Extreme Windstorms

“Home doesn’t feel safe right now.”

Hannah Seaton

North Vancouver, Canada
Hannah Seaton as told to Jordon Kovacs
Edited by Sean Holman

Hannah is a student at the University of Victoria, double majoring in French and writing. She plans on becoming a French immersion educator. “I love to read in my free time. I like to go for walks, basically any kind of grandma activities,” Hannah says, describing herself as an introvert. But, when she was younger, she was an outgoing “tomboy”, who played co-ed ice hockey. 

The girls’ leagues she started playing in never taught her to bodycheck, so she took big hits from larger competitors. She was excluded from locker rooms. Her input on team play was ignored. So it took grit to hang in what has traditionally been a boy’s club. 

Hannah, who was the eldest of 3 children, also describes herself as being “kind of like my mom’s sidekick,” when her parents divorced.

Growing up in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Hannah has fond memories of her mother’s house, which was lined with pine trees. “I remember being a kid, I gave the house the same birthday as my own. So every year on my birthday, I’d secretly be like, happy birthday house. I love you.” This is the home a windstorm descended upon when Hannah was 15. 

Hannah Seaton a student at the University of Victoria, double majoring in writing and French. (CDP Photo/Jordan Kovacs)

The wind was howling that day. My mom, my sister, and my grandma were out because my sister had a soccer game. I was inside. My brother had his friend over. And then the storm started. A bit of rain, but mostly it was wind, and dark clouds that came over really quickly. My brother’s always been a bit of a daredevil. He gets so excited about any chance of potential danger, a situation to put himself in and see how much he can test the limits. So, he heard all this wind, saw the storm and was like, “Let’s go outside, it’s an adventure,” to his friend. They wanted to go on the trampoline. They were jumping and seeing if the wind would push them back.

I remember sitting on the couch, and I could see the backyard through the glass back doors. I was getting anxious watching my brother on the trampoline. I was like, “I feel something bad is going to happen.” But I was at an age where I didn’t want to be annoying, where you don’t want to be a snitch anymore.

So I was like, “Okay, I’m going to go sit in the other room.” I got up and walked across to the front of the house. There’s all these windows that look out at the side of the house where the trees are. I remember walking towards the couch, and I heard this huge cracking sound of something breaking.

I looked out the window, and one of the trees was in the middle of falling over. I was at a loss for words as this huge tree fell over in the direction of the backyard, where my brother was. I literally stood there and watched it fall. It was such a helpless feeling.

It was silent for a second as it fell. And then a huge bang as it hit the ground. It almost shook the ground. It was silent after that. It was eerie. Then I’m running outside, and my brother and his friend were screaming. They were screaming in an excited way, though. They thought it was pretty awesome that they just experienced that. But I was hearing the wind.

My brother was fine but his friend had a huge scratch on him from one of the branches hitting him. This was a really, really big tree. It was lucky it kept in a straight line, so it didn’t crush the house. The house I grew up in since I was 2 years old.

It crushed part of the fence between my yard and the neighbour’s yard. Branches and green pine needles were everywhere. I grew up with that tree there. And suddenly it’s gone. It’s lying down in the yard. I was kind of freaking out. I’m like, “What are we supposed to do in this situation?”

My mom was driving back home with my sister and my grandma. My mom and my grandma feed off each other’s energy. So, if something small happens, and one of them reacts, then the other one will react bigger. And then the other one reacts bigger and they kind of feed off each other.

So, I called my mom and told her the tree just fell down. My mom was like, “What?!” And then my grandma started screaming. And then my mom started screaming. Then they hung up the phone. I was like, “Okay, that was zero help.”

I grabbed my brother and his friend. I was worried because there’s two other huge trees there as well. I was like, “Okay, let’s not stand here.” I got my brother and his friend and we ran out into the alley. I remember standing there like, “Okay, I don’t know where to go.” Because there’s this wind howling all around us. There’re huge trees everywhere. It’s not just my yard that has these big trees. There’s telephone poles all around us and stuff flying in the wind.

My neighbours started to come out and were like, “Oh my gosh, are you guys okay?” At that point, I was like, “Yeah, we’re all fine.” Everyone’s freaking out, and I’m trying to keep the sense of calmness. I remember hearing lots of sirens. I remember someone saying, “Oh, we should call 911.”  I was thinking, “No, we don’t need to do that.” Because, obviously, there’s emergencies going on right now. I can hear that there’s more urgent things. Everyone here is fine. We’re going to be fine until someone can come and figure out what to do next.

I felt very lost. I was like, “Home doesn’t feel safe right now, and I don’t know where else to go.” I went across the street to this neighbour that we’re good friends with. My mom and my grandma and sister got home quickly after that. I remember my grandma’s voice because she can be a bit loud, especially in an emergency. Not really the level-headed one in the group. My grandma is Australian. I remember her accent and running around the streets like, “We need to do something!” I was like, “What are we gonna do? It’s done.”

I have such a fear of falling trees now. You have no control of what direction it is going, where it’s going to land. This thing is so big, it just crushes everything and anything in its path. For a long time whenever there’d be wind, I would go and sit in the basement of my mom’s house. I would try and get my family, and say, “Come on. We need to go in the basement. We can’t just sit here. What if the tree falls?”

Climate change makes these things happen more often. And it makes these storms that might not be a big deal stronger and more frequent. It will be a bigger issue in the future, especially where I live.  This tree that was next to my house is not a one off. There’s tons of huge old trees around. If wind storms like this are happening more often, then there’s going to be more possibility for people to get hurt, for property damage, for there to be more environmental damage.

This story was originally published in the Royal British Columbia Museum, on January 11, 2023.

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