Red Deer’s mayor remembers storms hitting Newfoundland when he was growing up in that province, but they were minor compared to the ferocious winds and 12-metre-high waves that bashed the coastal community of Port aux Basques during post-tropical storm Fiona.
“There’s a local expression in Newfoundland for the winds that come into Port aux Basques. They’re called ‘Wreckhouse winds.’ This however exceeded anything that any of the locals have experienced,” said Mayor Ken Johnston who left the Maritimes a day ahead of the storm after a 10-day visit.
The storm that tore through Atlantic Canada over the weekend was one of the strongest storms Canada’s East Coast has ever faced.
So far, one death is being blamed on the storm. The RCMP in western Newfoundland confirmed Sunday that a 73-year-old woman in Port aux Basques died after a record-breaking storm surge flooded her home, smashed her basement and swept her out to sea. Her body was recovered Sunday.
Johnston was saddened by the heartbreaking effects of the storm.
“Having grown up by the ocean I have a deep respect for it and my heart is certainly grieving,” said Johnston who no longer has relatives in Newfoundland, but knows a lot of folks in the eastern provinces.
“There’s only half a million people in Newfoundland and only 4,000 people in the community of Port aux Basques. You can imagine the devastation and the loss that has been put upon a community with such a small amount of people.”
But he knew Newfoundlanders would band together to support and comfort their neighbours, and help would also be coming from Canadians, including Albertans.
“There are plenty of maritimers in Alberta and plenty of communities that have been similarly affected in different types of natural disasters. Their hearts are with maritime communities and Newfoundlanders.”
Donations to the Canadian Red Cross Hurricane Fiona in Canada Appeal are being matched by the federal government.
“If people have the opportunity, if they have the means to help, I would certainly encourage them to.”
Red Deer’s Sean Carter, who grew up in Guysborough County, N.S. where the storm initially made landfall, said it’s not unusual to see hurricanes in that part of the country.
“It’s hurricane season and hurricanes come,” said Carter, who left Nova Scotia in 2001.
“You’ve got to be prepared, like you would for a winter storm. Make sure you have batteries, water in the tub if you need to and that kind of thing.”
His family members who still live on the east coast were far enough away from the shore to avoid any damage, Carter said.
“My ancestors didn’t build near the shore because they knew what the shore could do,” he said.
Carter said family members told him “it was really windy and there was lots of rain” during Hurricane Fiona, but they didn’t even lose power at their homes.
“Where my mom lives there was some stuff flying around, trees were uprooted and stuff like that,” he said, adding the wind took off the neighbour’s barn door.
Johnston applauded the municipalities that worked hard to implement emergency plans and are now dealing with the aftermath of the post-tropical storm. It should be a reminder to everyone just how important it is to be prepared.
“I think all of us really need to understand what 72 hours of freshwater really looks like, and 72 hours of dried food, or the ability to have spare propane tanks if we need to have a barbecue going, or whatever.
“There’s a lesson there for all of us, that’s for sure.”
— with files from The Canadian Press