This article was originally published in Maclean's Magazine on October 13, 2003
Hurricane Juan Hits Halifax
NOTHING, it seems, happens without a reason. A butterfly flaps its wings off the coast of Bermuda and the next thing you know you're cowering in bed at 1 a.m. with only two panes of glass between you and winds screaming like the apocalypse as they slam into Halifax. Then, before you realize it, you're among the throngs of people wandering the streets, staring dazedly at venerable old trees tossed like pick-up sticks, shattered wharves, mashed cars and wounded houses left in HURRICANE Juan's wake. Humbling isn't the word. "I am here to cry," says a senior citizen standing in front of Halifax's ravaged Public Gardens, just a day earlier one of the loveliest Victorian garden plots in North America. Nearby, someone has laid a wreath where a paramedic, one of two people killed during the storm, was crushed in his ambulance by a falling tree.
Yet Halifax, where most of the devastation occurred when Juan barrelled into Atlantic Canada, wasn't entirely funereal. Even before the cleanup army of military personnel and electrical and telephone company workers showed up, university students and homeowners were clearing the streets of debris and sawing branches from fallen trees. The air filled with the smell of backyard barbecues as some of the thousands left without electricity cooked their meals the only way they could. As darkness fell, people gathered together, huddling around candles indoors, on doorsteps and even in the streets. A few yards from my house, university students played Scotland the Brave on bagpipes at 1 a.m.
Not everything reflected so well on humanity: a few store owners suddenly wanted $3 for a single flashlight battery, and the occasional electrician's truck roved the city's streets looking for homeowners desperate enough to pay ludicrously high prices to reattach downed electrical wires. I prefer to remember instead the college kid wearing a bathing suit in the rain, clearing debris from the drains in front of my house.
Maclean's October 13, 2003