Trapped in her home, Cape Breton mayor wept when a snowplow arrived on her street

Click to play video: 'Some Cape Bretoners feeling stranded after massive snowfall'
Some Cape Bretoners feeling stranded after massive snowfall
It’s another day of cleanup in Cape Breton as residents continue to grapple with the fallout of the weekend storm. Streets in the Sydney area started to slowly reopen Tuesday, but as Zack Power explains, some who are stranded worry they may run out of supplies before their street is plowed. – Feb 6, 2024

The mayor of Cape Breton’s largest municipality says she wept Tuesday night when a huge snowplow rumbled down her street in Sydney, N.S., where she had been trapped with her family since a weekend storm dumped 150 centimetres of snow on the community.

“My three-year-old … was so excited,” Amanda McDougall said in an interview Wednesday, recalling the arrival of the plow. “It was palpable in the air how happy we all were.”

McDougall said her top priority as mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality is bringing that sense of relief to residents who remain stuck behind massive snowdrifts that have buried cars, blocked sidewalks and clogged paths and doorways.

For the third consecutive day, schools and most government offices were closed across Cape Breton. City hall in Sydney was closed and transit service was suspended. As well, non-emergency health services were reduced across the island and in the eastern counties of Antigonish and Guysborough on the Nova Scotia mainland.

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Click to play video: 'Maritimes snowstorm: Rural communities plea for more aid in cleanup'
Maritimes snowstorm: Rural communities plea for more aid in cleanup

The provincial government continued to urge Cape Breton residents, including the Eskasoni First Nation, to avoid unnecessary travel.

Meanwhile, there is so much snow covering Sydney that regular snow-clearing equipment is breaking down, which is partly why the area has remained under a local state of emergency since Sunday.

“Our machines are great for a typical snowfall, but they were … struggling so hard through that heavy snow,” McDougall said. “Having these big machines come in from the federal government, Parks Canada and the (provincial) Transportation Department, that’s the only way we’re going to dig out … You can hear the hum of big machinery.”

A 2020 blizzard that brought St. John’s, N.L., to a standstill became known as Snowmageddon, but some Nova Scotians have dubbed this storm Slowmageddon because the low-pressure system parked itself off Nova Scotia’s east coast for almost four days and barely moved as the snow piled up.

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In Sydney’s north end, an SPCA shelter was evacuated Wednesday after staff noticed the building’s ceiling beams were sagging under the weight of snow on the roof.

“We currently have 45 animals in the shelter and staff are taking care of them,” provincial CEO Elizabeth Murphy said in a statement. “Our shelter is showing the signs of age and wear. We cannot take this risk.”

Click to play video: 'Cape Breton Regional Municipality under state of emergency after historic snowfall'
Cape Breton Regional Municipality under state of emergency after historic snowfall

Murphy said staff from an SPCA office in the Halifax area would pick up the 19 dogs, 25 cats and one rabbit and place them in other shelters across the province.

On another front, McDougall said there’s plenty of evidence Cape Bretoners are pulling together, though a proper cleanup is days away. As an example she pointed to a gaggle of young players with the Glace Bay Minor Hockey Association, who showed up on her street wearing their jerseys and toting shovels.

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“I looked out my window and I see these smiling, wonderful faces,” the mayor said, recalling how they provided a welcome break from a video conference with municipal officials. “They were waving to me through the window.”

Earlier in the day, shovels were also handed to officer cadets at the nearby Canadian Coast Guard College.

The cadets started shovelling near the college in the Westmount area on Monday, but 100 of them were expected to board school buses Wednesday to help vulnerable residents in other neighbourhoods.

Harvey Vardy, the coast guard’s regional director of response programs, said provincial emergency officials would decide where to send them.

On Monday, federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan said three coast guard helicopters would be made available to help with potential evacuations or to shuttle essential supplies, including fuel.

Vardy said the helicopters are stationed at the Sydney airport, but they have yet to be put to use. “There has been no formal request for the coast guard helicopters,” Vardy said.

The provincial government has said more than 1,000 people are working around the clock using about 400 pieces of equipment to clear snow across Nova Scotia.

Despite the transportation problems in Cape Breton, McDougall said food and fuel supplies were in good shape, mainly because the Canso Causeway, which connects the island with the mainland, has remained clear.

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Though good weather was in the forecast, McDougall said the temperature was dropping on Wednesday, which meant the previously heavy, wet snow was turning to solid ice. “It’s hard shovelling,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2024.

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