Thursday, August 14, 2003

Great Black Out 2003 Ontario

Black Out 2003

Photo by Mark Bellis

Vehicles line up at closed gas bar on 401 during power blackout

Note from 2023 - I had just hit the highway out of Toronto when the power went out, so I avoided the gridlock from traffic lights going off. The southeastern part of Ontario where I was driving had power back on before nightfall since it is on the Quebec grid and only had to isolate itself from the rest of Ontario.  

August 14, 2003, Kingston, Ontario -
Really cute - I had put the Lamine family in my car and was about to take them to Kingston to find a hotel when Troy came up to me and said he was going to take everyone to the gas station. As I drove back everything was pitch dark until near Brockville. The bikers are firefighters from Ottawa who were on their way to Detroit, but had to turn back. I gave a little flashing pendant to Sarah in the story.

Hundreds of cars and trucks were stranded at the service stations along the 401. At one service station near Kingston, the Lamines, a family from Paris, France, who were vacationing in Canada and spoke little English were baffled. "Can you tell us what's going on?" said Florence Lamine, who had three children with her, aged 20 months to 10 years. Her husband Lassad said they had been driving from Niagara Falls back to Quebec to fly home, when they first stopped for gas in Trenton to find all the stations shut down and the family were preparing to spend the night and possibly miss their flight home at the isolated station on the 401.
Douglas Dean of Missisauga and his daughter Sarah, 7, were more up beat when they were stuck on their way back from vacation in Nova Scotia. "It's no big thing " as he settled down. "I'm on vacation until Monday!" Many of the stranded became distressed as their cell phones stopped working when the batteries that powered the transmission towers began to run out of power.
The stranded motorists were saved when 16 year old Troy Ottenhof, who drove to the station where he'd work the past month and a half to pick up his pay check, organized a convoy of about a dozen cars to drive to a gas station nearby that he noticed had a working generator. "Everbody got there OK" said Troy, who wants to be an architect after he finishes high school. He put the cars in a convoy and drove slowly with a rope he'd borrowed from the mechanic in case anyone ran out of gas before they got to the working gas station. "One person did run out of gas, but it was just at the station so it was alright" he said. "One girl gave me 20 bucks!" to thank him for his help, "which is pretty cool" he said.
The convoy headed to O'Neil's Econo Fuels, a family owned station in Odessa, west of Kingston on Highway 2. The owner Chris O'Neil said that people began stopping at the station when they ran out of gas. "One woman had a tiny baby, two weeks old" and some other elderly people. Irene Storms, a woman who lived across the street saw how much the baby and mother were suffering in the intense heat and offered them a generator her late husband had for his hunting camp. "When the chips are down, we Canadians have to shear together", said Storms, a war bride from Manchester, England who married her late husband Claude when he was serving in the RCAF, and who said her determination came from her experiences of neighbours helping each other during war time.
Chris O'Neil said his nephew rigged the generator up to the fuse box so they could pump gas, and another man donated another generator he'd just bought and had in his trunk so they could pump diesel. He said his whole extended family, wife, in-laws, nephews and children, pitched in to direct traffic and even the local pizza parlour sent over some pizzas after he gave them gas to get their generator running.
O'Neil said they pumped $ 5,000 dollars worth of gas in two hours, something they normally do in three days, and only charged their regular price.


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