Ten years ago this weekend the Maritimes got hit with the worst hurricane most of us have ever experienced. Lots of people have stories from that night, and I had my own adventure.
Hurricane Juan arrived during an eventful season in my life. I was 24, I was getting married in two weeks, and my wife-to-be and I had just bought our first house a month earlier. The night of the storm I was working, like I did most Sunday nights, in the sports department at the Chronicle Herald.
We listened to the weather get worse and worse outside. We watched TV and laughed at our poor counterparts in broadcast who got sent out to do live hits in the wind and rain.
The storm grew severe enough that the Herald offered to put the handful of us left in the office up at a hotel around the corner for the night, but I decided to make my way home to Sackville, about 20 kilometres outside downtown. I left at 11:45 p.m. and second-guessed my decision as soon as I stepped outside the Herald’s doors. Yet for some foolish reason I kept going.
The wind shook my Mazda and the rain came down so heavy it was like driving in a car wash. I aimed for the Macdonald Bridge but encountered a police barricade on North Street; the bridge was closed because of the wind. I turned left on North and headed up to Robie, planning to make my way home along the Bedford Highway.
I’d driven three blocks on Robie when a huge gust of wind made my windshield wipers go skronk and then they stopped working. I slowed and rolled down my window; my wipers had bent 90 degrees in the wrong direction. The driver’s-side wiper jutted off into the air, nowhere near my windshield.
It was hard enough to see when my wipers were working, but driving without them was impossible. I crept into a Subway parking lot and got out to see if I could fix them.
Within seconds I was soaked to the bone; I couldn’t have been wetter if I’d jumped in the ocean fully clothed. Tree branches crashed down in the parking lot. This was the point I started to freak out.
I climbed back in the car and drove ever so slowly across the street to the Burger King at Robie and Young, where at least there were no trees or other potential falling/flying objects. I got out to investigate my wipers again—and a gust of wind tore my glasses right off my face.
I’m near-sighted enough that I can’t do much of anything without my glasses. So, at midnight in a hurricane, I crawled around on my hands and knees in what felt like in six inches of water, looking for my glasses. I remember praying—Please God help me find my glasses and do not let me die in a Burger King parking lot—and laughing, because I could not believe this was actually happening to me. It was possibly the most surreal moment of my life.
I found my glasses. I rushed back to my car and sat there, listening to the wind and rain, wondering what to do next. A whole decade ago I didn’t carry a cell phone, and I can’t imagine who I would have called if I did. It was dumb enough of me to go out in the first place and I wasn’t going to make anyone else risk themselves to come get me.
After a few minutes another car pulled in beside me. A guy got out and knocked on my window. He was new to the area, low on gas, and he didn’t know how to get back to Dartmouth with both of the bridges closed.
I explained to him that he’d have to go around the harbour, and I’d be glad to show him if he’d drop me off in Sackville along the way. I abandoned my car and hopped in his, and we crept along the Bedford Highway, dodging rivers and lakes in the middle of the road as we went. (To be honest, I forget his name.)
It took close to an hour, and about the time we reached Bedford we heard on the radio that the Magazine Hill was closed because of downed power lines on the road. I explained to my new companion that this meant he’d have to go all the way out to Waverley and double back to get to Dartmouth. I offered to let him spend the night at my place rather than trying to make the journey that night, and he agreed.
When we finally reached my house, sometime after 1:30 a.m., I realized just how ill-prepared for the storm I had been. I hadn’t put away anything outside, and I even left the kitchen window open. It opened outward, and if the wind had been blowing in the opposite direction it would have torn the window right off.
The power was out, so I fumbled around in the dark until I found a flashlight and got my guest set up in the spare bedroom. We said good night, and I lay awake for a while hoping none of our trees would fall over.
When I woke in the morning it was sunny and my guest was gone. He forgot his baseball cap, but I didn’t know enough about him to track him down and return it. I remember hoping he had enough gas to make it to Dartmouth, since the power was still out and didn’t return for days.
Later, I got a friend to run me back into the city and retrieve my car. It was none the worse for the wear, save for the busted wipers. Our property didn’t sustain any real damage, and order was restored by the time our wedding rolled around two weeks later. But I learned my lesson about being prepared, and I’ll be smart enough to stay inside if we ever have another hurricane.