Toronto Stormwatch 2013: When New and Old Technology Collide
July 9, 2013 | 11:14 am
By Joanna Cabot
We got walloped last night with the storm of storms—more rain in one night than we typically get in a whole month, with consequences that at one point involved police boat rescue units paddling in with dinghys to rescue 400 people who were trapped for seven hours on a flooded commuter train.
The Beloved got home, in torrential downpour, about 20 minutes before our power went, so we spent the night cuddled up together, safe but dark, keeping up with events in that strange confluence of new and old technology that characterizes this modern life of ours.
Below, a sampling of our tech-related activities:
The power goes out. Me: ‘So…what will we do?’ Him: ‘Well, what did people used to do?’
Somebody wonders whether the cell phones are working. They are. We confirm that our respective parents still have power (they do). His parents offer to bring us a radio. We decline. I offer a silent prayer of thanks that I no longer live in a basement.
The Beloved tells me that the parking garage and basement level (mailroom and laundry) of our building had several inches of water when he got home. Still not much on The Toronto Star, which I am accessing via cell phone, so I post a Facebook message asking if anybody knows what’s up. Somebody sends me to a live blog that we’ll be reloading all night long for updates.
I call my grandfather to check on him. He’s fine. He eats so early that he’d already had his dinner long ago, and he’ll be asleep soon anyway. He assures me that he has ‘plenty of candles’ and will be fine. The Beloved and I do not have candles. We have phones with decent batteries, and flashlight apps.
Pictures on the live blog at The Toronto Star are incredible. Large sections of the subway are completely under water and people are being advised to stay away from underpasses and low-lying areas. The fire service is sending regular tweets reminding people to turn off cooking appliances that may have been running when the power went out.
The reporter who seems to be in charge of monitoring tweets for the live blog we’re following puts out a call for tips: if you are stuck on the flooded GO train, there is a Twitter handle you can send your pictures to. This is citizen journalism at its best use, I think. We’re reloading the blog every 15 minutes and pictures are pouring in from all over the city. My cell phone loses its first battery bar of the evening.
My favourite tweet of the night! A citizen reports that the traffic lights at a major intersection are out, and that two guys are directing traffic. ‘And they don’t look official,’ the tweeter gleefully adds. Someone will later post a picture of the mayor’s brother, dressed in a bright yellow poncho and armed with a whistle, directing traffic elsewhere.
I take a break to snack on oat crackers and peanut butter, dinner of champions. We have no power, so what else could I eat? The Beloved checks in with the building super about getting his car out of the flooded garage so he can go buy junk food. He is worried about opening the garage’s usually electric doors. We are told that the doors are open, but there is 8 inches of water in the garage and we should probably stay put. Twitter confirms this: the fire station is reporting 300 calls per hour, mostly from people trapped in elevators, and is asking people to stay put if they can to keep the flooded roads clear for emergency vehicles.
The Star’s reporter signs off for the night and asks for good wishes to get home safely. Pictures continue to go up thanks to Twitter hashtag grabs, including regular updates from the hydro people on their progress getting power restored throughout the city.
The Beloved throws in the towel and goes to bed. I’m still restless (it’s all sirens out there!) but don’t want to waste my cellphone battery. I curl up on the couch with my Kobo Glo and read for an hour.
I check my phone one more time before bed; the mayor is tweeting that he’s spoken with emergency services and everything is ‘fine.’ We still have no power…
And now, here we are. The stranded train passengers have been rescued, the subways are (mostly) running, and the Beloved just reported in that he is safely at work, after navigating our ruined parking garage but relatively clean streets. Our power is back. It’s (mostly) business as usual again.
* * *
What struck me the most about this little adventure was the curious way that old and new technologies collided. For all the complaining Big Media does about citizen journalism, we could not have had the coverage we did of this story without it. The Star did have an actual reporter working the story, but most of that job seemed to be collating the tweets and pics that were coming in from the citizen army—and in fact, their help was directly solicited.
There was still a little bit of a generational divide, too, in how we used our techie toys to ride out the power outage. Way back in the stone ages of university, I spent five days without power following an ice storm, and we did have a radio then. But, kind as the Beloved’s parents offer was, we have Twitter now instead and it’s better because of the pictures. And the Beloved, who has a candle phobia, was happy to use my iPhone’s flashlight app instead and read via backlit screen instead of by candlelight, as my grandpa was.