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Fiona washes away homes across Atlantic provinces and eastern Quebec

Jan 26, 2024

Federal government will deploy members of the Canadian Armed Forces at the request of Nova Scotia.

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Post-tropical storm Fiona, one of the strongest storms to ever strike Eastern Canada, left a trail of destruction in its wake early Saturday before lingering over western Newfoundland, where a record-breaking storm surge destroyed several homes.

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The devastation sent local officials scrambling amid widespread power outages and washed out roads, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government would be deploying members of the Canadian Armed Forces at the request of Nova Scotia and will do the same for other provinces that ask for help.

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Police said they received reports of two people blown away when their residences collapsed during the storm.

According to Corporal Jolene Garland, of the Newfoundland and Labrador RCMP, a woman was rescued by fellow residents of Port-aux-Basques, at the southwestern tip of Newfoundland, and was believed to be in good condition after receiving medical attention.

A second woman from the same town was apparently swept into the ocean and is believed to be missing. "We haven't been able to verify a status on that woman," Garland said. It's too dangerous to conduct a search in the area.

The Canadian Hurricane Centre in Dartmouth, N.S., said Fiona set a record for the lowest-ever barometric pressure for a tropical storm making landfall in Canada. The recorded pressure at Hart Island was 931.6 millibars.

Trudeau delayed, then finally cancelled his planned departure for Japan to attend the funeral of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. "We are working with the provinces and we are ready to help if needed. Be careful," he tweeted. "Our team continues to monitor Hurricane Fiona and the situation in Atlantic Canada and Quebec."

He said he would visit as soon as possible, but does not want to displace emergency teams focused on important work on the ground.

The federal government will match any donations to the Canadian Red Cross by individuals and corporations over the next 30 days, Trudeau said.

The storm is forcing residents of the Îles-de-la-Madeleine to limit their drinking water consumption, Deputy Mayor Richard Leblanc said Saturday.

Not as much water as usual can be pumped because of power outages, he said: "It is better to save now just in case."

Gusts of 126 km/h were recorded on the islands by Environment Canada on Saturday morning, with waves up to eight metres and 92 millimetres of rain. The agency said winds are expected to ease very slowly during the day.

This type of storm always causes a strong undertow, Environment Canada said.

Roads, including Route 199, have been completely closed to traffic since Saturday morning.

"There are many obstacles in the way. There are trees. There are stones. There are materials that have flown away. There are overflows, floods. That's why we’re asking you to stay off the road this morning. You are asked to avoid any travel," Leblanc said at a press conference.

Quebec's transport department said it is removing debris from Route 199 and if things go well they hope to reopen it during the night.

Leblanc said 22 people had to flee their homes and another six found shelter with others.

"We have been evacuating since this morning, from the early hours of the morning, especially in the La Grave and La Pointe de Havre-aux-Maisons sector," said Leblanc, who asked citizens who do not feel not safe to call 911.

He said that while the winds are expected to calm down, the storm is not over and that the winds will pick up again at the end of the afternoon.

Two submerged coastal sectors were evacuated by 9 a.m., tweeted PQ MNA Joël Arseneau, who represents Îles-de-la-Madeleine. "Driving rain and sustained winds … debris on the road network, fishermen worried about their ships. No, the storm is not over."

The view from our office window right now. #nlwx #HurricaneFiona #PortauxBasques #Newfoundland

One of the two 225-kilometre telecommunications cables linking the Îles-de-la-Madeleine to the mainland, COGIM 1, was damaged by the storm.

"According to our telemetry, there seems to be a cut 14 kilometres from the shore," said Nicholas Payant, vice-president of connectivity and reliability at Bell. He said a second cable has taken over and services are uninterrupted. A microwave link with Cape Breton, installed last year by Bell and the Quebec government, will take over if the second cable is also damaged.

Télébec and Bell Mobility report no loss of service. Generators have been deployed where there have been power losses.

Fiona's getting real. I heard a strange sound — a hum — and went out on our front verandah. Startled by this transformer explosion nearby. Happened about 3 minutes ago. 😳 #HurricaneFiona

According to the Info-Panes website, about 394 customers were without power in the Gaspésie and Îles-de-la-Madeleine regions at 7 a.m. Sunday. That number had dropped from 7,000 at noon on Saturday.

In a press briefing, Hydro-Québec's communications adviser, Ariane Doucet-Michaud, said 10 teams are on the ground.

"It's mainly to patrol for repair work, so they’re going to target on the network, it's going to be where the highest priority places are, what they’re going to need as equipment. They are preparing in advance so that when the winds drop, they can go and intervene," she said.

The Quebec Ministry of Public Security is working with the municipality of Îles-de-la-Madeleine.

"The municipality is very well prepared, the emergency measures plan is in force and effective. The resources are mobilized, the disaster service centres are open, have the necessary equipment to take care of the people who have been evacuated or who will be evacuated, "said Félix Caron, civil security adviser at the ministry.

The winds and the storm surge caused a lot of damage in Îles-de-la-Madeleine. In addition to breaks on the Hydro-Québec network, buildings on the coast were damaged.

"The church of L’Étang-du-Nord, which lost its roof, is among things we’re not used to experiencing," said a resident of L’Étang-du-Nord, Anne-Marie Potvin.

She considers herself lucky to be in a spared area, sheltered on the island of Cap-aux-Meules.

"There, we are a bit in the eye of the hurricane, we can say that the situation has calmed down all the same, but it is starting to pick up a little. It's not over at all," she said shortly before 2 p.m.

Winds of 60 km/h, gusting to 90 km/h, were recorded along the Gaspé coast Saturday morning. The municipality of Percé closed Route 132 between Belvédère Rd. and Route Lemieux in L’Anse-à-Beaufils, 40 kilometres south of Gaspé, because of fallen Hydro-Québec poles. It reopened in early afternoon.

At least 53 service interruptions were reported in Gaspésie on the Info-Pannes site, affecting several thousand Hydro-Québec customers.

Images published by media outlets showed the Château Dubuc, a heritage building in Chandler, did not survive the storm. The building, built in 1916 and noted for its architectural value, had already been put at risk by large tides. Quebec culture minister Nathalie Roy had judged the building "condemned" because of the tides that had penetrated its walls in 2019.

#Fiona is moving northeastward through the Gulf of St. Lawrence as hurricane force wind gusts continue over parts of southwestern Newfoundland. Find more information at:

According to the latest Environment Canada bulletin, the system should head north during the day to reach the Lower North Shore near Blanc-Sablon. Coastal flooding is possible throughout the St. Lawrence estuary and on the Lower North Shore.

People in Fiona's path have been advised to have provisions for a 72-hour period.

Premier ⁦@francoislegault⁩ tours the Quebec energency measures centre for update on tropical storm Fiona. ⁦

CAQ Leader François Legault and Québec solidaire co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois suspended their Quebec election campaigns Friday night as Fiona was bearing down on Quebec. Legault resumed his campaign after updating Quebecers on the storm situation. He said people whose insurance will not completely cover storm damage will receive help from the province.

The hurricane is a reminder that one of Quebec's "national priorities" over the coming years should be adapting infrastructure to climate change, Nadeau-Dubois said.

Quebecers are used to associating hurricanes with things that happen in other countries, he said. "It's a brutal reminder, a rough awakening. Seeing catastrophes like these, there will be more and more as the climate changes," he said at a stop in Lévis before continuing on to Rimouski.

Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade said she was closely monitoring the situation and that her thoughts were with storm victims. She also said the storm was a clear consequence of climate change.

Conservative Party of Quebec Leader Eric Duhaime's team sent an agenda for Saturday that included a press conference and campaigning in his Quebec City-area riding.

Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon suspended his campaign Friday because of flu-like symptoms as he awaited the result of a PCR test for COVID-19.

Sending well wishes to #AtlanticCanada as they prepare for #HurricaneFiona! Many of our sharks are in this region. It'll be interesting to see how they react to the storm. Will they stay deep or head offshore? We'll be watching their movements closely

Brian Button, the mayor of Port-aux-Basques, N.L., said houses were swept away by high winds and rising waters. In a Facebook Live, he urged the population not to venture outside and recommended the residents most at risk to take refuge in higher areas.

"Anyone who has been told to leave their house, do it! There are no ifs or buts, you have to go."

He warned that those trying to stay at home risk finding themselves isolated.

"We can replace a house, but not you. You must go. Already houses have been swept away, so you have to go now."

The RCMP issued a similar message: "Several electrical fires, flooded residences and washed-out roads are keeping first responders busy. Obey evacuation orders and find a safe place to weather the storm."

Several homes and an apartment building were dragged out to sea, Rene Roy, editor-in-chief of Wreckhouse Weekly in Port aux Basques, told CBC News.

"This is hands down the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen in my life," Roy said, describing many homes as "just a pile of rubble in the ocean right now."

"There is an apartment building that's literally gone. There are entire streets that are gone," he added.

On Saturday afternoon, three quarters of Nova Scotians were without power.

Halifax Stanfield International Airport reported gusts of 109 km/h at 3 a.m. A gust even reached 135 km/h in the mouth of Halifax Harbour. The city evacuated two apartment buildings that were severely damaged, including one with a collapsed roof, leaving 160 people without homes.

Premier Tim Houston said the province has requested military and disaster assistance from the federal government and support from Ontario through a mutual aide agreement, he said. The province is urgently working to get power, phone and internet service back up and running, he said.

Peter MacKay, a former foreign minister and defence minister who lives in Nova Scotia, said he and his family had a long night and said the winds were still raging in the afternoon.

"We had put everything we could out of harm's way, but the house got hammered pretty hard. Lost lots of shingles, heavy water damage in ceilings, walls, our deck is destroyed. A garage that I was building blew away," MacKay said in an email to The Associated Press.

"Never seen anything like it. Lived through some crazy weather," he added.

In Sydney, N.S., Cape Breton's largest city, the wind reached 141 km/h at 3 a.m., causing severe damage to some homes and forcing families to flee.

A spokeswoman for the Cape Breton Regional Municipalitiy, Christina Lamey, confirmed damage to structures, but said no one was injured there. She said it was unclear how many houses had been damaged. There were reports of collapsed walls and missing roofs.

"Front-line responders are everywhere. We want people to avoid the roads," she said. "Most of the roads are currently dangerous. Several trees and power lines have fallen."

"We heard a loud noise outside. We then realized that walls were cracking. We looked outside and saw trees falling, said Arlene Grafilo, who had taken refuge with several dozen people at the Centre 200 arena in Sydney. We were imprisoned and couldn't even open the doors and windows. So we decided to call 911. The kids were scared."

Conditions weren't much better in P.E.I., where officials recorded wind gusts of up to 110 km/h around 2:30 p.m. local time.

That was down from levels of up to 170 km/h recorded earlier in the day, and Premier Dennis King said the island was also hit by two-metre storm surges as well as widespread flooding and downed power lines, leaving about 95 per cent of provincial residents in the dark.

King praised Islanders for heeding warnings to stay indoors, noting authorities have received no reports of injuries.

But while he said it's still too early to fully gauge the extent of damage across the Island, he said early indications already make it clear that Fiona dealt an unprecedented blow to the province.

"It seems that few communities, large or small, have been spared," King said at an afternoon news conference.

In Charlottetown, where the city urged residents to stay off the streets, Fiona left a trail of debris, downed power lines and uprooted and splintered trees in its wake. Gas pumps were pulled from foundations, power lines twisted and fallen and mailboxes blown over.

Lena Caseley, a Charlottetown resident who has been living in the Parkdale neighbourhood since 1993, said she's never seen anything that compares with the Fiona's fury and destruction.

On Saturday afternoon, Caseley surveyed the damage on her street. "It's going to be a long time recovering from this," she said.

Steve Clements, who spent the night at Jack Blanchard Hall, one of Charlottetown's temporary shelters, said he was thankful to be "out of the elements." He said it was loud and hard to sleep, but "it's better than the alternative. It's better than being out."

The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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