Homeowner George MacDonald describes the moment when several trees landed on his home in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia on Sunday September 25, 2022. A day after post-tropical storm Fiona left a trail of destruction through Atlantic Canada and eastern Quebec, residents of a coastal town in western Newfoundland continued to pick through wreckage strewn across their community, easily the most damaged area in the region. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Vaughan Merchant

Fiona fallout: Economic losses being tallied as soldiers arrive for cleanup duty

Phyllis Carr’s voice broke with emotion as she surveyed the damage to the historic town of Stanley Bridge, a small community on the north shore of Prince Edward Island.

“It’s very sad for those of us who lived here all of our lives and our parents lived here,” she said, taking in a scene that has become all too familiar in towns and villages across Atlantic Canada and eastern Quebec battered and drenched by post-tropical storm Fiona on the weekend.

“Our life is going to change now around our harbour, and our marina and our fishing community and our fishermen.”

By the time Fiona left Stanley Bridge on Saturday, the main road was washed out, debris was strewn everywhere, and the town’s prospects had suddenly dimmed, mainly because of damage to fishing boats that were picked up by a storm surge and dropped in the middle of the road.

Across the Maritimes, eastern Quebec and in southwestern Newfoundland, the economic impact of the storm’s wrath is still being tallied.

And electricity has yet to be restored to 266,000 homes and businesses in Atlantic Canada. At the height of the storm on Saturday, more than 500,000 were in the dark, including 80 per cent of Nova Scotia Power’s customers and 90 per cent of P.E.I.

Even as crews worked around the clock to repair downed lines, some utility companies warned it could be several days before the power is back on for everyone.

Meanwhile, members of the Canadian Armed Forces are being deployed to help with recovery efforts. Federal Defence Minister Anita Anand confirmed Sunday that Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. would each be getting about 100 troops, with some already in place.

In Stanley Bridge, the bridge for which the town is named was overwhelmed by floodwaters on Saturday morning as Fiona thrashed the area, said Carr, owner of Carr’s Oyster Bar. In nearby Summerside, the winds were gusting at 140 kilometres per hour. At East Point, P.E.I., the winds reached 149 km/h — as powerful as a Category 1 hurricane.

On Sunday, the owner of Graham’s Deep Sea Fishing, Marvin Graham, sat atop a green floating dock that was picked up by the invading waves and dumped on the town’s wharf. Outbuildings were scattered like toys nearby. And Graham’s boat, Greenwitch, was among those shoved ashore and left stranded at an odd angle.

“The tide was so high that the boat actually floated all over top to these rocks,” he said.

Nearby, at least five cottages were washed away by Fiona, one of the most powerful storms to ever strike the region.

As cottage owner Rick Callaghan inspected the mess left behind, he tried to put things into perspective.

“It’s a cottage,” he said. Callaghan was carrying an empty golf bag and a bike helmet when he spotted a keepsake among the detritus. “That’s Captain Salty!” he said, picking up a small painted figure of a sailor. “Arrrgh,” he said with a laugh. But he also expressed concern for the future.

“These storms are only going to get worse with climate change,” he said.

In Ottawa, Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said Sunday that the immediate need is to provide food and shelter for those displaced by the storm, which is why the federal government is matching donations to the Canadian Red Cross.

He said Ottawa will work with provinces to determine what is needed in terms of financial assistance. New Brunswick has already announced a disaster financial assistance program. Nova Scotia was expected to do the same today.

Blair said the first priority is the restoration of power and utilities, as well as clearing roadways to distribute essential supplies.

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