Cape Breton assesses 'heartbreaking' damage after storm

In Ingonish, N.S., the ocean came toward this house and swept a wood splitter and lawn tractor out to sea.   (Submitted by Ann Hussey - image credit)
In Ingonish, N.S., the ocean came toward this house and swept a wood splitter and lawn tractor out to sea. (Submitted by Ann Hussey - image credit)

Many Cape Bretoners woke up to uprooted trees, cracked power poles and washed out roads on Sunday after post-tropical storm Fiona ripped through the island.

In the Sydney area, hundreds of people flocked to gas stations, fast-food restaurants and grocery stores in search of power, hot food, and fuel for their generators.

The storm raged through Cape Breton on Saturday, downing trees and power lines, stripping siding and roofs from houses and leaving more than 65,000 customers on the island without power as of Sunday morning.

Mayor Amanda McDougall said a state of emergency for the area will stay in place for seven days as cleanup efforts begin.

"To see the damage of people's homes is really, really, it's heartbreaking."

Submitted by Brandon Bates
Submitted by Brandon Bates

In Port Morien, Brandon Bates's roof flew off and landed in the middle of the street.

Living next to the ocean, Bates anticipated water damage. But the structural damage was worse than he expected.

His back deck was also taken by the wind and ended up behind his neighbour's house.

Bates said his house was "shaking like crazy" early Saturday.

"I awoke at 2:30 when the power went out and I was awake from there on out to keep an eye on things," Bates said in a message. "Not that I had any control, but it was too nerve-racking to sleep."

He saw lots of downed poles and trees on houses and vehicles as he drove to work. As far as property damage is concerned, he said: "I'd say we had it the worst in Port Morien."

He was back to work at a home improvement store on Sunday. He said it was a "madhouse" with people buying shingles, foundation wraps and lumber to fix damage from the storm.

Roofs felled 

Darryl and Francine Price lost their roof, too. They live on Braddock Street in Louisbourg.

Around 3 a.m. Saturday, they woke to a strange squeaking noise in one of the bedrooms. The eaves were moving up and down. The roof came off shortly after.

Amy MacNeil
Amy MacNeil

"I jokingly told my wife she wanted a skylight and now she has one," Darryl said.

They immediately evacuated the house and went to a neighbour's house, with the fear that their house would not survive the night.

Francine said there were a lot of tears shed Saturday.

"It's very devastating. You live your whole life, you work hard to keep your house and look after it … in just a couple hours for it to be gone, it's pretty sad," she said.

Spotty cell service

Wesley Forward of Port Morien, N.S., is working in British Columbia. His wife and kids went to a family member's house in Donkin before the storm came through.

Around 9 a.m. Saturday, Forward's roof was starting to peel and rain was coming in.

Submitted by Morgan Forgeron
Submitted by Morgan Forgeron

Forward said he's grateful no one was in the house, but not being able to get in touch with loved ones for hours due to spotty cell service in the area was "anguish."

"It's terrible," he said. "I'm still trying to get a hold of them and see how they're doing." Forward's wife ended up driving 15 minutes to find service.

Morgan Forgeron drove from Mira to Sydney in search of cell service on Sunday.

She saw hundreds of trees down in communities all along Mira Bay Drive – including Main-à-Dieu, Baleine and Little Lorraine.

Forgeron said old garages and trailers were toppled in Main-à-Dieu. The easternmost town in Nova Scotia also had snapped poles and missing roofs.

Hazardous driving conditions

On Saturday afternoon, Cape Breton Regional Police urged people to stay off the roads due to hazardous driving conditions from downed trees and power lines.

Nova Scotia Power's outage map indicates the estimated restoration time for many customers is Tuesday or Wednesday.

The most significant damage to power lines was in the eastern part of the province, Nova Scotia Power said in a statement.

As of 8 a.m. Sunday, a quarter of Cape Breton customers had their power back, according to NSP.

Tenants evacuated 

About 96 people have been evacuated to the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre.

Cape Breton University student Riya Khokhariya is one of many international students staying there.

She and four roommates were forced to leave her apartment building on Rotary Drive in Sydney on Saturday after high winds tore away the roof.

Police evacuated nearly 100 people from the building.

Submitted by Mary Pellerin
Submitted by Mary Pellerin

Khokhariya had just moved into the building about two weeks ago.

"Most of [the evacuees] are students. Many of them are my friends too, my classmates, it's been really hard for them," said Mebin Moncy, a volunteer with the Canadian Red Cross and an international student at CBU.

"They don't have any idea of the future," Moncy said.

Khokhariya said the destruction to the apartment building was indescribable. She does not know where she'll go next.

"They're coming from all over, I know Sydney has been hit really hard," said Sara Ede, an organizer with the Canadian Red Cross.

Some areas unreachable by phone

Many parts of the island are still without power, cellphone service or wireless internet.

Along the Cabot Trail in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the road from Neils Harbour to Ingonish has been reopened with traffic lights at Still Brook construction site.

French Mountain will be reopened by early afternoon tomorrow, according to local councillor Norman MacDonald.

Dorothy Best lives in Smelt Brook, just north of Neils Harbour. She says houses in the area were devastated by the storm.

In Ingonish, the ocean crept up toward her brother's house and swept his wood splitter and lawn tractor out to sea.

"His house and family are safe and dry, that's what matters," Best said in a message.

She said the damage to some properties nearby was scary.

Washed out bridge

Submitted by Robert MacKay
Submitted by Robert MacKay

Robert MacKay of Dundee, N.S., was the first person on scene to witness a truck dangling over a washed-out bridge on West Bay Road in Saint Georges Channel around 5 a.m. on Saturday.

He posted a video of water rushing beneath the truck that has been shared thousands of times.

MacKay said the driver must have taken a blind turn. The culvert was washed away and took the bridge with it.

He went to investigate and found the truck still running. He said the driver was picked up by a volunteer firefighter and taken to hospital with minor injuries.

Some areas of island are OK

In Port Hawkesbury, Curtis Doucet, emergency measures co-ordinator, said his area fared well compared to other places and there were no emergency calls.

In Inverness County, there are two comfort stations open today for those who need to recharge cellphones or heat up food — Port Hood Fire Station and Whycocomagh Fire Station.

Keith MacDonald, CAO of Inverness County, said the area was spared the worst of the storm, though some areas are still without power.

Lisa Boudreau owns a gas bar and café in Arichat, on Isle Madame.

She said they had record gas sales for Thursday, Friday and Saturday as locals stocked up on gas leading up to Fiona's arrival.

Amy MacNeil
Amy MacNeil

But Boudreau said damage in the community was minimal.

"We fared better than most areas. We consider ourselves very fortunate here," she said.

Andre LeBlanc in Petit-de-Grat agreed. He said the storm started out "pretty intense," but around 4 a.m. Saturday it went "eerily calm."

"All in all, the community fared remarkably well. If anything there's a bit of survivor guilt," LeBlanc said.