Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said it was “really heartbreaking” to see the extensive damage post-tropical storm Fiona brought to Cape Breton, after a tour of some of the hardest hit areas of the island on Sunday.
Fiona hammered Atlantic Canada Friday night into Saturday, causing widespread power outages, washing out roads and downing trees.
As of 1 p.m., more than 252,000 Nova Scotia Power customers were without power — and for some, it could be days before the lights are back on. Power crews from neighbouring provinces and Maine have arrived to help.
Houston confirmed crews from Maine were temporarily stopped at the border due to the ArriveCAN COVID-19 pre-screening app.
“Fiona definitely left a mark on the province,” Houston told reporters during a stop in Glace Bay, along with some of his cabinet ministers.
He said the priority at this point is to reconnect power and find safe shelter for everyone.
“We know that there’s a lot of people who are without right now. Our local MLA here, John White, tells me he knows of dozens of families right now that don’t have any place to go. So we’re concerned about that. We’ll do everything we can to support them,” said Houston.
The province’s request for federal financial aid and military support have both been approved, and help is currently on the ground or on the way.
“Just the effort that’s required to move the trees, to move the brash, it’s a huge undertaking,” he said.
“I think, in Dorian, there was somewhere around a thousand military personnel that came to support Nova Scotians. We’re hopeful that will be at least in that range this time.”
He said once the clean-up and recovery efforts are taken care of, there will be a closer look at improvements the province can make with infrastructure and communications services, which proved to be a problem during Fiona.
State of emergency still in effect
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Local states of emergencies were declared in Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) and Victoria County on the island.
CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall said the state of emergency remains in place for seven days because it’s simply unsafe for people to be travelling around.
“As we get to understand truly the depth of the damage in our communities will be able to revisit that,” she said.
“Right now, the importance of that local state of emergency is that we’re trying to keep people away from dangerous situations, away from the areas that are really, really precarious.”
She added that even driving through the Glace Bay area, there are active power lines down.
“We don’t want people walking into them. The winds can pick up again. We know that there’s going to be a bit of rain coming in. So this local state of emergency is very, very important to adhere to right now.”
More than 200 displaced
McDougall said more than 200 people have been displaced from their homes by the storm in her area — including an apartment building with over 100 residents — and the number could grow.
“Unfortunately, as this progresses, we’re going to see that number increase as people get in — insurance folks, what have you — to really kind of dig in and see what the damages to those buildings that still are in a precarious situation, there are going to be places that are deemed evacuation necessary,” she said.
She said it’s been an “all hands on deck” approach, with the municipality working with its provincial and federal counterparts before the storm even arrived.
Initially, Centre 200 in Sydney had been chosen as an emergency shelter. The Canadian Red Cross had already set up cots.
However, the arena lost power and a backup generator system failed.
CBRM then partnered with the Coast Guard College and the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre to set up two medium to long-term shelters.
McDougall said the municipality is now in talks with the Salvation Army to bring in community food trucks, as supplies begin to run low among residents.
“We’re kind of creeping up to that 72-hour mark. What are we going to do? Because we know most of our stores here, they don’t have power. We don’t have access to replenishing any of those supplies,” she said.
“So Salvation Army’s partnership with the United Way here is to identify where the worst hit areas are and create that schedule of community food trucks to offer those nourishing meals.”
McDougall thanked all the community organizations and leaders who have been working together to help out.
“Amidst the chaos, there’s a lot of beautiful things happening.”