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Community shines bright during power outage

Hardest hit areas on the North Island stepped up to keep neighbours warm and fed
Jay Vaughn, Brian Pohto and Janet Pohto opened up the Island Sun’s tuna freezers for anyone worried about food thawing over the four-day power outage on Malcolm Island. (Christopher Hurst photo)

Last week’s power outage gave the North Island a chance to shine, and if you ask those who work in emergency support services, they shone brightly.

“The response was very organic, very Malcolm Island,” said Marjorie Giroux, the emergency services support worker in Sointula. People were checking in on neighbours, sharing generators.

There were a few people driving around the small island with generators in their trucks to let people charge their devices for a while.

Sointula had no power for almost four full days.

“It was one of the longest outages in recent memory. We’ve had the occasional over-nighter but not to this extent,” Giroux said.

As the hours dragged on, the crew of the Island Sun fishing boat, owned by Island Fishing, realized that frozen food would be thawing. The boat still had freezers installed from the tuna fishing season, so they opened up their hold for locals to put their frozen food into.

For folks who prepare their own food for the winter, this was no small gesture. A handful of people came with labelled boxes to preserve their frozen goods. Island Sun crew member Brian Pohto expects many more would have come had the power not been restored so quickly.

“I’m just glad we still had the freezers installed,” said Pohto. The freezers were for tuna fishing, and would be removed for a different fishery.

The pandemic unexpectedly helped Malcolm Islanders prepare for emergencies like this. Giroux said. Earlier in the year a group of supporters combed through the phone book and made a list of people who were at high risk. They also developed a COVID buddy system, which naturally reemerged during the power outage for people to check on each other.

The pandemic group had also made lots of soup to have on hand in case someone needed to self-isolate for two weeks.

No one has needed to isolate like that, but the homemade food was a welcome boon for people who only had electric heat in the power outage.

Giroux and Michelle Pottage, the other ESS, heated up bowls of soup and delivered them around town to people who had only had cold food for days.

Over in Port Alice, the warming station was a big help for folks who were out of power for almost as long as Sointula. Village staff ran the station out of the community centre, offering coffee and hot soup — they even had meatloaf one day — and cots for people who wanted to sleep in a warm place.

Offers of help flew back and forth on the community facebook pages, with some members chirping in from out of town, sending warm thoughts and reminiscing about the goodness of small towns.

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