Storm exposed gaps in systems, say those with exceptional needs

·3 min read
A resident of Hammond in Clarence-Rockland, Ont., cleans up wreckage May 26, 2022. A major storm hit parts of Ontario and Quebec May 21, 2022. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)
A resident of Hammond in Clarence-Rockland, Ont., cleans up wreckage May 26, 2022. A major storm hit parts of Ontario and Quebec May 21, 2022. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The derecho storm that left tens of thousands in Ottawa without power earlier this month also exposed gaps in the system, according to some people with mobility and other exceptional needs.

Brynn White said she and her mother felt isolated at their home near Bells Corners after their power went out after the May 21 storm.

"A lot of elderly people, when they get stuck, have no help," said White, whose mother has cancer and other health conditions and uses mobility devices to get around.

White said they feared rising temperatures would make living conditions unbearable, but White didn't want to venture out with her at-risk mother, fearing they'd be exposed to COVID-19.

"They just stay in their room and they try to ride it out," she said. "And that's kind of like what it felt like was happening."

'You can't plan for anything'

White said she was unsure how to protect her mother, and felt they had little support.

The two would order one meal a day, but otherwise lived off basics like peanut butter sandwiches.

Better communication from either the city or their utility company would have gone a long way, White said.

"We had no idea what was going on, we had no clue about anything," she said. "You can't plan for anything."

Eden Goodwin, who requires a CPAP machine for her sleep apnea, feels the same way.

Goodwin said their breathing can be so compromised while sleeping that their blood oxygen levels have been likened to those of a drowning victim.

After waking up after the first night with no feeling in their fingers, Goodwin decided to stay with friends.

"I had no idea when I was getting power back. I had no idea when I was going to be able to come back to my house," Goodwin said.

"And it just kind of happens out of nowhere. And if I didn't have someone at my house, who told me, I wouldn't have known."

Parents frustrated OSTA van setup

Melissa Sagan's son Emilio has autism, and she said she was frustrated with how the storm affected his ability to get to school.

On Friday afternoon, the Ottawa Student Transportation Authority (OSTA) issued an update for students like Sagan's son, who rely on van transport.

Summited by Melissa Sagan
Summited by Melissa Sagan

The authority said operators couldn't contact all parents about when vans would be able to pick up and drop off their school, but one might still arrive — even if a family wasn't notified.

"They will attempt to alert families that there is no service available, whenever possible," the update said.

The lack of clarity from OSTA, Sagan said, is especially frustrating when routines are so important for many children.

Sagan said parents dealt with poor communication before the storm, but these issues were exacerbated by a lack of emergency measures in place.

"If yellow bus students were told, 'Just go wait for the bus, it might come, it might not,' there would be outrage. And parents would be upset," the Barrhaven resident said.

"It wouldn't be acceptable. But because my child is on van transport and we're in the minority, we're being told that it's OK — and we just need to suck it up."

Although her work grants her time to drive her son to school, Sagan said that's not feasible for all parents.

"Nobody calls. There's no post on the website. The van simply doesn't show up. And some of those parents don't have the ability to transport their child to school."

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