Port aux Basques and Southwest Coast brace for Hurricane Fiona

Updated: 1 day ago

By René J. Roy, Editor-in-Chief

beach flooding
A storm in November 2021 resulted in washouts along the Trans Canada Highway that isolated the Southwest Coast region from the rest of the island. – File photo

Updated 4:20 p.m., Friday, Sept. 22nd


Port aux Basques Town Manager Leon MacIssac advises residents living along the water's edge on the Southwest Coast, particularly from Channel to Lemmytown to Charlie's Head and Mouse Island, to take storm surge projections seriously. Environment Canada's latest forecast advises that there will be 10 to 14 metre high storm surges (32 to 45 feet). High tide will occur at 10:30 a.m. and again at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday.


"People should be wary of these type of waves. They're quite high. I know we've had storm systems in the past, but these are wave heights that we probably haven't experienced in quite some time," said MacIsaac. "I would be concerned for any resident who has had storm damage or flood damage before. You should really expect it this time."


One notable storm surge that took place within the past two decades heaved a boulder through a home's second-story. Severe wind and rain projections have also been issued for the entirety of the Southwest Coast. MacIsaac urges residents to err on the side of caution.


"They should really prepare for the worst."


Earlier today, town officials met with representatives from NL Power, NL Hydro, Bell Aliant, Fire and Emergency Services, MacKenzie Ambulance, the Salvation Army, and the Volunteer Fire Department to co-ordinate response strategy. MacIsaac said that NL Power, NL Hydro and Bell Aliant all have emergency staff in place.


"There's alternate crews out, both here and in Stephenville, on either side of the Wreckhouse area, depending on severity of the storm, so that everybody's as prepared as they possibly can be for this storm," said MacIsaac. "We don't know until it hits how severe it's going to be, but we fully expect it's going to be hitting us with a major wallop."


In order to prevent an overtaxing of the sewer system during the storm's heavy rainfall, the town is asking residents to limit the amount of washing they do.


"When the tide is high, the surge is high, water can't dissipate. If it's got nowhere to flow, it's got to go somewhere and that's going to be back up through our pumping systems, and if our pumping systems get overtaxed that means that your house no longer has a place for your sewer to go."


Residents that need to be moved will be assisted as soon as possible, but MacIsaac asks that if a situation becomes tenuous, not to wait until the last minute to call for help.


"The only thing we ask is don't wait until it's too late, because we can't risk people's (emergency responders) own safety because you've waited too long. We'll make every attempt to get to you, but we can't put people in danger as well."


MacIsaac also urges people to stay home and stay safe.


"This is not the time to go around and be taking pictures because you want to be involved in the storm. That's very dangerous. You're putting yourself at risk and in turn you're putting the first responders at risk, because if something happens we've now got to respond and remove you. Best to stay at home. A severe storm is not the time to be out taking pictures or go around and see what kind of damage there is. You're only getting in the way and you're making it very difficult for first responders."


Motorists who must travel on the Trans Canada Highway are asked to pay close attention to Wreckhouse warning signs and pull over once wind levels rise. Wreckhouse winds routinely topple transport trailers, and are expected to reach at least 160 km/h. During storms Wreckhouse winds have exceeded 200 km/h.


"It's on the radio stations. It's on the news networks. It's posted everywhere in the area. Unfortunately people who are not experienced don't realize the full impact of what these winds can do."


***


With Hurricane Fiona making its way up the eastern seaboard, Channel-Port Aux Basques Mayor Brian Button says the town has done its best to prepare for the coming storm. A hurricane warning has been issued for all of P.E.I., eastern Nova Scotia including Cape Breton Island, and western Newfoundland. Expected to turn into a post tropical storm just ahead of its expected arrival on Friday evening, the area that Fiona covers will increase even as it becomes less intense.


Button says it needs to be taken seriously.


"I've heard it said that we have been through this before, we've handled this before. Maybe so. Let's hope that that's what happens. But we need to be prepared that it's going to be worse than what we've had. There are some forecasters saying there will be lots of rain. The information we just got back is there could be wind gusts of up to 140, 160 (kph)."


Last November, the entire Southwest Coast was cut off due to a massive rainfall event that remains fresh in the minds of most residents.


"To say it's not in the back of your mind would be a lie," admits Button."Whenever we have these types of storms now, they seem to be more intensified."


Thanks to advance notice from forecast models, the town has been spending the last week battening down the hatches, including the dismantling of the Scott's Cove stage and sail. Garbage cans, unsecured benches, and flower pots have all been removed as well. Newfoundland Power has also been in touch with the town and promised to station extra crews in the area.


"They've got their generators in place to supply power to some parts of the community if we lose power. They're bringing extra crews to this area, to be stationed in this area in the event that there are damages or power outages."


Ministry Lead David Harvey of the Salvation Army is also preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.


"We're making sure all of our vehicles, especially our emergency trailer is all up and ready. We will have it (the emergency trailer) connected to our truck, so if something should happen we can just pull out and go."


The trailer is a relatively new resource for the Salvation Army, having been obtained in May.


"It's already full of water. It's already full of gas, both the generator and the truck itself."


Harvey expects to communicate with Mayor Button no later than Friday morning with regard to finalizing planning, but says they don't need to hear from the town to help out.


"If someone were to call us, then we would go. If someone is in dire straits and needs some help, then we will pack it up and go."


While the Salvation Army is not on the emergency power grid and thus not an official emergency centre, they do have their own generator, and approximately 20 volunteers are always prepared to help out.


Mayor Button is just thankful we are not in the dead of winter right now, but should the need arise, the Town has all of its emergency centres ready to go as well.


"We have all of our facilities ready to go. I know the Salvation Army has theirs ready also. We have the Bruce II Arena, the Fire Hall, and the Lions Club. These are used for emergency purposes, and what we do worry about is having a place for people to go should home damages occur."


Mr. Harvey and Mayor Button both encourage area residents to be safe, and to make sure they are well stocked up on emergency supplies.


The province has also released the following warning.


When extreme weather is anticipated, residents are encouraged to monitor the forecast for the most up-to-date information. Regional forecast information is available from Environment Canada.

As always, the public and local governments are reminded to:

· Ensure roads, ditches and drains are clear of debris;

· Ensure appropriate provisions are made for the continuation of essential services;

· Check NL 511 via the mobile app, visit nl511.ca or call 511 to check driving condition reports and ferry schedule impacts;

· Review and have ready emergency plans;

· Take steps to ensure personal safety during the weather event; and

· Keep residents informed of potential impacts.

Residents should ensure their own personal safety and know the risks most likely in your community. You should ensure your family has an emergency plan prepared in advance of anticipated adverse weather. Some tips are:

· Have a basic emergency kit and vehicle emergency kit prepared for at least 72 hours, with food, water, batteries, a portable radio, and prescription medications.

· You should store a three day supply of water, food, and clothing for each person, including supplies for family pets.

· Have copies of documents, such as insurance, driver’s license, passport, etc.

· You should ensure an ample amount of baby supplies, such as formula and diapers.

· Have a supply of medications, medical supplies and other essential personal items.

· Plan in advance to have your vehicles fueled and to have cash on hand.

· Clear drains and basins and secure loose items around your house, such as outdoor furniture, BBQs, propane tanks and trampolines.

· Trim branches and cut down dead trees.

· Be prepared to move inland and go to higher ground.

· Ensure that boats are secured and that items outside of sheds and stages are secured such as BBQs, propane tanks and gasoline containers.

· Stay up-to-date by monitoring forecast information and local news.

Disasters and emergencies affect everyone: you, your family, your neighbours and community. People may experience barriers in emergency preparedness and emergency situations which may include accessing devices that run electrical power, elevators, accessible transportation and accessible communications.

Information on emergency preparedness for persons with disabilities and their families can be found on the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities NL website and on the federal website for an Emergency Preparedness Guide for People with Disabilities.

It is important to take care of yourself, your family and work together with your neighbours to help keep each other safe and protect lives and property. The first step in responding to a disaster as a community is getting to know the other members of your community beforehand. Engage members of your community to share information about emergency preparedness and how you can support each other. Be aware of neighbors who are elderly, people with disabilities, people with limited resources or persons who identify they need support for emergencies. This way, you know where to start when checking on the status of your neighbours following a disaster.

Visit Be Prepared for more information on what people should do to prepare for an adverse weather event, major emergency or disaster.

First responders and members of the public wishing to report urgent highway conditions, or motorists looking for recent road condition information can contact the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure:

· Avalon: 709-729-7669

· Eastern: 709-466-4160

· Central: 709-292-4444

· Western: 709-635-4144

· Labrador: 709-896-7888

Crews in the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure are preparing for the hurricane by checking culverts and ditches for debris and removing anything that may obstruct water flow.


"If you're in need, and you really do need our services, give us a call," said Harvey.


The number for the Salvation Army is (709) 987-9725.



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