The Canadian military has been mobilised after Hurricane Fiona left hundreds of thousands of people in Atlantic Canada without power and officials try to assess the scope of the devastation.
After surging north from the Caribbean, Fiona came ashore before dawn on Saturday as a post-tropical cyclone, battering Canada’s regions of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Quebec with hurricane-strength winds, heavy rains and huge waves.
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Defence Minister Anita Anand said Canadian troops would help remove fallen trees throughout eastern Canada, restore transport links and do whatever else is required for as long as it takes. She did not specify the number of troops that would be deployed.
Fiona was responsible for at least five deaths in the Caribbean. While Canada’s authorities have no confirmed deaths, they have been searching for a missing woman in the hardest hit town of Channel-Port Aux Basques on the southern coast of Newfoundland.
“She’s likely washed out to sea but we haven’t been able to confirm that,” said Jolene Garland, a spokeswoman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Canada’s Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said the damage caused by the Fiona was never seen before, and it will take months to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure.
“The scale of what we’re dealing with, I think it’s unprecedented,” Blair said.
“There is going to be what I believe will likely be several months’ work in restoring some of the critical infrastructure – buildings and homes, rooftops that have been blown off community centres and schools,” he added.
As of Sunday morning, more than 256,000 Nova Scotia Power customers and more than 82,000 Maritime Electric customers in the province of Prince Edward Island – about 95 percent of the total – remained in the dark. So were more than 20,600 homes and businesses in New Brunswick.
More than 415,000 Nova Scotia Power customers – about 80 percent in the province of almost one million people – had been affected by outages on Saturday.
Utility companies say it could be days before the lights are back on for everyone.
Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Amanda McDougall said on Sunday that more than 200 people had been displaced and were in temporary shelters. More than 70 roads were completely inaccessible in her region, which declared a state of emergency. She said she could not count the number of homes damaged in her own neighbourhood.
McDougall said it was critical for the military to arrive and help clear debris, noting that the road to the airport was inaccessible and the tower had significant damage – although there were no injuries.
“People listened to the warnings and did what they were supposed to do and this was the result,” she said.
The disaster caused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to cancel his trip to Japan for the funeral of assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“We are seeing devastating images coming out of Port aux Basques. PEI [Prince Edward Island] has experienced storm damage like they’ve never seen. Cape Breton is being hit hard, too,” Trudeau said.
“There are people who see their houses destroyed, people who are very worried. We will be there for you,” Trudeau added.
The Canadian Hurricane Centre tweeted that Fiona had the lowest pressure – a key sign of storm strength – ever recorded for a storm making landfall in Canada.
“We’re getting more severe storms more frequently,” Trudeau said.
He said more resilient infrastructure is needed to withstand extreme weather events, saying that what was once a one-in-100-year storm might now arrive every few years because of climate change.