Freeland says Ottawa to ‘work harder’ to provide relief to victims of N.S. flooding
By Grow Opportunity Staff
By Keith Doucette and Michael Tutton
Brooklyn, N.S. — The federal government will pick up its pace in providing disaster relief to parts of Nova Scotia hit by last weekend’s flooding, deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland said Thursday after she viewed a bridge shattered by torrential rainfall.
Freeland, who is also finance minister, made the comment to reporters after visiting first responders in the small community of Brooklyn, where a search continued for a youth who went missing in floodwaters on Saturday.
Freeland was asked by reporters if Ottawa would improve the pace of disaster financial assistance flowing to uninsured flood victims. “I guess we’re going to have to work harder,” she replied.
“I think the focus right now is disaster response, but we’re definitely going to be talking about and working on how to support people.”
Nova Scotians whose homes were damaged during post-tropical storm Fiona on Sept. 24, 2022, have said as late as April of this year that they were still awaiting help through the provincially administered — but largely federally funded — disaster relief program.
Kody Blois, Liberal MP for Kings-Hants, which was hit hard by last weekend’s flooding, said Ottawa is committed to funding “up to” 90 per cent of the maximum of $200,000 available to homeowners to assist with uninsured flood damage. The program is administered by the province, but guidelines for eligibility are set federally.
The bills for damaged provincial infrastructure are going to be massive, provincial cabinet ministers said Thursday. Nova Scotia’s Department of Public Works said it had repaired nearly 500 sections of damaged roads and 60 road shoulders since a series of thunderstorms last weekend caused severe flooding across the province.
Crews had also replaced 62 culverts, but there were still about 20 provincial road closures, down from nearly 60 on Saturday. The department said 19 bridges that needed minor repairs had reopened. Another 29 bridges needed more extensive repairs but some of them were open with precautions, such as weight limits. Another seven bridges will need to be replaced.
“We haven’t assessed the full extent of the damage yet,” Public Works Minister Kim Masland said following a cabinet meeting. “Still in some places we have rivers where we had roads.”
The minister said that while floodwaters had receded substantially, her department was still getting calls about potentially damaged secondary roads.
“It’s hard to say what the (cost) of the damage is right now, but of course we will be tallying it all up and we will be asking the federal government for assistance through disaster relief,” she said. Masland estimated the cost as being “in the tens of millions.”
Work crews were assessing the safety of a 60-metre bridge that remained closed near Exit 7 on Highway 103. The stretch of Highway 103 on the province’s South Shore between exits 7 and 8 was also closed. Masland said it was a priority to reopen the highway, on which 10,000 vehicles a day travel.
Masland said the bridge’s abutments and end piers were severely damaged and that engineers were at the site as early as Saturday. After initial fears the bridge would have to come down, she said work could be done to support and fix it.
Public Works said around 200 of its staff and 40 private contractor crews were conducting various repairs across the flood-hit parts of the province, which include the region northwest of Halifax and the South Shore.
After viewing a bridge in Ellerhouse, N.S., that was torn from its foundation by surging waters, Freeland said the scenes left a powerful impression on her. “It’s really shocking to see with your own eyes the sheer force and the destruction,” she said.
Also Thursday, Premier Tim Houston was asked about reports from rural West Hants that local residents didn’t get public alerts about last weekend’s flash flooding. The area, northwest of Halifax, is where an intensive search this week recovered the bodies of three of four people, including two children, who went missing when two vehicles were submerged by rushing floodwaters.
“Cellular coverage remains an issue in the province, it’s something I remain concerned about,” Houston told reporters. He said he has had discussions with a team at Build Nova Scotia, a Crown corporation that builds strategic economic infrastructure, to see what can be done to improve cellular service.
Asked about the poor cellular service, Freeland said, “It is really unacceptable for people not to be able to get emergency alerts, and it is definitely something I will be raising ? with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and the telecommunication companies.”
The CRTC is responsible for the National Public Alerting System, which enables emergency management organizations across Canada to warn the public about disasters.
“I will be raising it urgently with Francois-Philippe Champagne, the (federal) minister of Industry,” Freeland added.
During the downpours in Nova Scotia, torrential rains dropped up to 250 millimetres of water on several parts of the province.
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