It’s crazy to think that planned infrastructure upgrades could lead to seniors who live nearby to fear for their safety.
But that’s what happened this week as 191 homes in Promontory Lake Estates had their electricity turned off for between eight and 10 hours (depending on who you ask) for two days to facilitate the city’s widening of Promontory Road.
Sandy Mather is 76 and lives with her 77-year-old husband, A.J., who is disabled. Last Friday A.J. fell and knocked himself out, something unrelated to the planned power outage. Bear with me.
Sandy said she had to keep an eye on him to ensure he was OK.
But if that happened two days later, she would have been left to watch him in the dark. And if his fall was worse, and if Sandy was like a large number of residents (she estimates 50 per cent) who don’t use mobile devices or even computers, she would have had little recourse to contact emergency services.
“It’s been very scary,” Sandy said of the two planned BC Hydro outages Nov. 15 and 16. “For one thing, because of all the seniors in that complex, and a lot of them don’t have cellphones and a lot of them don’t drive.”
The work was planned and the residents were advised two weeks in advance. Still, many were also worried in advance, and then were shocked and even scared that it continued after dark, after the planned outages.
Most seniors could actually survive longer than most millennials without electricity who “need” connectivity. But in the summer, sure. In November, temperatures drop and light is scarce.
And in this pandemic, our elders are facing increased stress and isolation already as family members stay away to keep them safe.
Fellow Black Press reporter Tom Zytaruk’s 88-year-old father lives in Promontory Lake Estates. Tom told me that his father said the power didn’t come back on on Sunday until 7:15 p.m., well after dark.
He reiterated that most residents of the housing complex are elderly, and some, including his father, don’t use mobile devices.
“What are people without cellphones supposed to do if there’s a medical emergency?” Zytaruk wondered, his (mostly deaf) father among them.
He also pointed to BC Hydro’s own information on power outages and food safety. BC Hydro’s website says “a full fridge can keep food cold for about four hours,” yet, as Zytaruk pointed out, “This goes on for eight.”
That issue was top of mind for Shirley and Cliff Daily who also live in the complex. Shirley said the Sunday power outage was nearly 10 hours and Monday’s was nine.
“I tried to not open the fridge but I needed to fix something to eat,” she said. “With COVID restrictions, we could not go to a restaurant or to the mall, we had to stay home. I worry about the food in our fridge and freezer. Is it safe to eat? I think we should be compensated for food that has to be thrown out.”
Shirley said BC Hydro told her they would not be compensated for lost food.
Another concern expressed to me by both Shirley and Sandy Mather is that the complex is lower in elevation than the city sewer system so a holding tank, that runs on electricity, is used to pump it out.
“We were asked to not run water or flush toilets. That’s a long time to go without using the toilet.”
Louise Matthews who lives at Promontory Lake Estates, added that even with lots of warning, seniors that cannot go elsewhere were trapped.
“I am an 80-year-old woman who is suffering from a severe bout of shingles,” Matthews told me via email. “On top of that, I have just come down with a chest infection. My husband and I had no choice, but to stay home.”
She said the power did not come on until 7:30 p.m. “While my husband and I sat in the dark with candles. Not a pleasant experience. No heat, no light. The following day was a repeat of the same thing only power came back a little sooner than the first day.”
A BC Hydro media spokesperson said the the outages were required to deal with the city’s road expansion.
“We recognize the inconvenience of being without power and appreciate the patience of our customers impacted by these outages.”
From a certain point of view, this might sound like a First World problem, niggling complaints from middle class people living in decent homes.
Maybe. But I’m good with the fact that I see many of us paying more attention to seniors, to keeping our parents and grandparents safe as a virus tears through our world, and disrupts our lives, in many ways.
As a society we need to be extra cautious protecting our most vulnerable, our most precious, our elders, and this multi-day, eight-plus-hour power outage doesn’t cut it for me. Just my opinion.
These folks are bracing for another planned outage next week, on Nov. 25.