Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Unintended Research or Waking Up to the End of the World

I had a weekend that was far too interesting.

On Sunday at 3:45 a.m., my wife and I were jolted awake by a HUGE clap of thunder. Or perhaps something at the hydro substation down the street had exploded yet again. I thought to myself, Maybe the whole thing went up this time because the house actually actually shook that time. Then I thought, No, that was thunder but it hit really close. I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.

It was some storm, thunder over and over, but most of the time in the distance, occasionally one closer. Then it dawned on me: there's no lightning and the thunder isn't echoing across the sky.

Getting out of bed, I slid the curtains back. North and west from us there was a pretty large fire burning. We have a second storey bedroom and the flames were well above the houses and trees. My wife got out of bed and stood next to me. All of a sudden there was a huge fireball, several hundred metres high and another terrific boom. I don't remember what I said, but I'm sure it's not printable here.

The angle from which we were viewing this conflagration made it look as if the smaller explosions were trailing off into the distance, the largest one being the closest.

A chill ran down my spine and all thoughts of terrible thoughts began racing through my head. Did one of those big planes go down? Was it a terrorist attack? Were we being invaded?

Turning on the radio, I couldn't find a thing about it, and that made it seem like a Twilight Zone moment. The world was coming to an end and nobody else was noticing.

By now, though, we could hear sirens all around us as the explosions went on and on, some small, but a couple nearly as huge as that big one. Stunned is the only way I can describe the way we both felt. All I know is that if the explosions came any closer, we were outta there. The other thing we both felt is that people were dying, perhaps hundreds of them, and it was sickening.

Gradually, it dawned on me that all the explosions were coming from one place and we finally heard on the radio that a gas station was on fire. (Turned out that was wildly wrong.)

The upshot is that we were about 2 miles south of where that propane depot exploded and we were never in any danger. Only one person died (a fireman, probably from a heart attack) and an employee of the depot who was on site is missing, presumed dead. There was no downed airplane, no terrorists, no aliens or invaders.

But now I know what it feels like to be on the edge of oblivion, to think that maybe someone is dropping bombs and that maybe the next one is coming down on you.

I'll file those feelings away, maybe even use them in the book I'm writing (I was already toying with the idea of a bomb blast.), but I'm also going to be thinking of WW2 when both sides were dumping thousands of bombs on cities every night, of those poor people in Georgia who are dealing with Russians invading them, of Iraq, of Afghanistan, of any place on earth where you can wake up to the sound of your death approaching.

What remaining hair I have is probably two shades whiter today.

Here's a photo of the biggest blast which happened shortly after we opened the curtain:

http://www.cbc.ca/photogallery/canada/1464/

5 comments:

Jared said...

I saw this on the news Sunday, and was encouraged to hear there were few fatalities. But having several friends in the T-dot, I was still wondering how they were. You're the first I've heard from. I'm glad you're only slightly rattled, but if you need a vacation from all this stress, I hear Baltimore is beautiful in October...

Charles benoit said...

Glad to hear your a-okay and able to buy the next round.
I lost a dear friend in a gas explosion in Toronto about a year and a half ago--I really didn't want to loose another.

Rick Blechta said...

I appreciate the good wishes. It was a very, um...odd experience to go through. It's not like I haven't been in dangerous situations before, but I think I now have a good idea of what it's like to wake up with a war suddenly going on in your neighbourhood.

Donis Casey said...

Oh, man, this doesn't sound like an experience I'd like to have, even if it does give you material for a book. How lucky we are that sounds of war are unfamiliar to us.

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Rick,
I'm glad to hear you're okay! What a frightening experience. Reminds me that the world can be a scary place. I tend to exist in a bubble most of the time.