Supply shortages in Port aux Basques, N.L., as residents wait for storm-damaged roads to be fixed

·6 min read
From left to right, Marlene Renouf and Samantha and Steve LeFrense were among the Port aux Basques-area residents stocking up at the grocery store Thursday morning. Damaged roads have cut the region off from the rest of Newfoundland. (Danny Arsenault/CBC - image credit)
From left to right, Marlene Renouf and Samantha and Steve LeFrense were among the Port aux Basques-area residents stocking up at the grocery store Thursday morning. Damaged roads have cut the region off from the rest of Newfoundland. (Danny Arsenault/CBC - image credit)

With Channel-Port aux Basques cut off from the rest of Newfoundland after this week's record-setting rainstorm, the member of the House of Assembly for the region is asking residents not to hoard food or gas as supplies start to dwindle.

Energy Minister Andrew Parsons, who is the member for the district of Burgeo–La Poile, which includes Port aux Basques, took to Facebook Thursday night to share the latest update for the community of about 4,000.

Parsons wrote there is a gas shortage in the town, but said more is on the way from a Marine Atlantic ferry. He's asking residents to not gas up if they don't need to. He said there's also a shortage of certain foods, but more is expected on Friday through "various means."

"Again people, please do not hoard! We can get through this but please exercise reasonableness," he wrote.

Parsons told CBC News on Friday that fuel will be part of the next ferry shipment to the community from North Sydney, N.S., and there's no reason for residents to panic. The shipment is expected to land in the community Saturday morning, he said.

Lineups at grocery stores in the Channel-Port aux Basques area are a little longer as contractors start repairing washed-out roads. Parsons said food is being airlifted into areas of the Codroy Valley, which is also left isolated in some locations.

Watch | Aerial shots of damage caused by a severe rain storm in N.L.

Meanwhile, some residents say they're taking a potentially prolonged isolation in stride.

"There's not much you can do about it. I'm kind of upset because I have to go see someone at the home in Stephenville Crossing and I can't get to see her. But other than that, it's nature," said Marlene Renouf, who wasn't able to find bread or eggs at the Foodland in Channel-Port aux Basques.

The provincial government announced brief details on road repairs Wednesday, after an unprecedented rainstorm dumped more than 200 millimetres of rain on the region and washed out the Trans-Canada Highway — which connects the region to the rest of Newfoundland — in four places.

On Friday, the government provided an update, saying it anticipated repairs would be ongoing for more than a week. Crews are also working on the highways in Codroy Valley, which has been closed in eight places due to high water levels.

Some roads have reopened, including Route 463 and Black Duck Brook. Loch Lomond Road and Upper Ferry Road remain open with lane closures.

Parsons said larger culverts are being installed with the future in mind in the event of another severe storm like the one the region experienced this week.

Héloïse Rodriguez-Qizilbash/Radio-Canada
Héloïse Rodriguez-Qizilbash/Radio-Canada

The province also activated a phone line for stranded residents to call for emergency needs. The line will log calls and provide information as required, according to a Department of Public Safety media release Friday morning.

Residents on the southwest coast who have questions can call 1-833-885-0385 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Those with non-urgent medical concerns — an inability to travel to their medical appointments or to a pharmacy for prescriptions — may call Western Health's client relations office at 1-833-784-6802 between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. starting Friday and running until Monday.

Meanwhile, federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair wrote on Twitter to say the government has approved a request for assistance for Canadian military support.

"Personnel will provide air support to facilitate evacuations and assist with the maintenance of supply chains across the province," Blair said.

Port aux Basques Mayor Brian Button said he doesn't yet have all the details about getting help from the military.

'We're going to be stuck'

For Steve and Samantha LeFrense, the road closures mean they're staying put for the next little while.

"I'm sure in a few days we'll be back up and running there. They'll get the roads fixed. I know they got a lot of crews ready to go and start working on it," Steve LeFrense said.

"Most of my friends are in Corner Brook for school.… I don't think any of them are coming home for the weekend anymore," Samantha LeFrense said.

Not all residents feel the same way.

Kathy Findlay, a local home-care worker picking up goods for her patient, said the storm is the latest chapter in a story of tricky roads in the region.

Danny Arsenault/CBC
Danny Arsenault/CBC

"I feel like if the government had kept up on the infrastructure on the highway at this end of the province, maybe we wouldn't be in this situation," Findlay said, noting that the road from Port aux Basques to Stephenville has always been terrible in the 12 years she's lived in Newfoundland.

She said she's worried about an extended road closure, along with the decision by Marine Atlantic to pivot the delivery of goods to Argentia, on the other side of the island, believing Port aux Basques residents will be cut off either way.

Premier Andrew Furey said Thursday that officials are prepared to deal with the potential disruptions by flying in supplies if needed. Food and pharmaceuticals are among the top priorities, according to the premier.

Food shipments

Erin Higdon, vice-president of business strategy with Atlantic Grocery Distribution, said her company is closely following the situation on Newfoundland's southwest coast.

The company distributes groceries to about 2,000 customers across Newfoundland from its 175,000-square-foot warehouse in Bay Roberts. The majority of its product comes from commercial trucks that use the ferry service in Port aux Basques. She said the company is waiting on about 30 tractor-trailers that are now stuck in limbo.

The company has a second warehouse in Port aux Basques that will house some shipments coming across from North Sydney hopefully by Sunday, Higdon said. The rest will take the Argentia ferry route to be delivered in Bay Roberts and then distributed to the rest of the island unencumbered.

"It's definitely been busy, people have been operating 24/7 communicating with our logistics partners, making adjustments where possible," she said.

"It's one of the things that we're very accustomed to in our operations."

Parsons said he has spoken with Gene Coleman of Coleman's Grocery, who is making efforts to deliver some food to Port aux Basques via helicopter on Friday. He said bread was delivered in a ferry shipment Friday morning and eggs are expected to be delivered on Saturday.

"The shelves are still stocked for many things. It's going to be short-term," he said.

"We're going to get through this. People just need to relax, be calm."

Marine Atlantic's communications officer, Darrell Mercer, said a limited service to Port aux Basques will continue with one ferry over the next several days.

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