Canadian troops are being sent to assist the recovery from the devastation of storm Fiona, which swept away houses, stripped off roofs and knocked out power across the country’s Atlantic provinces.
After surging north from the Caribbean as a hurricane, Fiona came ashore before dawn on Saturday as a post-tropical cyclone, battering Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Quebec with hurricane-strength winds, heavy rains and huge waves.
The defense minister, Anita Anand, said on Saturday that troops would help remove fallen trees and other debris, restore transportation links and do whatever else was required for as long as it took. She didn’t specify how many troops would be deployed.
Fiona was blamed for at least five deaths in the Caribbean, but there was no confirmation of any fatalities or serious injuries in Canada. Police said a woman who might have been swept away was listed as missing in the town of Channel-Port Aux Basques on the southern coast of Newfoundland.
Raging surf pounded Port Aux Basques and entire structures were washed into the sea.
“I’m seeing homes in the ocean, I’m seeing rubble floating all over the place – it’s complete and utter destruction,” René J. Roy, chief editor at Wreckhouse Press and a resident of the town, said in a phone interview. “There’s an apartment that is gone.”
Roy estimated between eight and 12 houses and buildings had washed into the sea. “It’s quite terrifying.”
The Royal Canadian mounted police said the town of 4,000 people was in a state of emergency with multiple electrical fires and residential flooding.
As the extent of damage became clear, the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, canceled his trip to Japan for the funeral for assassinated former prime minister Shinzo Abe.
“We are seeing devastating images coming out of Port aux Basques,” Trudeau said. “PEI [Prince Edward Island] has experienced storm damage like they’ve never seen. Cape Breton is being hit hard, too.
“There are people who see their houses destroyed, people who are very worried — we will be there for you.”
Mike Savage, mayor of Halifax, said the roof of an apartment building collapsed in Nova Scotia’s biggest city and officials had moved 100 people to an evacuation centre. He said no one was seriously hurt.
Provincial officials said other apartment buildings sustained significant damage.
More than 415,000 Nova Scotia Power customers – about 80% of the province of almost 1 million people – were affected by outages on Saturday.
More than 82,000 customers in the province of Prince Edward Island, about 95%, also lost power, while NB Power in New Brunswick reported 44,329 were without electricity.
Peter Gregg, president and chief executive of Nova Scotia Power, said unprecedented peak winds inflicted severe damage and the bad weather kept repair crews from going out at first. He said about 380,000 customers remained without power on Saturday afternoon as a weakening Fiona moved away over the Gulf of St Lawrence.
The Canadian Hurricane Centre tweeted that Fiona had the lowest pressure ever recorded for a storm making landfall in Canada. Forecasters had warned it could be the one of the most powerful storms to hit the country.
“We’re getting more severe storms more frequently,” Trudeau said.
More resilient infrastructure was needed to withstand extreme weather events, the prime minister said, adding that what was once a one-in-100 year storm might now arrive every few years because of climate change.
“Things are only getting worse,” Trudeau said.
A state of local emergency was declared in the Cape Breton regional municipality.
“There are homes that have been significantly damaged due to downed trees, big old trees falling down and causing significant damage,” the mayor, Amanda McDougall, told the Associated Press.
“We’re also seeing houses that their roofs have completely torn off, windows breaking in. There is a huge amount of debris in the roadways.”
The Nova Scotia premier, Tim Houston, said roads were washed out – including his own – and that an “incredible” amount of trees had been blown over.
“It is pretty devastating.”
The Prince Edward Island premier, Dennis King, said few communities were spared damage, with the devastation looking to be beyond anything they had seen before in the province.
The federal minister of emergency preparedness, Bill Blair, said there was very extensive damage at the airport in Sydney, Nova Scotia.