HALIFAX — As hurricane Dorian barrelled toward the Maritimes on Saturday, its outer bands lashed the region with powerful winds that uprooted trees, damaged buildings and caused widespread power outages.
The Canadian Hurricane Centre in Halifax said Dorian was expected to make landfall near Halifax later in the evening, unleashing a barrage of torrential rain, pounding surf and howling gusts reaching up to 150 kilometres per hour.
“The storm is approaching … (and) it’s still a strong storm,” said Bob Robichaud, the centre’s warning preparedness meteorologist.
There were no reports of injuries, but dramatic footage shared on social media shows a large construction crane toppling over and crashing into the side of an apartment building in downtown Halifax.
In the city’s south end, a roof was ripped off an apartment complex. As people hurried from the building, firefighter Jeff Paris said those forced from their homes would be taken to emergency shelters.
“There are several apartment buildings being evacuated,” he said.
Other images on social media show many toppled trees in the port city, a ripped-up waterfront boardwalk and flooded streets.
A weather station at Osborne Head, which is just east of Halifax on the Atlantic coast, recorded a gust of 141 kilometres per hour at 4 p.m.
Nova Scotia Power Inc. reported more than 306,000 customers were in the dark by 6 p.m., including 160,000 in the Halifax area where the wind was gusting at over 100 kilometres per hour by late afternoon.
In Prince Edward Island about 18,000 homes and businesses were without power, as were another 14,000 in New Brunswick.
As Dorian closed in on the Maritimes, it strengthened to Category 2 status with sustained winds reaching 160 km/h. However, Robichaud said the storm was expected to weaken by the time it came ashore as a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds between 90 km/h and 120 km/h.
“That means numerous broken trees, uprooted trees, heavy rain and the potential for flash flooding,” he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau posted on Twitter that the federal government is ready to help Atlantic Canada, and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale tweeted that the Canadian Armed Forces would be deployed to assist with recovery efforts.
Meanwhile, emergency officials in the Halifax region called for a voluntary evacuation of homes and businesses along the municipality’s Atlantic shoreline.
With the forecast calling for a significant storm surge and wind-driven waves reaching 15 metres, low-lying coastal communities were facing potential flooding.
Regional officials said the high-risk zones included the Sambro area, Peggys Cove and the province’s Eastern Shore, which extends east of Halifax.
“For the people that live out that way, we urge you … to move yourself to someplace safe,” said Erica Fleck, Halifax’s assistant chief of community risk reduction.
The Canadian Red Cross opened three evacuation shelters in the Halifax region.
Fleck said she was particularly concerned by reports that many residents and businesses had failed to secure loose objects ahead of the storm.
Flower pots, patio furniture, children’s toys, ladders and loose construction material could become deadly projectiles when propelled by hurricane-force winds, she said.
City officials were encouraging downtown businesses to close early, suggesting residents should heed storm surge warnings and stay away from the waterfront.
Robichaud said western Nova Scotia and southern New Brunswick would likely get between 50 and 100 millimetres of rain, with some areas getting up to 150 millimetres — more than what usually falls in a month.
Dorian will eventually move into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where it’s set to transform into a strong post-tropical storm.
Iles-de-la-Madeleine was expected to see Dorian pass to the south by late Saturday, bringing winds of up to 120 km/h coupled with intense rainfall.
Jonathan Lapierre, the mayor of the island municipality, said the community has a secure satellite phone system to ensure phone lines remain operational.
In Halifax, officials said they were confident the region could weather the storm, which many are already comparing to hurricane Juan.
“I feel that we are completely prepared — as much as we can be — for this storm,” Fleck said. “We have taken our lessons learned from hurricane Juan.”
Hurricane Juan was a Category 2 storm that hit Halifax early on Sept. 29, 2003. It was also blamed for causing eight deaths, six of them in Nova Scotia.
Juan roared through the middle of the province and over P.E.I., its sustained winds clocked at 157 km/h. As Juan’s peak gusts hit 185 km/h to the east of the storm’s centre, it uprooted millions of trees and caused more than $200 million in property damage.