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‘There’ll be no turkey’: Sombre Thanksgiving for Atlantic Canadians hit hard by Fiona

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia braces for rebuilding challenges after Fiona destruction'
Nova Scotia braces for rebuilding challenges after Fiona destruction
Hurricane Fiona has highlighted the widespread labour shortage the province is facing. The Construction Association Of Nova Scotia says thousands of additional workers will be needed to fix broken roadways and complete ongoing projects. Graeme Benjamin has the details. – Oct 5, 2022

Darlene Hughes will turn 65 on Sunday, but it won’t be quite the birthday — or the Thanksgiving — she had hoped for.

Hughes had planned a small party at her Charlottetown home with friends and family to celebrate her age milestone and the holiday — but that was before the powerful wind gusts from post-tropical storm Fiona tore down power lines across the province.

Instead, she said in an interview Thursday, she’ll be spending the weekend coping without light or heat and cleaning friends’ homes for some extra cash. And for the first time, she and her husband will not be enjoying a Thanksgiving meal.

“Well, Thanksgiving,” she said, her voice breaking with emotion, “I always cook a turkey. And it’s always my birthday weekend. And there’ll be no turkey.”

Read more: Tens of thousands in P.E.I. still without power 10 days after Fiona: ‘Doesn’t seem right’

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It’s a story that’s playing out across Atlantic Canada: the holiday weekend has been dampened for thousands in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia who are still without power — almost two weeks since Fiona hit on Sept. 24. About 4,000 homes and businesses in Nova Scotia spent their 13th day without power on Thursday, while almost 9,000 homes and businesses were still in the dark in P.E.I.

Hughes said she and her husband also have to cope with the mess the storm left on their property. “We’re too old for this right now — lugging branches and lifting branches and fixing fences. We’ve lost all our fences in the back.”

On Thursday morning, Hughes’s husband called a hotel to book a table for Saturday night so they can celebrate her birthday, but the cost was daunting. “We can’t afford it,” she said. “But he put it on his credit card and he said, ‘We’ll deal with it later.'”

Read more: $16M in Red Cross Fiona donations still haven’t been distributed to impacted residents

The couple are on a fixed income and have spent most of their money on food and gas since the storm. They had to throw out almost everything in their refrigerator and can’t cook at home.

“We ate breakfast one day, and it was $44 to have breakfast, and that was just a breakfast like a bacon and eggs,” she said.

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“I got a coffee and it was almost $5 for a coffee. It was $4.25 for a medium coffee. Like really? Like, that’s just crazy.”

She paused.

“I’d rather drink vodka,” she said with a laugh.

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotians on day 11 with no power after Fiona at wits end'
Nova Scotians on day 11 with no power after Fiona at wits end

About 350 kilometres to the east, in Sydney, N.S., Robert Grafilo said he expects to have some sort of Thanksgiving dinner with the friends in whose home he and his family are living. Maybe even “a few drinks,” he added.

But Thanksgiving dinner will come with a side of anxiety because Grafilo, a 45-year-old retail worker who grew up in the Philippines, needs to find a new home after the duplex in which he lived was crushed by a maple tree during the storm.

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After the building was evacuated, Grafilo, his wife and their two boys, aged 10 and three, spent part of their savings on hotels for a week. When the power returned in parts of the city, close friends within the small Filipino community took the couple into their home in the Whitney Pier neighbourhood.

“What a time for this holiday (Thanksgiving) to come, as we are looking for a home. It would be normal, if this storm hadn’t happened,” Grafilo said.

Read more: Climate changed: Fiona demonstrated wild hurricane future, and need to adapt

Jhoy Agbada said she and her husband and their two children wanted to help the Grafilos by giving them a temporary place to stay. “I know that though they are smiling, they are heartbroken inside,” she said.

“It’s like I just want them to feel that they’re not alone in this kind of situation …. We will celebrate it and have a simple gathering for Thanksgiving. We should still celebrate it because we should be thankful they are safe.”

‘I’m just fed up’

A few kilometres away, in the Ashby neighbourhood of downtown Sydney, Sona Sudharsan; his partner, Sandra Sudharsan; and their infant boy are also planning a Thanksgiving meal, though a tree is still leaning against the home they rent.

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They’ll be giving thanks for the return of power, for the members of the city’s Indian community and for the Salvation Army, which delivered food during the dark periods following the storm.

“After a rough few weeks, we need some relaxation,” Sona Sudharsan said.

Grafilo said he is thankful for friends and family who dropped off food and clothing during his family’s sojourn in hotels. “We’re thankful we’re still alive, safe and sound. That’s what matters.”

Hughes said she’s grateful for her husband and her health.

“Well, I guess I shouldn’t be doing so much complaining,” she said. “And I’m not hungry. And I’m not cold right now. But I’m fed up. I’m just fed up.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2022.

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