Cape Breton gets hit hard by Fiona: ‘the last 24 hours have felt surreal’

Click to play video: 'Storm Fiona: Nova Scotia resident comes across vehicle on collapsed road in Cape Breton'
Storm Fiona: Nova Scotia resident comes across vehicle on collapsed road in Cape Breton
Robert Mackay near Dundee, N.S., in Cape Breton says he heard someone "hollering hello" at 5 a.m. on Saturday. He got dressed, went to investigate and found a person stranded in a car on a collapsed road above a flowing river. He was told the person was picked up by a volunteer firefighter and taken to hospital with minor injuries – Sep 24, 2022

Local states of emergency were declared in Cape Breton Regional Municipality and Victoria County early Saturday morning as a powerful storm continues to lash the island, causing widespread power outage, road closures, and structural damage.

Post-tropical storm Fiona arrived in Nova Scotia in the early hours, and passed through Cape Breton throughout the morning before reaching Quebec Lower North Shore and Southeastern Labrador by later Saturday.

CBRM said the state of emergency means residents should shelter in place.

Premier Tim Houston said the province has requested military assistance and federal disaster assistance – saying he knows the damage has been particularly bad in Cape Breton.

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“Certainly encourage everyone in CBRM and Victoria County specifically to stay off the roads, only call 911 if you truly have an emergency situation,” Houston said during an afternoon news conference.

“I know from the people I’ve been talking to around the province, certainly in that area, I hear a lot of shock in their voices. And I share that. It’s shocking the damage that we’re seeing.”

Workers survey damage to a street in Sydney’s Ashby neighbourhood. Communications Nova Scotia

During the same conference, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage read a statement from CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall, who was unable to join because of connectivity issues due to the storm.

“The last 24 hours have at times felt surreal,” she said.

“We are still very much in the thick of the hurricane, with wind speeds maintaining significant levels and our crews on the ground trying to treat our emergency situations and take care of our neighbours in need. Power outages are vast, cell phone service is now unreliable, and travel around the region hazardous.”

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She said hundreds were displaced by the storm but some comfort centres have not been able to open because of damage.

While conditions are still poor and there was much work ahead, she said it was “inspiring to see the community band together.”

‘Extremely extensive damage’

Peter Gregg, Nova Scotia Power’s CEO, described Cape Breton’s situation as “extremely extensive damage.”

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He said the utility is opening up a satellite emergency operation in Sydney, to help with repair efforts.

Gregg added that some customers may see outages last for “multiple days.”

“We’ll get at the restoration as quickly and safely as we can but recognizing the damage we’re seeing, I want to say there will be outages for multiple days.”

The situation overnight was dangerous, and frightening for some on the island.

Robert Mackay said he “heard someone hollering hello” at 5 a.m. from his home, near Dundee, N.S.

“I got dressed and went to investigate and found the vehicle like this,” he told Global News by email.

What he found was an SUV that had gone through a washed out road at the St. George’s Channel in Richmond County.

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“(I) was told that person was picked up by a volunteer firefighter and was taken to local hospital with minor injuries,” he said.

He said he and a neighbour blocked the road until emergency personnel arrived.

The driver of this vehicle in Cape Breton was taken to hospital by a volunteer firefighter, according to Robert Mackay, who responded to the scene. Submitted/RobsRiver Lawn Services

Elsewhere on Cape Breton, the wind has caused severe damage to some homes, forcing families to flee.

“We’ve had several structural failures,” said Christina Lamey, a spokeswoman for the region. She confirmed that no one was hurt.

“The key message from that is for people to stay at home,” Lamey said.

“The first responders are really stretched right now. We want people to stay off the roads. Most of the roads have hazards on them, with power lines down and trees down as well.”

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The Canadian Red Cross has a shelter in operation at Centre 200.

Arlene and Robert Grafilo fled to Centre 200 with their two children after a massive tree fell on their duplex apartment.

“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.

“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.

Cape Breton Regional Police said in an afternoon update there were 70 roads across CBRM that were “compromised and impassible.”

“Extra vehicles create more hazards for emergency responders. Please shelter in place and stay off the roads until Public Works and Nova Scotia crews can clean up for safer driving conditions,” police said in a news release.

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The Canso Causeway, which is the only entry and exit point to the island, was closed to high-sided vehicles from about 8 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, the Cabot Trail was closed at various points due to washouts and unsafe conditions. Closures include:

  • At Warren Lake
  • From Neils Harbour to Ingonish (Still Brook)
  • At French Mountain
  • At the west entrance to the park just north of Chéticamp
  • Pleasant Bay to Chéticamp (due to rock slides)
Damage is widespread in Sydney, N,S,. Anthony Farnell/Global News

CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall sent a tweet in the overnight hours encouraging Cape Bretoners to “stay strong.”

She told The Associated Press on Saturday that the damage is already evident in the municipality, including roofs torn off and debris from trees littering roadways.

“There is a lot of damage to belongings and structures but no injuries to people as of this point. Again we’re still in the midst of this,” she said.

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“It’s still terrifying. I’m just sitting here in my living room and it feels like the patio doors are going to break in with those big gusts. It’s loud and it is shocking.”

— with files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press 

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