Surviving the Storm: A Tale of Tornado, Flooding, and Neighborly Generosity

Tornado Lightning Thunder Storm
Not actual photo of what happened to me. I was too busy in the thick of things to take photos!

Last week on July 13, we were startled by loud noises coming from our phones. When I checked, I realized that the dark skies were not going to be a mere drizzle. We had just received a government alert warning us about a tornado watch for our area in the South Shore of Montreal. You should know, this is really not normal for our area! We had no previous experience with such extreme natural phenomena. This is Canada! Extreme blizzards – sure. Snowstorms – we get them every winter. But tornadoes??

While my wife and daughter were taking their afternoon nap, I kept watch. Thankfully we already parked our car in the garage and we didn’t have many items outside that could be picked up by the strong winds. So I waited with nervous anticipation.

I hurried to finish up work for the day, in case we loose electricity. Sure, I have two UPS backup batteries, so in theory I could keep working even without electricity for many hours, but I decided to keep those charged up in case they were need for other things. As it turns out, that was a great decision, but more on that later.

Then heavy rain started to fall, pounding loudly on our skylights, causing big waves in our pool nearly overflowing it, and flooding our street with over a foot of water. This happened so fast that I didn’t have time to worry yet. It didn’t sink in yet.

And then the electricity went out. Now it was time to panic! I ran to the basement and opened the well to check on the sump pump. With the street flooded and all that sudden rain, the water was filling up quickly in the well! I went back upstairs to get one of my UPS batteries and used it to turn the sump pump back on. The battery lasted barely 5 minutes and lowered the water level by about 10 cm. That bought me some time.

Fearing the worst, I woke my wife and asked her to start removing anything of value from the basement, while I started to scoop water out of the well with a bucket and dumping it down the drain of the shower from our basement bathroom. Thankfully the well and the shower were strategically located near each other when the house was designed. She got me a stool to sit on to be more comfortable and to bucket water out of there more efficiently.

It seemed like I was making some (small) progress at first. But then it quickly became a net-zero endeavor. Every inch of water I removed with the bucket was filled back up by the time I scooped up the next bucket. At least I could keep things from getting worse (or so I thought.)

By that time, my wife had already removed all that she could from the basement, so we switched places and I took out the larger and heavier items. It started to look like we wouldn’t be able to save our basement floors, that they would flood and be completely ruined. We had to at least save everything else possible from water damage.

My wife was struggling, so I brought the 2nd UPS battery and bought us some more time. Then we switched back and as I was scooping up water, I was running through our options, thinking of some last ditch solution to save our basement.

I decided to call 911 and ask the fire department for help. It was a long shot, but at this point it couldn’t hurt to ask. I wasn’t sure if they help people in these kinds of situations, but maybe they could at least do something about the flooded street and pump that water away to lighten the load on us and our neighbors. Turns out they do help with this and the operator said to keep fighting, that they’ll be there soon.

Despite my best efforts, the water was creeping up very close to the floor level now. It looked like it was game over. There was no way of knowing when the firemen would arrive and start pumping water out. Sure they would prevent more serious damage, but the floors would still be ruined. Nonetheless, I kept fighting.

Suddenly it occurred to me that most of our neighbors have generators. You see, in our town we often loose electricity, and it often takes Hydro-Quebec anywhere from 8 to 36 hours to restore power to our neighborhood. We’re not exactly in the middle of nowhere, so I don’t understand why we’re treated with such low priority. We’ve only moved here not so long ago, but the neighbors who’ve been living here longer have already adapted and bought their own generators to not have to put up with this.

So I made some calls and managed to borrow a 100 feet long extension cord, just long enough to connect to our nearest neighbor’s generator. He was gracious enough to help us power our sump pump with his generator. Thanks to him, the water finally started dropping. It still took a long time, but our basement was going to be saved!

I called the fire department to let them know that we solved the issue in our basement and the city had since then pumped out the flooded street. I didn’t want to waste their time, when other people were surely having the same problem, or worse! This was a tornado watch after all!

After a few hours of the sump pump constantly running on the neighbor’s generator the water level dropped to about half of the well. The rain had stopped, but there was so much water everywhere that it all was ending up in people’s wells. The well was fully drained only when I checked first thing in the morning at 4:00 AM (I’m an early riser!) but we still had no electricity yet. It finally came back around 6:00 AM after about 14 hours of blackout.

The moral of the story is that although we got lucky this time, we absolutely cannot rely on the government infrastructure anymore. With such long and frequent blackouts even normal rain could flood the basement. I shudder to think what would have happened if the tornado touched down near our area! I won’t be waiting passively for the government to get it’s act together. Instead I took a cue from my neighbors. I bought my own dual fuel portable generator after doing some research and next time this happens I will be prepared.

Published by

Paul Tomaszewski

Paul Tomaszewski is a science & tech writer as well as a programmer and entrepreneur. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of CosmoBC. He has a degree in computer science from John Abbott College, a bachelor's degree in technology from the Memorial University of Newfoundland, and completed some business and economics classes at Concordia University in Montreal. While in college he was the vice-president of the Astronomy Club. In his spare time he is an amateur astronomer and enjoys reading or watching science-fiction. You can follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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