Provincial and municipal officials are urging Nova Scotians to take precautions ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Fiona, which is expected to bring heavy rainfall and wind gusts approaching 140 kilometres an hour.
The hurricane is tracking northward into Atlantic Canada, with impact expected late Friday and Saturday as it becomes a tropical storm.
“This storm is going to hit us folks,” said Halifax Mayor Mike Savage Thursday afternoon during a media briefing.
“It’s going to hit us in the face, so we have to be ready.”
John Lohr, the minister responsible for the provincial Emergency Management Office, said the province’s response will be “around the clock” and “all hands on deck.”
He said the province has already been in talks with the federal government about possible assistance after the storm and given the military a “heads up.”
“Fiona will impact our province and it has the potential to be very dangerous,” said Lohr.
“The time to get ready is now before Fiona hits tomorrow evening.”
He noted the storm is expected to bring severe and damaging wind gusts, high waves and storm surges, as well as “dangerous rainfall rates and prolonged power outages.”
In fact, Bob Robichaud, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, referred to the storm as “historic” several times during the conference.
“It’s going to be a storm that everybody remembers, once it’s all said and done.”
Cape Breton bracing for direct hit
The storm is expected to track right over Cape Breton, and Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Amanda McDougall said her primary concern is the causeway, which is the island’s only entry and exit point.
“Right now, Cape Breton as an island is in the direct impact zone,” she said.
“We have been through these types of events before but my fear is not to this extent.”
The concern is so great for certain types of homes, including RVs and older buildings, that the municipality’s emergency services team is discussing possible pre-storm shelters.
“With the amount of wind that is anticipated, there is great danger with buildings like that being damaged by the wind,” McDougall said.
She said any decisions on shelters would be communicated with residents in the hours ahead.
Power outages ‘almost guaranteed’
Nova Scotia Power said more than 800 people are being mobilized ahead of the storm.
The utility has also been in contact with NB Power in New Brunswick and American counterparts to see if they would be able to help if needed.
“We are not taking any shortcuts with respect to resources. We want to be ready for the extreme wind that we’re seeing in the forecast right now,” said Dave Pickles, Nova Scotia Power’s chief operating officer.
He said outages are “almost guaranteed” and admitted that this time of year is especially difficult for storm response.,
“The trees are in full bloom and we kind of talk about them as being sails: they catch the wind. The ground is a little soft so there is more risk in downed trees,” he explained.
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He said teams will respond to outages as quickly as it is safe to do so, noting that they “generally” like to see winds under 80 kilometres an hour before moving line trucks.
Stay safe and care for others
Officials urged residents to take appropriate precautions — such as securing property and preparing emergency kits with three days worth of food, water and clothing.
People are also advised to check on neighbours.
“You should be prepared for downed trees, extended power outages and local flood conditions,” said Savage.
Both he and McDougall reminded storm watchers to stay home, and away from the waters where strong surges are expected.
“During the storm, you need to find a place that is safe and you need to stay there,” said McDougall.
“Getting outside to look and engage in this storm is going to be incredibly, incredibly dangerous.”
Savage said Halifax Ground Search and Rescue would be conducting wellness checks on any unhoused residents who choose not to go to one of the city’s emergency shelter locations.
A shelter will be set up the Dartmouth East Community Centre, with room for 60 people, and another set up in Lower Sackville. Transportation and food will be provided.
Halifax Regional Municipality will also have four evacuation centres, which will start opening at 8 p.m. on Friday.
They will remain open until the storm passes or as needed. People can come to the centres at anytime during the storm, but should only travel when safe to do so.
The centres are:
- Canada Games Centre, 26 Thomas Raddall Drive, Halifax
- Acadia Centre, 636 Sackville Drive, Lower Sackville
- St Margaret’s Centre, 12 Westwood Boulevard, Upper Tantallon
- Musquodoboit Harbour Community Centre, 7900 Highway 7, Musquodoboit Harbour