Special Report

When It Rains

A dispatch from the eye of the Storm of the Century.

By 7.16.04

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EDMONTON -- On the afternoon of July 10, I peered out the patio door window. My hands pressed against the glass as I watched the heavy rainfall turn into a downpour. It looked like as if this storm might surpass the moisture levels the city received the previous weekend, which concerned me because the earlier rainfall had overloaded our flat townhouse roof, causing the living room ceiling to leak and the upstairs computer room to flood. But I sure didn't expect the coming disaster of almost Old Testament proportions.

I thought the immediate problem would be the ceiling leak continuing from where it had left off last weekend. As it happened, my first concern was the upstairs bathroom ceiling vent, which started pouring water like a faucet. I ran down to the main level bathroom to see if it too was leaking. I looked up, expecting to see water coming out of the vent, unaware of that it was spilling out of the toilet, which had started to back up.

My wife, Christine, and daughter, Lexie, were at home that afternoon. Christine took on the task of bailing water from the toilet to the kitchen sink while Lexie ran around the place identifying new leaks as they occurred like breaches in the dike. I was busy redirecting water from the again-leaky ceiling in the living room, as well as new leaks pouring in around the top of the patio doors.

At one point I thought I would open those doors to get a clearer view of the storm outside. This action released a small flood of water that had collected between the doors like a fish tank. Once the initial build-up rushed in, the water kept coming. The flat roof above was more than overflowing and water was rushing over the edges in sheets.

AND WATER WASN'T THE only thing falling from the skies. Hail fell right along with the rain. It started as pebble-sized bits of ice, gradually gaining in size to the point where they were similar in circumference to gumballs (the 25 cent variety). We counted ourselves fortunate that our Jeep TJ Sport was parked in the garage, and not on the street with other vehicles that would suffer damages that averaged $6,000 per vehicle -- in shattered windows, dents, and water damage.

By the time the storm got into full swing, anything that could possibly leak water in our home was doing so. All light fixtures in the upstairs bedrooms, the attic door around the edges, the aforementioned ceiling fan and even the fire alarm were dripping water into strategically placed pots, pans, buckets, and garbage pails.

Somehow we managed mostly to contain the water leakage, patrolling the ever filling containers scattered throughout the house, making sure they were emptied regularly. My wife was kept busy bailing the rising water out of the downstairs toilet. My daughter and I were occupied with manning the containers as well as mopping up spills with whatever towels we could get hold of. The rain began to peter out after an hour but our home required additional drainage long after the storm subsided.

Afterward, I took a moment to look outside on the balcony. It was covered with a layer of hail several inches deep. All of the plants and vegetables that my wife had been cultivating, including two tomato plants she was particularly proud of, were stripped bare of their leaves. Their respective containers were all full of hail. Each one looked like a bucket of ice with twigs poking out.

The immediate surrounding area was covered in hail, looking like a blanket of snow from a distance. It was littered with twigs, branches and leaves torn off the trees during the storm. A ghostly mist was forming close to the ground, I assumed as a result of the hail-chilled landscape.

WE LATER LEARNED that all of the units in our complex had the same types of leakage troubles. The townhouses to the west had an open underground garage which became an underground pool, submerging any vehicles parked there. The occupants had to be evacuated due to a gas leakage caused by the storm. Four days later they are still clearing leftover hail out of the parkade.

The famous West Edmonton Mall was flooded. The lower levels of the roller coaster were submerged, in addition to many other areas and some shops. Some bright soul probably saved the complex from a lot of damage and clean up costs by breaking some of the skylights to drain some water directly into the ice arena, which has its own drainage.

Throughout the city, many motorists had to abandon their vehicles when they tried to drive through deceptively shallow looking areas of water, or psychotically tried to push through small lakes thinking they could make it. There were parts of Whitemud Freeway where drainage reversed and water was gushing out of drains like low-pressure geysers, turning underpasses into lakes 3 to 8 feet deep. The pressure from the reverse water flow caused manhole covers over the city to pop off.

My family thought we had it bad with the leakage and damage, but after seeing and hearing about some of the more unfortunate victims in other areas of Edmonton, we decided that we got off easy. I lost five expensive computer books and a few of the cheaper furniture items in my computer room soaked up moisture at their bases. My wife lost all of the garden plants and flowers she had been working diligently to cultivate. We rent the place we live in, so the structural or cosmetic repairs are not going to cost us anything. We will just have to bide our time while the slow-moving rental company gets around to doing repairs.

The headlines are calling it the Storm of the Century, which is a pretty easy claim to make in the year 2004. No one died this time around. The last major meteorological event, the tornado of '86, killed 31 people and cut a big swath through the northeast of town. Still, I remain amazed how much some extra heavy rainfall -- up to six inches of water in a short span of time -- can disrupt things. The sunny-siders are touting the benefits of this storm for agriculture, which is great, if you're a farmer. The only silver lining for the rest of us is that it's over.

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