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Lineups outside grocery stores in St. John’s as state of emergency hits Day 5

Long lineups for supplies as NL stores reopen after storm
WATCH ABOVE: Grocery stores reopened for a few hours in Newfoundland and Labrador on Tuesday, providing relief for people needing food and other essentials after a record-breaking blizzard. Ross Lord reports on how Newfoundlanders are starting to bounce back.

Emptying kitchen cupboards were re-stocked in St. John’s, N.L., on Tuesday, as residents lined up at grocery stores open for the first time since last week’s massive blizzard.

The lineup at one Sobey’s store stretched around the parking lot and out onto the street by the time doors opened at 10 a.m.

The city had advised people to buy enough food to last 48 hours, but some would-be shoppers still turned away upon seeing the epic queue.

Long lines at Newfoundland grocery stores after record-breaking blizzard
Long lines at Newfoundland grocery stores after record-breaking blizzard

Within 20 minutes, there was little room to move inside the store as people filled their carts with essential foods and household items, leaving some shelves nearly bare.

The openings at Sobey’s and other grocers occurred on the fifth day of a state of emergency in the provincial capital, as cleanup continued from a storm last Friday that brought 76 centimetres of snow to some areas.

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Customers arrive at a Sobeys grocery store in St. John’s on Tuesday, January 21, 2020.
Customers arrive at a Sobeys grocery store in St. John’s on Tuesday, January 21, 2020.
Timelapse video shows cars in Newfoundland submerged in snow
Timelapse video shows cars in Newfoundland submerged in snow

Hundreds of Armed Forces personnel have been brought in to help in the effort, and more were expected to arrive on Tuesday.

One St. John’s resident, Doris Squires, said she and her husband walked down to Sobey’s early with a plan to beat the crowd, but arrived to find others had the same idea.

Squires said she was looking forward to a re-stocked kitchen Tuesday night.

“I’m going to put on a pot of fresh meat soup, if I can get some fresh meat,” she said.

Several taxi companies offered free rides to seniors and people with disabilities who needed to pick up supplies.

Canadian troops providing crucial help to snow-ravaged NL
Canadian troops providing crucial help to snow-ravaged NL

READ MORE: Highest snowfall observed in N.L. storm was 93 cm: Environment Canada

Inside the store, Margaret Connors was co-ordinating with neighbours to buy milk and other essentials for those who couldn’t make it out.

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“We’re just combining forces to help out people on our street,” Connors said. “I think everybody was surprised at all of this, but I think people are pulling together.”

Just around the corner from Sobey’s, there was a sense of relief at The Gathering Place, a service centre providing meals, warmth and other basic needs for low-income residents.

Ashley MacDonald, director of social programs, said the state of emergency has been hard on guests who rely on the centre for food and toiletries and couldn’t afford to stock up ahead of the storm.

Woman leaves car window open in Newfoundland blizzard
Woman leaves car window open in Newfoundland blizzard

Many were without power or any means to keep up with updates from the city, MacDonald said, noting some people approached her in the street during the last few days asking where they could find food.

“They’re in the dark about what everybody else knows,” MacDonald said.

About 70 people showed up on Monday to eat and to warm up, MacDonald said, and more than a dozen took home canned supplies for other community members who were housebound.

MacDonald said there was a sense of relief that day as people were finally fed, saw their friends’ faces and swapped stories after an isolating and precarious stretch.

Customers fill a Sobeys grocery store in St. John’s on Tuesday, January 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Customers fill a Sobeys grocery store in St. John’s on Tuesday, January 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

She said planning ahead for warming centres and access to food should be a priority during such weather events in order to better support vulnerable members of the community.

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Scott Seabrook, who lives in a bedsit nearby, was at The Gathering Place for a meal Tuesday afternoon. He said he’d been relying on the centre since moving to the city nearly a month ago for a job opportunity that fell through.

Seabrook said staff sent him home with some extra canned food Thursday night, warning they might be shutting down for a couple of days.

“I’ve been living on canned goods since then, and I shared it with some of the people in my room,” he said.

READ MORE: Troops arrive in Newfoundland to assist after historic blizzard

Seabrook said the weather-related closures have also made his job search more challenging, with nowhere open to accept resumes.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said about 450 troops – including some 175 reservists – would be in Newfoundland on Tuesday to help the province dig out from the storm.

Premier Dwight Ball said Tuesday afternoon that the Armed Forces had completed more than 160 assigned tasks so far, and the call volume of requests for assistance had been “extremely high.”

Workers continue to remove snow from the streets in St. John’s on Tuesday, January 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Workers continue to remove snow from the streets in St. John’s on Tuesday, January 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Travel remained difficult across eastern Newfoundland on Tuesday. Most businesses other than groceries stores in St. John’s were directed to remain closed, with exceptions for gas stations and some pharmacies.

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The city said it would allow the St. John’s International Airport to resume flights Wednesday at 5 a.m., and taxis would have permission to resume commercial operations at midnight.

Search efforts also continue for Joshua Wall, 26, who was last seen leaving his home in Roaches Line during Friday’s blizzard to walk through a wooded area to a friend’s home in nearby Marysvale.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2020.