Lineups form outside grocery stores in St. John’s, N.L., on 5th day of emergency

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Emptying kitchen cupboards were restocked in St. John’s, N.L., on Tuesday, as residents lined up at grocery stores open for the first time since last week’s massive blizzard.

The lineup at one Sobey’s store stretched around the parking lot and out onto the street by the time doors opened at 10 a.m.

The city had advised people to buy enough food to last 48 hours, but some would-be shoppers still turned away upon seeing the epic queue.

Within 20 minutes, there was little room to move inside the store as people filled their carts with essential foods and household items, leaving some shelves nearly bare.

The openings at Sobey’s and other grocers occurred on the fifth day of a state of emergency in the provincial capital, as cleanup continued from a storm last Friday that brought 76 centimetres of snow to some areas.

The state of emergency was to continue Wednesday, though the city said some restrictions would be lifted.

Grocery stores and pharmacies will be allowed to open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, as well as family doctors and specialist clinics in order to take pressure off hospital emergency rooms.

Oil companies will also be permitted to deliver home heating fuel.

Hundreds of Armed Forces personnel have been brought in to help in the effort, and more were expected to arrive on Tuesday.

Amid the slow return to everyday life, police announced one troubling development: the search for 26-year-old Joshua Wall, who went missing at the height of the blizzard, has been suspended.

RCMP spokeswoman Glenda Power said in an email that despite “exhaustive efforts” over the last four days, Wall — who was last seen leaving his home for a friend’s house at the height of the storm on Friday — has not been found.

“Bay Roberts RCMP continue to urge residents in the area to check their properties, including backyards, sheds, barns and other outbuildings, as well as vehicles, in the event Joshua sought shelter there,” Power said.

At Sobey’s on Tuesday, one St. John’s resident said she and her husband walked down early with a plan to beat the crowd, but arrived to find others had the same idea.

Doris Squires said she was looking forward to a restocked kitchen Tuesday night.

“I’m going to put on a pot of fresh meat soup, if I can get some fresh meat,” she said.

Several taxi companies offered free rides to seniors and people with disabilities who needed to pick up supplies.

Just around the corner from Sobey’s, there was a sense of relief at The Gathering Place, a service centre providing meals, warmth and other basic needs for low-income residents.

Ashley MacDonald, director of social programs, said the state of emergency has been hard on guests who rely on the centre for food and toiletries and couldn’t afford to stock up ahead of the storm.

Many were without power or any means to keep up with updates from the city, MacDonald said, noting some people approached her in the street during the last few days asking where they could find food.

“They’re in the dark about what everybody else knows,” MacDonald said.

About 70 people showed up on Monday to eat and to warm up, MacDonald said, and more than a dozen took home canned supplies for other community members who were housebound.

MacDonald said there was a sense of relief that day as people were finally fed, saw their friends’ faces and swapped stories after an isolating and precarious stretch.

She said planning ahead for warming centres and access to food should be a priority during such weather events in order to better support vulnerable members of the community.

Scott Seabrook, who lives in a bedsit nearby, was at The Gathering Place for a meal Tuesday afternoon. He said he’d been relying on the centre since moving to the city nearly a month ago for a job opportunity that fell through.

Seabrook said staff sent him home with some extra canned food Thursday night, warning they might be shutting down for a couple of days.

“I’ve been living on canned goods since then, and I shared it with some of the people in my room,” he said.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said about 450 troops — including some 175 reservists — would be in Newfoundland on Tuesday to help the province dig out from the storm.

Premier Dwight Ball said Tuesday afternoon that the Armed Forces had completed more than 160 assigned tasks so far, and the call volume of requests for assistance had been “extremely high.”

The city said it would allow the St. John’s International Airport to resume flights Wednesday at 5 a.m., and taxis would have permission to resume operations at midnight.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2020.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

Newfoundland

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