Tuesday was not quite the largest Labrador day on record (meaning amazingly sunny and mild), but it came pretty darned close.
Fall is always a glorious time on the province’s mainland. There are still a few bugs hiding in the woods, but the great hordes of mosquitoes, blackflies and stouts that were tormenting anyone brave enough to be outside only a few weeks ago are gone — no doubt sated.
Autumn temperatures are always pleasantly moderate, too. Monday night was chilly, but not unseasonably cold. Tuesday morning’s sky held a few clouds, but the sun still shone from a wide field of blue. It warmed gentle breezes as they wafted pleasantly across the upturned faces of anyone with a mind to enjoy them.
In fact, on Tuesday, everything seemed right with the world until someone turned on a radio or switched the television to a St. John’s channel.
The world was actually in trouble and it seemed the island might even be sinking. A hurricane named Igor had risen out of the ocean like a Japanese B-movie monster and was wreaking havoc all along the south coast to the Avalon Peninsula, stomping huge trees flat and sweeping buildings out to sea. Forecasters had warned of bad weather,
but their predictions were nowhere close to describing the true force of the blow.
From our safe distance, we watched as winds reached nearly unbelievable speeds and waters rose in a blind rage. Monstrous waves bashed the island’s shores and floods drowned the land, inundating towns and stealing life as they passed.
Then, after a while, up in Labrador we could wonder what was on another channel.
The island was clearly experiencing a calamity and the province’s broadcasters responded admirably, performing well what is always their primary civic duty in an emergency: to get valuable information in a timely manner to everyone who needs it — or at least to those who still had electricity or wind-up radios. Power lines were down in many places and washed-out roads had cut off many communities from the help they needed.
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Journalists all over the island did praiseworthy jobs in difficult circumstances finding out what was happening and getting the news out. They dedicated their day to it without cease and there’s no doubt their efforts helped many people get through the trying hours.
Naturally, normal broadcasts were suspended for the duration.
However, in Labrador, life went on as usual, albeit (for those who kept their radios tuned to Newfoundland stations) with a constant backdrop of distant calamity. It got a little breezy in the afternoon and some rain lashed the region, but otherwise Igor had no interest in the province’s northern territory.
That meant that for most people in Labrador, even those visiting from St. John’s, the worst hurricane to hit the province in memory was not even troublesome enough to be an inconvenience.
Even those visitors from the island felt far removed from the seriousness of the storm. People spoke about sending aid shipments to Newfoundland: anything floatable that would stop it from sinking.
For someone with the luxury of sitting out the actual emergency, what Tuesday taught (aside, once again, from the huge geography that separates Newfoundland from Labrador) was that we’re living in a world in which every second or third flood, fire, drought, tornado or hurricane is the worst we’ve ever seen and that we’re all becoming used to them — as long as they don’t hit us head-on.
Every year, the southern seas generate stronger hurricanes, not weaker ones. If every storm is worse than the last, then the next one will be very bad indeed — and soon one after that might really shake the island to its foundations.
Nor will Labrador always get to watch safely from the sidelines. We’d do well to remember an old saying: we all have pay for good weather in the end.
Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.