No stranger to weather in Newfoundland and Labrador, Ray Vautier has seen his fair share of heavy rainfall.
But for the 60-year-old currently living in Codroy Valley, Vautier has never seen rainfall last as long as the atmospheric river that’s washing away roads and cutting off communities in Atlantic Canada this week.
“I’ve often seen hard rain for short periods, like just a matter of few hours,” he told Global News.
“This is the longest I’ve seen it, and it’s the first time I’ve heard of 200 millimetres of rain in the forecast for this area.”
Trans-Canada Highway washed out
Late Tuesday, Newfoundland and other Maritime provinces started to get hit with torrential rainfall that has continued into Wednesday.
The rain quickly washed out roads in some parts of the province. Newfoundland RCMP said Wednesday morning the Trans-Canada Highway in Port-aux-Basques, a major route in the largest town in the province’s southwest, was impassable.
Environment Canada is calling for another 70 to 100 mm of rain for Port-aux-Basques throughout Wednesday, with gusts up to 110 km/h.
The town usually gets about 160 mm of rain during the entire month of November. It received 120 mm of rain by 10 a.m. local time.
Jerry Musseau, the fire chief for the town, told Global News there have been no reports of injuries so far, but some basements have been flooded.
“There is no need to go outside unless it’s absolutely necessary,” he said. “If not, we recommend everybody to stay home until this storm is completely over.”
‘We aren't going anywhere’
About 55 kilometres from Port-aux-Basques is Vautier, who has been stuck in his cottage in the Codroy Valley since Monday.
Vautier and his wife were going to leave for their home in La Poile, a remote coastal community, on Monday, but couldn’t as the water was too rough for the ferry to take them home.
He told Global News most of the roads in his area were drivable Tuesday night, but when he woke up this morning some were washed away.
The gravel roads outside his cottage were also damaged.
“You could still get out of this on an ATV, but the Trans Canada is washed out on both sides of us, so we aren’t going anywhere,” Vautier said.
Port-aux-Basques and the Codroy Valley are among the hardest-hit areas at the moment, said Justin Boudreau, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada.
He advised residents to “hunker down at this point,” if they haven’t already.
“It should taper off tonight (Wednesday) … it doesn’t seem to be really heavy rain, so hopefully that’ll remain to be the case,” Boudreau said.
“Water levels could still be rising. … It’s really hard to tell what the water has done underneath the road, so it’s pretty dangerous to be driving over areas where there are streams and rivers going through.”
Repairs to impacted roads in Newfoundland, specifically portions of the Trans-Canada Highway, were top of mind at a government update on Wednesday.
Elvis Loveless, minister of transportation and infrastructure, told reporters that crews are assessing the damage and standing by to begin repairs once the storm calms.
“This is not a 48-hour fix,” he said. “It’s a big storm, we know that, but our crews are ready out in the elements. It’s a challenging one, but one that we’re ready for, and hopefully, over time, we can get the roads operational and back to somewhat normal.”
With the highway closed, Premier Andrew Furey said supply chain issues are fast becoming one of the government’s biggest concerns.
The concerns echo that of British Columbia, which just last week endured severe rainfall that choked critical rail and road lines, hindering the movement of goods throughout the province. B.C. is expecting another dumping of rain later this week.
Furrey said getting the Trans-Canada Highway “up and running again” will be high on the priority list so that goods and services can get to residents in a timely manner.
“But prior to that, the immediate concern is primarily for the health and safety of those that are being impacted by the current rain,” he said.
“We really want everybody to stay safe.”
‘It's about time we start preparing for heavier and longer rainfalls.’
Back in Codroy Valley, Vautier’s concern over the amount of rainfall is shared by Andrew Parsons, minister of industry, energy and technology.
Newfoundlanders are used to wind and rain, but are not used to massive amounts all at once, he said.
“The pictures I’m seeing … you try to prepare yourself for it, you think you’re ready for it. But it’s just startling when you see the sheer water level in some areas and just the power behind it,” Parsons said.
Vautier expressed concern about future weather events similar to the one Newfoundland is experiencing now.
“I’d never heard of an atmospheric river … I heard it first on the news in B.C. last week, and lo and behold, yesterday was the first time I heard for this area an atmospheric river,” he said Wednesday.
“It’s about time we start preparing for heavier and longer rainfalls.”
In the meantime, Vautier said he has a week’s-worth supply of food and water at his cottage and plans to ride it out and watch TV.
“There’s not much else I can do, I can’t go anywhere,” he said. “The truck is full of gas, but I can’t even get to the store.”
— with files from The Canadian Press.