Is Montreal ready for emergencies?

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Is Montreal ready for emergencies?

City deserves credit for getting ready to cope with weather extremes, but Chicago shows it might be wise to do even more

By HENRY AUBIN

The Gazette May 26, 2011

The Richelieu Valley’s freak flooding, causing mayhem for hundreds of homeowners, shows what can happen when municipalities don’t anticipate the sort of extreme weather events that climatologists say could become much more common.

Chicago, having learned its lesson from a 1995 heat wave that contributed to the deaths of about 500 people, has become a leader among North American cities in preparedness against various kinds of extreme weather. Is Montreal doing enough?

This city’s vulnerability to weather extremes is plain. Last July’s heat wave, according to public-health authorities, precipitated the deaths of 106 people. Also last summer, tornadoes – ultraweak and undestructive – were spotted in Ste. Anne de Bellevue and the northern suburb Mascouche. No one will forget the 1997 rainstorm and the 1998 ice storm. And lest anyone smugly assume that the city’s remoteness from the coast gives it immunity to those increasingly severe hurricanes, bear in mind that Hurricane Hazel in 1954 blasted a city far more inland than us, Toronto, drenching it with 11 inches of rain and causing 83 deaths.

To be sure, no single weather event, including the Richelieu River’s overflow, can be blamed on human-made greenhouse-gas emissions, but most scientists say increasing emissions contribute to the overall trend.

The Tremblay administration – in particular, the executive committee’s Alan DeSousa – deserves credit for taking various steps to adapt to changing weather conditions (as distinct from taking steps to reduce greenhousegas emissions). The city is:

–Building four water-retention basins to keep sewers from overflowing during storms. (The four are in Ahuntsic, Lachine, Griffintown and St. Laurent.)

–Banning construction of new buildings on Montreal Island within 10 metres of the St. Lawrence River and the Rivière des Milles Îles. (Time will tell if 10 metres is enough.)

–Extending water-intake pipes farther into the St. Lawrence River in anticipation of lower water levels.

–Repairing leaking under-ground pipes carrying drinking water. This will, among other things, help in the event of future water shortages. DeSousa estimates that leakage caused the loss of 40 per cent of water a decade ago, that this is now down to 30 per cent, and that it should be at about 20 per cent by 2015.

–Obliging all new-building and renovated basements to install backwater valves, according to a bylaw effective in July. At times of heavy rain, these devices prevent sewers from backing up.

–Planting more shade trees to cool the territory and absorb rainwater, and encouraging vegetation on roofs.

–Bracing for the latest in-vasive species, the ash borer beetle, by ceasing as of last spring to plant its favourite food, ash trees, along Montreal streets. The insect has already killed tens of millions of such trees in the U.S., and warmer weather has brought it to southern Quebec. Ash trees are second only to maples as the most common tree on streets and in parks.

–Imposing new rules for off-street parking spaces in St. Laurent, where DeSousa is borough mayor. Asphalt parking lots absorb heat and don’t absorb rainwater, contributing to flooding. A 2009 borough bylaw reduces the number of parking spots required per building (thus also encouraging use of public transit), shrinks the size of each spot by five per cent, requires shade trees to cover 40 per cent of new spots and authorizes the use of permeable paving to replace asphalt.

Chicago is doing some of the same things as Montreal, such as building underground storage tanks for rainwater. But, as the New York Times reports, it is also doing a lot of other things.

In anticipation of a hotter future, it has stopped planting native Illinois species of trees and is replacing them with varieties from the southern U.S. It is planting those trees a foot or so below the surface sidewalks so that rainwater can readily drain into them. It is also seeding these sunken areas with special weeds that resist drought, absorb water and filter de-icing salts.

Most ambitiously, Chicago is also redesigning its streets. When it builds bike lanes and parking lanes, it introduces light-reflecting surfaces that reduce heat. Fragments of recycled tires are in this asphalt, allowing the pavement to contract in winter without cracking, and expand in summer without buckling.

Chicago gets a lot hotter than Montreal, which helps explain its being in the vanguard. But if the climatologists are right, Montreal can expect to get much, much hotter, too. Getting more prepared is a sound investment; Millions spent today can save billions down the road.

Safety planning at Canada’s Wonderland lacking: CSL councillor

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Safety planning at Canada’s Wonderland lacking: CSL councillor

By Joel Goldenberg

The Suburban

September 16, 2009

Côte St. Luc councillor Glenn Nashen, in charge of the safety and public security dossier on council, will be taking action against a deficiency in safety he personally witnessed along with his frightened family, when recent tornadoes hit Ontario.

“This will long be remembered as one of the most frightening days ever for me and my family,” he says.

In his blog, Nashen writes of recently witnessing first hand a tornado warning at Canada’s Wonderland in Vaughan, Ontario — near Toronto — when he was there with his family on vacation. Nashen wrote that the day began in a typically summery way, in “sunshine and heat.”

“Within minutes the rain began and the sky grew darker and darker,” his blog says. “We took shelter under a giant umbrella in the water park thinking it will quickly pass and we’d resume our wet fun on the slides and in the wave pools.”

“As the storm grew in intensity, and the kids began crying uncontrollably, the image of the ominous storm clouds from the Ten Commandments, just before the parting of the Red Sea, was not far from what we were actually experiencing. This was becoming quite serious. Moments later the lifeguards began blowing whistles and running, hollering that a tornado was coming and to evacuate immediately.”

“With the car much too far to reach quickly we grabbed the kids, stroller and bags and ran to the nearest washroom and hunkered down as the claps of thunder were so deafeningly loud, they must have been immediately overhead. Power flickered the lights off and on repeatedly and the kids continued wailing… except three-month-old Jeremy, content in my wife’s arms.”

Nashen said he was shocked when, at that point, the amusement park’s security guards asked Nashen and his family to leave the building so that the park could be closed. “We argued with several of them that we would not leave the safety of the building we were in to run with young children and a newborn across Wonderland. They insisted we had to go, and quickly, as more tornado storm activity was about to strike. They essentially were telling us to run for our lives — but again, no directions, no plan, no useful information. We asked for emergency transportation out of the park, to no avail. We asked to remain where we were, also to no avail.”

“Finally, a kind washroom cleaner handed us garbage bags to try to keep dry in the torrential rain,” Nashen relates in his blog. “Strange how it was okay for the Wonderland toilets to be cleaned by an employee in the same facility I was ordered to leave immediately for safety reasons. With rain pelting down sideways, reminiscent of Florida hurricanes, we frantically ran to the next covered area. My daughter cried and screamed, ‘We’re going to die!’”

Nashen added that he and his family took shelter in a diner for a half-hour, and he then rushed his family into his car as a big lightning bolt struck in the distance.

The councillor, who is involved in emergency and disaster planning for Côte St. Luc, said all of this was lacking at Canada’s Wonderland.

“The confusing, disorganized and illogical commands of the Wonderland security personnel was unbelievable. Either they had no evacuation plan or poor communication systems or both. To order guests, including children and infants out of a sheltered area and into the storm was irresponsible, dangerous and negligent. The Wonderland public address system continued to blare out music rather than emergency instructions.”

“Knowing a thing or two about general safety concerns and disaster planning it was evident to me that Wonderland did not live up to expectations to safeguard their guests. Not even close! I will certainly be writing a strongly worded letter to the company president.”

Read original blog posting

Extremely dangerous storm more than a thrill ride at Canada’s Wonderland

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We never thought we could experience a real tornado warning here at Canada’s Wonderland mega-amusement park, a little north of Toronto but that’s exactly what happened just hours ago as we were enjoying a vacation day in sunshine and heat.  Within minutes the rain began and the sky grew darker and darker.  We took shelter under a giant umbrella in the water park thinking it will quickly pass and we’d resume our wet fun on the slides and in the wave pools.

As the storm grew in intensity, and the kids began crying uncontrollably, the image of the ominous storm clouds from the Ten Commandments, just before the parting of the Red Sea, was not far from what we were actually experiencing. This was becoming quite serious.  Moments later the lifeguards began blowing whistles and running, hollering that a tornado was coming and to evacuate immediately.

With the car much too far to reach quickly we grabbed the kids, stroller and bags and ran to the nearest washroom and hunkered down as the claps of thunder were so deafening loud, they must have been immediately overhead.  Power flickered the lights off and on repeatedly and the kids continued wailing… except three month old Jeremy, content in my wife’s arms.

Unbelievably, while we were now relatively safe in the change room the Wonderland security guards asked us to leave as they wanted to close the water park for the evening.  We argued with several of them that we would not leave the safety of the building we were in to run with young children and a newborn across Wonderland.  They insisted we had to go, and quickly, as more tornado storm activity was about to strike.  They essentially were telling us to run for our lives – but again, no directions, no plan, no useful information.  We asked for emergency transportation out of the park, to no avail.  We asked to remain where we were, also to no avail. 

Finally,  a kind washroom cleaner handed us garbage bags to try to keep dry in the torrential rain.  Strange how it was okay for the Wonderland toilets to be cleaned by an employee in the same facility I was ordered to leave immediately for safety reasons.

With rain pelting down sideways, reminiscent of Florida hurricanes we frantically ran to the next covered area.  My daughter cried and screamed, “We’re going to die!” 

We ran into a diner where scores of people also took shelter.  We huddled for another half hour, my mother in law drying our wet towels under the hand dryer in a futile attempt to warm up and dry off.  A young boy stood nearby, separated from his father in the pandemonium.  Again, we ran closer to the exit, first a tent-covered amphitheatre and then a pizza restaurant, a gift shop that was flooded and finally the front gates.  I ran for the car, as a powerful bolt of lightening struck in the distance, pulled the car up to the gate and scooped up my family to get back to our host’s house, and quick.

The confusing, disorganized and illogical commands of the Wonderland security personnel was unbelievable.  Either they had no evacuation plan or poor communication systems or both.  To order guests, including children and infants out of a sheltered area and into the storm was irresponsible, dangerous and negligent.  The Wonderland public address system continued to blare out music rather than emergency instructions.

Life guards yelled to run without any clear direction where we were to run to.  Shopkeepers were completely uninformed about the tornado and storm or evacuation plans.

This will long be remembered as one of the most frightening days ever for me and my family. 

Knowing a thing or two about general safety concerns and disaster planning it was evident to me that Wonderland did not live up to expectations to safeguard their guests. Not even close!  I will certainly be writing a strongly worded letter to the company president.

As of this evening, the Town of Vaughan, Ontario (where Wonderland is located) has declared a state of emergency. More than 200 homes were severely damaged, 60 of which will have to be torn down. 

We’re dry, safe and sound at the end of a very long and frightening day.

 

 

Here is a video taken a few blocks from where we were.

680 News coverage

CBC viewers photos

Canadian Press video

Toronto Star photos

More incredible home video a few blocks away

YouTube

 Coverage in The Suburban Newspaper, September 16, 2009

 

Here’s a map view of how close we are (Point A) to where the tornado actually touched down on Burnhaven Road (Point B):