Lingering effects of ice storm haunt Acadian Peninsula

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Lingering effects of ice storm haunt Acadian Peninsula

The Acadian Peninsula experienced a lot of hardship this winter because of the ice storm that knocked out power to many for almost two weeks.

Now, more than two months after the devastating storm, a second wave of hardship has hit the Acadian Peninsula as people pay for the damage the storm caused — and not just with their wallets.

Leo Paul Pinet, the general manager of the Centre de Bénévolat Péninsule Acadienne, said the storm has left a psychological impact on many members of the community, and the volunteer centre and its programs have noticed the change.

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"Not the same number of seniors came to our activities," Pinet said.

"Some there said, 'Well we have friends that since the ice storm, they isolate themselves. They're not socializing as much as before.' So we're trying to work with them just to make sure everything is OK. 'How can we help, how we can get them back to activities.'"

It's not just the elderly who are dealing with the psychological remnants of the storm. It's people of all ages.

"You have children in programs that when you start to discuss the crisis, they will say, like, two weeks ago, it was raining or might have been icy or snow, and the response of the children is that at home, parents are still nervous about it," Pinet said. "They are [storing] water, so it's still there. And children feel it."

A lot of the psychological issues are linked to financial hardships that many residents are now having to deal with, both directly related to the storm and regular expenses that are now more difficult to pay, Pinet said.

"One aspect we're looking at is what is the impact of NB Power invoicing families a month after the ice storm, when they get their invoice of $600? And they were just coming out of the ice storm with no money?

"If you put everything together for families who are normally facing financial difficulties, you don't need that much to go from a crisis to a major crisis."

Critics of government response

Many on the peninsula are critical of the way the government handled the aftermath of the ice storm.

Claude Snow, the spokesperson of Comité des 12, a social justice group, said regular people, not government, came to the aid of residents.

"There were a lot of volunteers who did a lot of things, but they did it at their own risk with their own funds," Snow said.

"We would like to see a system where the government steps in as soon as there is an emergency in a certain region, and then appoints people with the authority to do whatever needs to be done, with public funds."

Snow said there's a risk whenever regular people are doing jobs better suited for professionals.

"When a volunteer goes into a home and sees desperate people and they don't know what to do to help them and get them out of there, what if something happens to these people?" Snow asked. "It would be a tremendous responsibility on the shoulders of the volunteers. It's beyond their capacity, really. It should be professionals doing this work."

Review sessions planned

The government will be holding review sessions across the Acadian Peninsula to both gauge the degree of hardship the ice storm caused and to learn how to better serve areas when natural disasters hit.

Pinet said his group will be attending the sessions.

"We were in the middle of it," he said. "We need to learn, we need to listen to what people have to say. We don't have a legal responsibility as government has, but I think we have a moral responsibility as a not-for-profit. Our raison d'être is to be there for citizens and their needs."

Sessions will start on April 2 in Tracadie. They will be held in Richibucto, Miramichi, Lamèque before wrapping up in Bas-Caraquet on April 6.