world, however I have heard many other (far worse) horror stories about that storm. Feel free to share your story!