This article will be periodically updated as more news about Hurricane Fiona comes in on Saturday.
6:00 p.m.: Fiona came as advertised in eastern Quebec, with the post-tropical storm bringing flooding, damage and debris to Îles-de-la-Madeleine and Gaspé regions Saturday.
Premier François Legault told a briefing in Quebec City that so far there have been no deaths or injuries reported due to the dangerous storm that has caused considerable damage in Atlantic Canada.
Îles-de-la-Madeleine was the hardest hit part of Quebec, where a state of emergency was declared Friday evening and will remain in place. Roads remain closed on the island, trees have been uprooted and hydroelectric poles have been downed.
High winds and storm surge Saturday morning caused much of the destruction, with breaks on the Hydro-Québec network resulting in power outages and damage to buildings near the coast. Îles-de-la-Madeleine will also experience some coastal erosion due to the waves, Environment Canada said.
“There are many obstacles in the way, there are trees, there are stones, there are debris that have flown away,” deputy mayor Richard Leblanc said Saturday. “There are overflows, floods … you are asked to avoid any travel.”
Local officials also asked residents to limit their use of drinking water due to electricity problems on the island as a precautionary measure, Leblanc said.
Municipal officials will have a better idea of damage when they tour the area on Sunday, said Leblanc. He said twenty-two people were forced from their homes while another six had found shelter with others.
Legault said the province will offer financial help to people who have suffered material losses but says the important thing now is people are safe.
“I still want to reassure Quebecers who live there: we will make sure to have a program to make up the difference, for everything that is not insurable by regular insurance,” Legault said.
Legault was accompanied by Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault, who may travel to the island on Sunday if conditions permit. Legault, who was scheduled to travel to the island on Monday as part of the Quebec election campaign, may also go as planned if possible.
One of two underwater telecommunications cables linking Îles-de-la-Madeleine to the mainland — dubbed COGIM 1 — was also damaged Saturday by the storm.
“According to our telemetry, it is 14 kilometres from the shore that there seems to be a break,” said Nicholas Payant, vice-president of connectivity and reliability at Bell.
Payant said service is continuing and the second cable has taken over. Generators have been deployed where there has been a loss of power to ensure telephone and cellular service.
The cables are managed by non-profit Réseau intégré de communications électroniques des Îles-de-la-Madeleine and are 225 kilometres long, connecting the islands to Gaspé. In the event the second cable is damaged, a microwave link with Cape Breton would take over, Payant said.
This microwave communication link was set up by Bell and the Government of Quebec last year.
In 2018, the island was completely cut off from the outside world after heavy winds and rough seas knocked out both fibre optic cables that connect the islands’ telecommunications services to the mainland.
Earlier Saturday, about 7,500 people were without power in Îles-de-la-Madeleine and Gaspé, a number that had dropped to 4,100 later in the day but one that utility officials said was in constant flux.
According to the latest Environment Canada bulletin, the system should head north overnight to reach the province’s lower North Shore.
5:33 p.m.: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government has approved Nova Scotia’s request for federal assistance and will deploy the Canadian Armed Forces to assist in recovery from the devastation wreaked by post-tropical storm Fiona.
He says he cancelled his planned visit to Japan for the state funeral of former prime minister Shinzo Abe to instead focus on supporting Canadians affected by the storm.
Trudeau also announced the federal government will match any donations to the Canadian Red Cross by individuals and corporations over the next 30 days.
Fiona, one of the strongest storms to ever strike Eastern Canada, left a trail of destruction in its wake early Saturday before lingering over western Newfoundland, where a record-breaking storm surge destroyed several homes.
Defence Minister Anita Anand says the military began preparing before receiving the request for assistance and started mobilizing in case called upon to help.
She says reconnaissance is underway to ensure troops are deployed where and when they are needed most, adding they will help with tree and debris removal, restoration of transportation links and more.
Trudeau also says he will visit as soon as possible, while noting he doesn’t want to displace any emergency teams who are focused on important work on the ground.
4:42 p.m.: Post-tropical storm Fiona caused some disarray on the campaign trail Saturday as some parties cancelled planned events and Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault briefly suspended his campaign to manage response to the powerful gale that hit Atlantic Canada and parts of Quebec.
In Quebec, Fiona hit the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Gaspé and the province’s Lower North Shore, with the brunt of the impact expected from Saturday to Sunday morning. All party leaders expressed well wishes for Quebecers caught in the storm, which also played havoc with some of their schedules.
Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade said she was closely monitoring the situation in the affected regions but continued with her campaign in western Quebec as planned in the Outaouais region.
Read more here: Fiona briefly throws off Quebec election campaigns
4:09 p.m. Neighbours pulled a woman from the waters off southwestern Newfoundland early Saturday after a storm surge caused by post-tropical storm Fiona enveloped her home, causing it and several others to collapse into huge waves driven by hurricane-force winds.
RCMP Cpl. Jolene Garland said police were also investigating reports that a second woman had been swept into the Gulf of St. Lawrence under similar circumstances, but the Mountie said the status of that woman had yet to be confirmed.
Garland said the first woman, who she did not name, was given medical treatment and is believed to be fine. As for the second woman, police have yet to confirm reports that the rising waters pulled her from her basement in Port aux Basques, N.L.
“It’s too dangerous for us to enter into a search for that woman at this point,” Garland said in an interview. “We can’t substantiate her current location.”
Meanwhile, Garland confirmed that other homes in the coastal community were evacuated as Fiona closed in on Newfoundland’s west coast.
Both incidents were reported between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. local time, when a storm surge raised water levels at Port aux Basques to a record level. At the time, two peak gusts were recorded at 133 kilometres per hour, according to the weather office in Gander, N.L.
“We’re all used to wind and rain here, but this is not a normal amount of wind and rain,” Garland said. “The ocean waves that surged onto residential properties is abnormal. It has caused a lot of electrical fires … and many are without power as a result. And there’s a lot of flooding.”
Earlier in the day, the town of 4,200 declared a state of emergency.
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Rene Roy, editor of the weekly newspaper in Port aux Basques, said he saw evidence that nine homes, including a two-storey apartment building, had been washed out to sea as wind-driven waves hit the rocky shoreline and soared about 25 metres into the air.
“Lower Water Street is devastated with damage,” said Roy, who is also sales director at Wreckhouse Press Inc., which is named after an area in southwestern Newfoundland where howling winds are common. “There are homes gone. There are homes in the street.”
Roy said the small island at the head of the town’s harbour, which includes the Channel-Head lighthouse, usually protects Water Street East from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. But that didn’t happen early Saturday as the waves broke over the island.
“The water was smashing in, 80, 90 feet high,” he said. “It just took that apartment building.”
He said it was unclear what happened to the building, but recalled it backed on a 10-metre-wide lawn that once stood about two metres above the water in the town’s bay. It had about a dozen units, he said.
From his cousin’s home on Mouse Island, Roy said he could see three houses “now a pile of rubble in the ocean.”
Powerful gusts are common in Port aux Basques, which is at the island’s southwestern tip and is home to a busy port that includes daily visits from ferries that link Nova Scotia with Newfoundland.
The homes in the low-slung, coastal community are built to withstand the worst that the ocean has to offer, Roy said, adding he once used a device known as an anemometer to measure gusts reaching 130 kilometres per hour on his street.
Born in Port aux Basques, Roy moved away but returned home seven years ago. The former firefighter said a 52-year-old neighbour who has lived in the community his entire life confirmed that he had never before witnessed such a powerful storm.
“It’s one for the ages,” Roy said.
David Neil, a meteorologist at the Gander weather office, said Fiona’s extraordinarily low barometric pressure — which set a Canadian record when the storm made landfall in Nova Scotia between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. — would have been responsible for raising water levels at Port aux Basques to a record 2.73 metres at 10 a.m.
The low pressure at the centre of the storm acts like a suction cup, lifting the water well above its normal level. When coupled with the high tide, the result can be disastrous. It’s called the “inverse barometer” effect.
As well, Neil said the waves were reaching 12 metres high close to shore.
“This storm was extreme, even for that area,” he said. “It was a perfect combination to hit that area hard.”
3:00 p.m.: Post-tropical storm Fiona knocked out power to more than 500,000 customers in the Maritimes and forced towns in Cape Breton and on Newfoundland’s southwestern coast to declare states of emergency on Saturday. Officials in Port aux Basques, N.L., say homes were washed into the sea. Here is some of the reaction:
Rene Roy, editor of the weekly newspaper in Port aux Basques:
“Lower Water Street is devastated with damage … There are homes gone. There are homes in the street … The RCMP are actively investigating whether people have been swept away.”
P.E.I. Premier Dennis King:
“It seems that few communities, large of small, have been spared It was billed as one of the most severe storms to ever hit our province, and by all accounts hurricane Fiona has lived up to that billing … The devastation looks to be beyond anything that we have witnessed before in Prince Edward Island.”
Brian Button, mayor of Port aux Basques:
“So anybody that’s being told to leave their homes, you need to leave … There are no ifs, ands or buts, you need to leave … A house can be replaced but you can’t be, so you need to go and … we’ve already had houses and things that have been washed away, so we need you to go now.”
Tim Houston, Nova Scotia premier:
“Hurricane Fiona is now making its way through areas of Cape Breton. We are asking Nova Scotians to stay close to home if it is safe. Please check in on your family, friends and neighbours. Together we’ll weather the storm. Stay safe everyone.”
Christina Lamey, spokeswoman for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality:
“The first responders are really stretched right now. We want people to stay off the roads … Most of the roads have hazards on them, with power lines down and trees down as well.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:
I’m thinking of everyone affected by hurricane Fiona — I want you to know that we’re here for you. I convened an Incident Response Group meeting with (Emergency Preparedness) Minister Bill Blair and officials this morning. Our government stands ready to support the provinces with additional resources.
Arlene Grafilo, resident in Sydney, N.S.:
“We heard a lot of noise outside and then we realized that there are a lot of cracks in the house and we looked outside and saw the tree had fallen … We were trapped and we couldn’t open the doors and the windows, so that’s when we decided to call 911. The children were scared.”
Caralee McDaniel, resident in Cow Bay, N.S.:
“We’re watching the wild waves crashing … We have candles and several devices fully charged … We have buckets of water and some boiled water in a Thermos so we can make coffee.”
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