The economic toll is mounting after the third Atlantic storm in a month crashed through seawalls, flooded wharfs and damaged homes on Wednesday.
Ernie MacGillivray, the director of emergency services at New Brunswick’s Emergency Measures Organization, said the three storms might be among the most costly disasters in recent history in the province.
He said the total cost of the three floods — ranging from a deluge in southwestern New Brunswick to storm surges this week on the eastern coast — is difficult to estimate.
“As a whole this could well be the second largest event since 1973,” MacGillivray said, referring to the massive flooding of the Saint John River and its tributaries.
The flooding of the Saint John River in 2008 ended up costing New Brunswick about $100 million for government disaster relief, private insurance and other costs to citizens, he said.
“This event could be half as big as 2008 but we don’t really know yet,” he said.
All across the province, there’s also the cost of lost business days and damage not covered by insurance.
In Shediac, Home Hardware manager Ricky Babineau said retail outlets struggle when they’re on the wrong side of flooded streets.
His business evaporated during the crucial pre-Christmas period when rising sea waters blocked the usual local routes to his store.
“I would dare say a day like yesterday we would have lost $15,000 to $25,000 in sales,” he said in a telephone interview.
Along the eastern coast of the province, businesses were closed when winds reached over 100 kilometres an hour, roads crumbled and residents hunkered down.
Tourist attractions, such as the boardwalk structure of the Irving Eco-Centre on Bouctouche Bay were badly damaged.
A spokesman for J.D. Irving Ltd. said about half of the walkway — used to view rare Northumberland Strait sand dunes — was damaged.
By late afternoon, the Emergency Measures Organization in New Brunswick said that more than 600 reports of property damage had been received as a result of the coastal flooding and from the extreme rainfall on Dec. 13 and 14.
Thirty-five residents of the Indian Island First Nation were evacuated on Wednesday. Four people were taken out of homes in Rexton, N.B.
There were reports of 160 homes and businesses being damaged by the rising waters in communities ranging from Petit-Rocher, Brantville, Escuminac and Miramichi.
Elsewhere in Atlantic Canada, public safety officials reported less severe incidents of coastal flooding, but storm surge warnings remained in place for coastal areas along the Northumberland Strait and in Cape Breton.
Environment Canada said Cape Breton had received 317 millimetres of rain so far this month — three times higher than historic averages over the past three decades.
The northerly storm barrelled on through Prince Edward Island, where it toppled trees onto cars, caused rivers to overflow and impeded travel.
David Ganong, a business leader in New Brunswick whose family has operated a chocolate factory in St. Stephen for more than 100 years, said the cumulative impact on the region’s economy includes both damage and lost opportunity.
Ganong, 67, said he watched from the high ground of his offices as the retail areas of the community of St. Stephen were flooded.
“By my estimate something well north of 50 per cent of the retail volume in the town was flooded out and closed,” he said.
“In the biggest sale week of the year, it’s devastating to be shut down.”
MacGillivray said his officials have been troubled by the land erosion that has accompanied storm surges.
“We’ve seen backyards of properties that have lost tens of metres of land,” said MacGillivray.
MacGillivray said higher sea levels combined with warmer sea temperatures lead him to believe similar events will continue to arrive on the region’s coasts.
“We’re all going to have to adapt as a region, as a jurisdiction, and communities will have to take into account the increased risks from climate change,” he said.
Marine Atlantic scheduled a sailing of its ferry service from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia for Wednesday, but then delayed departure because the seas remained too rough.
The ferry service says it rebooked passengers for departure from Port aux Basques to North Sydney, weather permitting.