For 10 days, Lynn Ashdown was trapped in her 11th floor apartment, alone and afraid. Her Fisher Heights condo building lost power in the storm on May 21 and, without a backup generator, the elevators had stopped.
“I was a prisoner here for 10 days, with no means to get out. There are serious consequences to this. My medical issues did worsen, my cognitive health did worsen, my mental health did worsen,” Ashdown said.
Ashdown uses a wheelchair and deals with a brain injury. She is more prepared than most for the potential dangers of a power outage, but after 72 hours in the dark, she began to panic.
“Definitely the worst case scenario. What goes through my mind is, ‘Okay, how do I take care of my medical needs?’” she said.
Luckily, Ashdown has a background as a physician and she was able to attend to her own medical needs as much as possible. Friends and her doctors also helped, carrying food up to her apartment, and bringing portable chargers for her cellphone—her only means of communication with those outside her small apartment.
“This is going to take me a long time to get over, this experience. It really has kind of traumatized me. It was worse than the worst-case scenario I had imagined,” Ashdown said.
Now, in the wake of the storm, she’s advocating for all apartment buildings in the city to have backup generators for their elevators.
In Toronto, city council has recommended buildings have a backup generator, but the city does not enforce the suggestion.
In Ottawa, some new buildings are equipped with backup power for elevators, but city councillor Keith Egli says there are thousands living in buildings without the safety measure.
Egli will bring a motion to the next council meeting calling on the city to ensure there are backup generators in all apartments, but city staff say the legislation could prove difficult.
“If a building is built in the 1960s, it’s under one set of rules; if it’s built in the 2000s it has another set of rules. In all likelihood, we’re going to find that we need to go to the province to get some sort of harmonization of the rules,” said Stephen Willis, General Manager of Planning, Real Estate and Development for the City of Ottawa.
In nearby Merivale Gardens, others living with disabilities faced similar challenges but managed to escape extended hardship, thanks to working generators.
“The generator lost power on Tuesday, it ran out of gas and we lost power and were stuck in the dark on the 11th floor for a whole day, but after that they got it going again,” said Monica Belanger, who lives on the 11th storey of her apartment building with her husband Stephen, who also uses a wheelchair.
“I had to cancel his home care for a week and that’s been very difficult,” she added.
Ashdown says she’s hopeful that city legislation can better protect those like her, and the many others who were stranded in the aftermath.
“Once the dust settles people forget, people forget very quickly, so this is the time to act,” Ashdown said.