Massive outage catches west coast off guard
© Gary Kean
It wasn’t just the drive-thru at Tim Horton’s in Steady Brook that had a long line during Friday’s power outage, which did not affect this coffee shop.
By Gary Kean and Diane Crocker
Star Staff Writers
CORNER BROOK On the first day without snowfall since before Christmas, Friday started out frantically for many west coast residents.
The western region may have been spared the strong winds that whipped up the enormous dumping of snow experienced in eastern Newfoundland, but the raging storm did knock power out to virtually all of the island Friday morning.
The few spots to maintain electrical service were the Pasadena and Steady Brook areas.
With the neighbouring city of Corner Brook powerless, those who knew Steady Brook’s juice was still flowing flocked to the base of Marble Mountain to fill up with gas and coffee.
At the Tim Hortons outlet there, the lineup for service at the counter was so long that more than a dozen people were lined up outside the building.
The drive-thru had a steady parade of vehicles stretching back to the service road leading from the Trans-Canada Highway. The lineup of cars along the service road actually split in two, with the other half queued up for the gas pumps.
Deana Keetch was there for a bit of both fuels.
“I came up to get gas and the lineup for the pumps was pretty full as well, so my friend is in the lineup for gas for my car and I’m in the lineup for coffee,” she said as she waited in line outside the entrance to Tim Hortons.
With nowhere else to buy or make coffee or to get gas, Keetch said she was not surprised to see such a long wait for either.
“I didn’t have my coffee yet and I didn’t care how far I had to go — I was having my coffee here today,” she said.
Over at the George’s Gas and Convenience pumps, Rick Hancock of Massey Drive was filling up gas cans for use in the generator he uses to provide power to his home for as long as the electricity was out.
“People never thought they were going to lose their power today,” he said.
Marble Mountain never skipped a beat, opening its ski slopes and lifts as usual. In fact, the bright, sunny skies Friday made for a perfect ski day.
All the while, power was flickering on and off in various places and, by midday, had been restored to nearly the entire western region. There were some pockets still without power, including sections of Massey Drive and Corner Brook, later into the afternoon.
That didn’t stop schools, including post-secondary institutions and those under the Western School District, from announcing late in the morning that classes throughout the region would remain closed.
Jeff Thompson, assistant director of education (programs) with the school board, said the outage, which started at about 7:40 a.m., came at the worst possible time.
“That’s when our system is up and running,” said Thompson. “We have buses running around 7 o’clock and by 20 to eight there are buses actually showing up on parking lots dropping children off.”
See SAFETY PERSPECTIVE on page 2
That’s exactly what happened Friday morning. Thompson said rather than send the students home the best approach, from a safety perspective, was to bring them into the schools.
At 8:45 a.m. the board made the decision to close for the morning and sent the students home. Later in the morning the board decided to remain closed, even though some schools had power.
“But because we couldn’t guarantee a stable supply of power throughout the afternoon we felt it was best to leave everybody home,” said Thompson.
Thompson couldn’t say for sure what other schools in the district were closed, because the decision outside the city rests with the individual school principals.
With the widespread outage, he figured most were down, including St. Peter’s Academy in Benoit’s Cove, St. James All Grade in Lark Harbour and Templeton Academy in Meadows. He did note that schools in St. Anthony run on diesel fuel and were open, as were the ones in Pasadena which wasn’t affected by the outage.
Thompson said communication with the schools was affected by the loss of power and staff members were using their personal Twitter accounts and text messaging to communicate.
The board doesn’t have its own Twitter account, but Thompson said it was a topic of discussion Friday.
“We’re going to have to move one more step further into the 21st Century and get one now as a result of this,” he said. “That would have made communication that much easier.”
Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland, issued a notice around noon that the campus would be closed for the remainder of the day. All classes and community programming was cancelled and the library was also closed.
Meanwhile, according to a tweet from Steve May, the city’s director of operational services, city hall was to reopen at 1:30 p.m. after power was restored to the downtown core.
But the outage resulted in the closure of some retails outlets for most of the day and some government offices also shut down. Matters on the docket at provincial court in Corner Brook resumed in the afternoon, but the loss of electricity did force the postponement of a trial that had been scheduled to commence Friday morning.
The trial was rescheduled for April.