Thursday, 5 January 2012

Storming St Stephen

Having just let the cat out, I happened to be awake when the blackout hit our neighbourhood. It was 4:20 am and a heavy storm was roaring. There was nothing we could do but first to have a good night’s sleep and then start to adapt.

Altogether 11 stormy days were counted in Finland in December and the climax was the storm that reached us on St Stephen’s Day toppling a tremendous amount of trees –thousands of them on electric power lines. It caused large-scale power outages and left tens of thousands of houses without electricity for days.

With its 5.4 million inhabitants Finland is such a sparsely populated country that most of the power lines outside the urban areas and village centres are still carried above ground. This makes power distribution vulnerable to outward damage, especially because forests constitute about 75% of the total area of the country.

We live in an out-of the-way rural area some 40 kilometres (25 miles) from downtown Helsinki, which means we are outside the public utilities relying on our own heating and water systems. However, our circulator pump requires electricity to take warm water to the radiators and our water pump to get water from the well to the taps.

Luckily the outage occurred when the temperature was mostly above freezing point. We had no trouble to keep the house warm enough using our several old-style fireplaces nor to cook the coffee and meals on the wood-burning stove we still have but hardly ever use. We even have an in-house cellar where we could empty the fridge.

We brought drinking water from the grocery and flushed the toilets with water we carried in buckets from our creek normally frozen this time of the year but now rich in rain water. We visited the public pool to have a sauna and shower. And burned loads of candles to see at least some light in the darkest season of the year.

Just when we were used to the new daily cycle and the hard work it entailed, power was restored to our area after a blackout of three and a half days, which set a new record for us. More storms were coming so we charged the cell phones, filled in the water cans, did some laundry, turned the dishwasher on, split some more firewood from the trunks last winter’s storms cut down on our lot, rushed to clean the house and were ready to receive guests to celebrate New Year.

Many houses in secluded locations aren’t as well equipped to cope with power cuts as ours and many people had to leave their homes to stay with friends or relatives. Some of them are only just returning, after 10 days of evacuation.

Hopefully the power companies will use some of their fat profits to put power lines underground to avoid any future damage of similar magnitude. However, with the climate change we are facing we will continue to witness an increase in extreme weather events. So it’s better to be safe than sorry. And best to adapt your lifestyle to a level the globe will endure. Less is starting to become a necessity, just like it was in our grandparents’ time.

Teresa Maria

No way in or out for hours.
The power line brought down by toppled trees was covered
by boards of wood across the alley for days.

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