By Michael Tutton
Post-tropical storm Fiona, one of the strongest storms to ever strike Eastern Canada, left a trail of destruction in its wake early Saturday before lingering over western Newfoundland, where a record-breaking storm surge destroyed several homes.
Police said they had reports of two people in Port aux Basques, N.L., being swept out of residences that collapsed into the sea as Fiona hit. RCMP Cpl. Jolene Garland said one woman was rescued by local residents and is believed to be fine after receiving medical attention.
“We have a report about another woman who was believed to be swept out into the ocean as her residence was damaged as well – apparently swept out from the basement,” Garland said. “We haven’t been able to verify a status on that woman.” She said storm conditions are too dangerous to conduct a search.
Towns in Cape Breton and on Newfoundland’s southwestern coast declared states of emergency as post-tropical storm Fiona continued to lash the region Saturday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government “stands ready” to support the provinces with additional resources, after he chaired a meeting of the Incident Response Group on Hurricane Fiona.
Rene Roy, editor of the weekly newspaper in Port aux Basques, said he saw evidence that nine homes, including a two-storey apartment building, were washed out to sea by a massive storm surge and wind-driven waves that soared about 25 metres into the air. “There are homes gone. There are homes in the street,” Roy said.
Brian Button, the mayor of Port aux Basques, pleaded with residents not to roam around and urged those at risk to seek higher ground, noting some houses had already been washed away.
“So anybody that’s being told to leave their homes, you need to leave,” Button said during a Facebook Live broadcast. “There are no ifs, ands or buts, you need to leave.”
Fiona was churning out hurricane-force winds at about 150 kilometres per hour when it made landfall between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. in eastern Nova Scotia, between Canso and Guysborough. The brawny storm knocked out power to more than 500,000 homes and businesses across the Maritimes.
The Canadian Hurricane Centre in Dartmouth, N.S., said Fiona set an unofficial record for the lowest-ever barometric pressure for a tropical storm making landfall in Canada. The recorded pressure at Hart Island was 931.6 millibars.
“The pressure of a storm is a very good indication of its intensity – how strong and intense the winds will be,” said meteorologist Ian Hubbard. “The deeper the pressure, the more intense it’s going to be.”
Bob Robichaud, warning preparedness meteorologist with the hurricane centre, said during a press conference the hardest hit areas of southwestern Newfoundland lay in the path of the strongest winds on the edge of the storm.
“The same winds that went through Cape Breton in the early hours of this morning are now going through the Port aux Basques area. That, coupled with the fact that they’re wide open to the incoming surf and storm surge, that’s why you’re seeing what you’re seeing there now,” Robichaud said.
Other Nova Scotian officials described the breathtaking impacts of the storm that brought flying debris, snapped power poles and trees across roadways and cut power to three-quarters of Nova Scotians as of Saturday afternoon.
In Halifax, 160 people were evacuated from two apartment buildings that were severely damaged, including one with a collapsed roof.
Premier Tim Houston said the province has requested military and disaster assistance from the federal government and support from Ontario through a mutual aide agreement, he said. The province is urgently working to get power, phone and internet service back up and running, he said.
The Halifax Stanfield International Airport reported a gust of 109 km/h at 3 a.m., and a gust hit 135 km/h at the mouth of Halifax Harbour. As well, a gust reached 161 km/h over Beaver Island, N.S., which is along the province’s eastern shore. In Sydney, N.S., gusts hit 141 km/h at 3 a.m. local time, causing severe damage to some homes.
“We’ve had several structural failures,” said Christina Lamey, a spokeswoman for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, adding no one was hurt. She said it was unclear how many homes had been damaged, but there were reports of collapsed walls and missing roofs.
Several dozen people in Sydney were forced to move into a shelter set up inside a downtown hockey arena.
Arlene and Robert Grafilo fled to Centre 200 with their children after a massive tree fell on their duplex apartment, trapping them in their basement unit.
“We heard a lot of noise outside and then we realized that there are a lot of cracks in the house and we looked outside and saw the tree had fallen,” said Arlene Grafilo, 43, as her children – ages 3 and 10 – played in a waiting area set up by the Red Cross.
“We were trapped and we couldn’t open the doors and the windows, so that’s when we decided to call 911. The children were scared,” she said, adding firefighters eventually rescued them.
Conditions weren’t much better in P.E.I., where officials recorded wind gusts of up to 110 km/h around 2:30 p.m. local time.
That was down from levels of up to 170 km/h recorded earlier in the day, and Premier Dennis King said the island was also hit by two-metre storm surges as well as widespread flooding and downed power lines, leaving about 95 per cent of provincial residents in the dark.
King praised Islanders for heeding warnings to stay indoors, noting authorities have received no reports of injuries.
But while he said it’s still too early to fully gauge the extent of damage across the Island, he said early indications already make it clear that Fiona dealt an unprecedented blow to the province.
“It seems that few communities, large of small, have been spared,” King said at an afternoon news conference.
In Charlottetown, where the city urged residents to stay off the streets, Fiona left a trail of debris, downed power lines and uprooted and splintered trees in its wake. Gas pumps were pulled from foundations, power lines twisted and fallen and mailboxes blown over.
Lena Caseley, a Charlottetown resident who has been living in the Parkdale neighbourhood since 1993, said she’s never seen anything that compares with the Fiona’s fury and destruction.
On Saturday afternoon, Caseley surveyed the damage on her street. “It’s going to be a long time recovering from this,” she said.
Steve Clements, who spent the night at Jack Blanchard Hall, one of Charlottetown’s temporary shelters, said he was thankful to be “out of the elements.” He said it was loud and hard to sleep, but “it’s better than the alternative. It’s better than being out.”
Meanwhile, parts of eastern Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have recorded 75 to 150 millimetres of rainfall. Final totals have yet to be tallied.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.
With files from Michael MacDonald in Halifax, Hina Alam in Charlottetown, Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal and Amy Smart in Vancouver.
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