10 Years Juan
Ten years gone, holdin' on, ten years gone.
Sitting here working at the computer and looking out at the wind and rain got me thinking about the upcoming anniversary of Hurricane Juan. It's hard to believe that 10 years have passed since that storm swept into our lives, physically changing the landscape forever. Juan left a lot of destruction and heartbreak in its path. It took months for the physical damage to be cleaned up and repaired. For Krista and I the effects were not so direct. Those days surrounding Juan stand out in my mind for more than one reason. Just two days previous I had left my job in anticipation of moving back to Wallace from downtown Halifax. Krista's job was supposed to come to an end at Thanksgiving. Much of our non-essentials were already wrapped up or packed away. The end date was pushed back more than once. It all worked out in the end but at the time it was an uncertain but exciting to me. It wasn't that anything seemed possible. It felt like we were spinning our wheels, paying high rent and working at jobs that didn't leave a lot of room for upward mobility. Those things that many of us take for granted like owning a home, or a car, or starting a family felt like they were out of reach. We had recently made the decision to starting down a new path. A path that had a few detours along the way. That path would lead us back to Wallace, with no jobs or concrete plan. "Living in a van down by the river" was humorous to me but too close to a real possibility for Krista. A decade later we are living by the river. No van was ever part of the story. Wouldn't that have made a helluva lot more tellable though? I'm sure when Krista reads this that she will be shaking her head.
The flip side of living in a modern apartment building was that it suffered no damage from the storm. We lost our power for about 4 hours. Many people went without for weeks. The local news was telling people in our area to evacuate if possible and go to. That was an awfully long walk in high winds. We decided to walk down 15 flights of stairs to see if anyone was in the lobby to give further instructions. There wasn't. As we looked out the lobby doors wondering what to do we watched a cedar bush travel horizontally past the door at high speed. Our minds were made up. We stayed put and began a very humid slog back up 15 flights of stairs. With the power about to go out at any time we decided not to risk the elevator.
Watching the news and looking out our taped up window I could see that one edge of the eye was set to pass right over us. The only thing that I miss about that apartment was the excellent view of the part of the downtown, taking in the Casino, Purdy's Wharf much of the harbour and Dartmouth. I could see sections of Dartmouth going black before the worst of the storm hit. It was so hot and clammy in our apartment we opened the smallest window that we could against our better judgment. The water in the toilet was sloshing back and forth. Lying down on the bed and closing my eyes I knew that sleep would not be an option. It felt like being on a rocking boat, only about 150 ft higher. It wasn't terrifying so much as it was unsettling. After the swaying finally stopped the air was calm and very cool, the silence broken by sirens. Our lights finally went out too. With nothing else to do I went to bed hoping that no one was hurt. Everything else was secondary.
The morning was sunny and cool. The city at a standstill. Our only casualty was a barbecue cover that I placed under a tank of propane. The cover was gone, save a scrap of it still under the propane tank. We brought the barbecue inside the night before so at least there wasn't that flying around. Not wanting to stay cooped up inside, we ventured down to the waterfront, then up to the North End. You have seen the photos. It was more than I expected in a way. Much of the waterfront was gouged away. Leaving the boardwalks heaved or gone completely. Countless dead birds littered the waterfront. There was the roof of building in the middle of the street, so many downed trees, all of those downed trees. It really showed the cities age. Many of those trees likely post Halifax Explosion era. These trees not nearly as pliable as in their early days lay broken and twisted over much of the city. The aerial photos of the hurricane's path could be easily found by the splintered path across Nova Scotia. It wasn't even 12 hours after the hurricane and people were rallying the best way that they could. We walked past an impromptu dance in a street shut down by fallen trees and power lines. Restaurants were cooking up food on sidewalk barbecues and passing it out for free before it spoiled. Others were relaying word of passable routes out of the city. No one seemed to be panicking. But wasn't it too late for that anyway?
Like any natural disaster, many of the fatalities seemed arbitrary, tragically random. Everything else was an inconvenience, albeit a huge one. Many people had no power or water for weeks. The day after the storm I saw people were hitching rides to Lower Sackville, the nearest place with ATMs, groceries, etc. It was a wake-up call to me to always have a bit of cash and extra food and water on hand. In many ways that hurricane changed the way I think about storms. No old trees beside my house, thank you. I get no thrill from watching a hurricane set its sights on us. Katrina was almost too much to comprehend. Last fall, my stomach clenched as Sandy barreled up the coast, taking dozens of people and Bounty with it. At times like that I often think of Juan and despite all the damage, all the loss, I think that we got off pretty easily. I truly hope it was a once in a century storm (or more), but the way things are changing I doubt it.