It was back in 1979 — we still lived in Brampton, Ont. — when one night we woke up to a loud rumble, seemingly coming from the roof of our house. We decided that it must have been an animal crossing over, turned around and went back to sleep, blissfully unaware that at 11:53 p.m. a Canadian Pacific freight train of 106 cars, carrying a deadly load of explosives, propane, chlor and other nasty things, had derailed at the intersection of Mavis Road and Dundas St. in Mississauga.
One car, carrying propane, had exploded and ruptered several others, thus causing the evacuation of the entire city. Early the next morning, it was Sunday, Nov. 11, the phone rang. It was a friend who asked if he and his family could come to stay with us.
“Of course,” we said, but what happened?
“I wlll tell you later,” he said, “but in the meantime turn on the TV.”
We did and what we saw was eery: The train, a silent menace that could at any time explode again, releasing deadly gases. The city itself, abandoned and empty, the last patients of the Mississauga General Hospital being transferred to other hospitals at that moment!
Our friends had arrived, tired and worried. Like everybody else they had to leave their house without delay and spend the night at “Square One”, a large shopping centre and Mississauga’s No. 1 Emergency Shelter in those days. In the morning they were told to find temporary homes with relatives and friends away from their city. They stayed with us for two weeks. Nothing more happened but they were only allowed to return after the Haz-Mat crews of those days had done their job and the dangerous load had been taken care of. It was a wake-up call of great proportions. Even now, so many years after, the evacuation of Mississauga is still used as a training tool for emergency exercises.
This past January, when an electrical substation in Sardis blew up and was on fire, it all came back to me. Granted, except for a short outage of electricity, we did not have to deal with anything here in Harrison Hot Springs. For the people in Sardis, however, it was a different story and when Elisabeth, my neighbour came over, we both wondered if this would happen here — are we prepared?
I think she was surprised when I told her that my bathbub is always filled with water and that I also have several gallons of distilled drinking water on hand at all times. We both knew the rule of what food to use in what sequence: fridge, freezer, canned, dried. There was wood cut and stacked in our carport for the Franklin Stove in case of emergency. In my bedroom I have a flashlight, whistle and a landline telephone on the night table, an eight-hour emergency light and matches nearby. I was not so happy, however, when I realized that I lately had neglected to have my overnight bag ready. Especially since I realized that for the people in Mississauga back then, it was actually the one and only item of importance! To remedy the situation, I made up a list of all things necessary and I will make sure that they are in place. It might not be perfect but it will be a beginning and will also go a long way in case of an emergency.
Note: The next Emergency Preparedness Week will be during May 1 – 7 — a perfect chance to update ourselves!
List of What We All Should Have Ready:
1. Whistle, flashlight, wristwatch
2. Emergency lights, matches
3. Containers filled with water for sanitary purposes
4. 5 Gallons Drinking Water – distilled
5. Extra food, especially dried and canned
6. Wood stove, cut wood
7. Knowledge of a) how to turn water off and on and b) where the fuse box is situated, etc.
8. Emergency overnight bag: sturdy pants, t-shirt, sweater, socks, underwear, P.J.s, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, flashlight, whistle, list of contact addresses, paper and pen, money (coins also), small First Aid Kit
9. List of contact addresses
10. Some money, coins
11. A battery-operated radio
12. First Aid kit
Read Ruth Altendorf’s previous column: Finding the real Borscht