Newfoundland digs out from nasty blizzard

Eastern Newfoundland was pounded by a raging blizzard today that knocked out power for most of the island and forced much of the daily activity in the province to grind to a halt.

The storm, already considered the worst in at least several years with wind speeds topping 110 km/h in many areas, has led to cancelled flights, closed schools, docked ferries and the shutdown of public services across the eastern half of Newfoundland.

The blizzard warning has ended for St. John's, but warnings are still in effect for other areas of the province. Areas still under warning include Conception Bay North, Clarenville, and the Bonavista and Burin Peninsulas.

Newfoundland Power was hoping to have power to all customers restored by 9 p.m. NT, although the utility urged consumers to conserve energy carefully as Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro worked on repairs at its generating station in Holyrood. Around 4 p.m., the company said the Holyrood station was receiving power but tweeted that it would take "a few hours to get generation up and running reliably."

However, they said isolated issues may not be resolved until late Friday night or even Saturday morning. Newfoundland Power urged everyone to have extra blankets on hand because isolated outages will continue overnight and into tomorrow.

The utility said power had been restored to much of the western, central and northern parts of the island by mid-afternoon.

Widespread outages started around 6:30 a.m., but worsened as the storm gathered force. Even areas such as western Newfoundland that were well outside the blizzard area lost power temporarily.

About 47 centimetres of snow had accumulated in St. John's by lunchtime Friday, although winds that often exceeded 110 km/h made for dangerous conditions.

"This is the worst I've seen in a long time," said Deanna Gabriel, as she shovelled snow outside her St. John's home. "I hear we may get more later, so I'm just trying to get a crack at some of it now," she said.

It was the biggest snowfall in a single storm in seven years.

N.L. Hydro appealed for help from emergency personnel to transport stranded employees to fix problems at the Holyrood station.

"We certainly very much appreciate the concern that customers would have in not having power … but a high priority for us is ensuring the safety of our crews," said N.L. Hydro official Merissa King.

The power outages led to numerous complications, including in Grand Falls-Windsor, where the town council asked people to conserve water. The lack of power at the treatment centre was causing problems with water quality.

King said power restorations would be phased in, and warned consumers to expect some of them to be temporary while the system was being repaired.

High winds have caused havoc with the power system, and have rendered many highways and roads unsafe for driving.

The storm tore roofing from a Dominion supermarket in St. John's, and prompted the Newfoundland and Labrador government to tie up ferries that served domestic routes in much of the island. Marine Atlantic also cancelled its crossings to Nova Scotia.

Environment Canada not only extended its blizzard warning for the eastern half of the island on Friday morning, but issued a new blowing snow warning for areas as far west as Gander, where schools are also closed for the day.

The storm was most harshly felt on the Avalon Peninsula, although its effects have been felt in southern and central Newfoundland as well.

St. John's International Airport shut down its runways until noon on Saturday. The airport authority recommended that passengers check with their carriers for updates.

The blizzard was expected to drop at least 70 centimetres of snow in parts of the Avalon Peninsula. The storm has been so bad that even emergency services personnel have been having difficulty doing their jobs.

"I've kind of given up now," RCMP Sgt. Marc Couloumbe said Friday morning as he tried to leave his home on the Avalon Peninsula's Southern Shore, south of St. John's.

"Unfortunately, now the snowplow is stuck right in front of my driveway, so I can't even get out," said Couloumbe. As well, an ambulance became stuck in the centre of St. John's.

Paul Mackey, the city's director of public works, said crews were making good headway late Friday afternoon.

"I think things are going a bit better now that it's changed over to some drizzle and the drifting has subsided," Mackey said.

"That's making our job a bit easier now, so we're making a lot better progress than we were earlier today and last night."

Dale Foote, a meteorologist with Environment Canada's weather office, said the high winds and snow drifting are the hallmarks of the storm.

"To be honest, the wind is so high that I don't know how you'd get a sense of snowfalls," he said.

"If the winds pick up, it's going to be even harder to get a sense of actual measurements."

CBC reporter Zach Goudie said roads in the St. John's area were filled with drifts and blowing snow, and that early shovelling was moot.

"It doesn’t make much of a difference," said Goudie, adding that driving conditions are hazardous.

"Visibility is next to nothing. Everyone is being asked to stay off the roads unless they absolutely have to [drive]."

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