‘Beast of a storm’

Though it wasn’t a full-fledged hurricane when it made landfall in Nova Scotia, the hurricane-force winds from post-tropical storm Dorian caused extensive damage to the electric grids in all three Maritime provinces over the weekend.

At one point, about 500,000 homes and businesses in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and P.E.I. were left in the dark as Dorian flattened trees and ravaged property across the region.

By late Sunday, that number had dropped considerably, but the full extent of the damage was still unknown.

In Halifax, the CEO of Nova Scotia Power Inc. said the utility was facing a huge task in reconnecting customers as the brawny storm moved away from the province and on to western Newfoundland.

“This is an exercise of days, not hours,” Karen Hutt told a news conference. “We’re operating in our worst-case scenario.”

A utility spokeswoman confirmed that with more than 400,000 customers without power as of Sunday morning, 80 per cent of Nova Scotia’s homes and businesses were blacked out — the highest number of outages in the company’s history.

In Prince Edward Island, about 75 per cent of homes and businesses had no electricity by Sunday afternoon, according to the province’s Public Safety Department.

One utility spokeswoman described Dorian as a “beast of a storm.”

Meanwhile, widespread blackouts affecting up to 80,000 NB Power customers were reported in southern New Brunswick and along the province’s Acadian Peninsula.

Though Dorian made landfall just west of Halifax as a post-tropical storm on Saturday night, the large storm battered a huge swath of the Maritimes with sustained winds reaching almost 150 kilometres per hour in some areas, putting the storm’s power on par with a Category 2 hurricane.

Though utility crews were fanning out to complete repairs Sunday, Hutt said the repair work in Nova Scotia would stretch into next week.

“We are still in a very dangerous situation in some parts of the province,” she said, adding that the utility had crews aboard four helicopters surveying the damage.

“When there is a downed power line, do not take any chances at all. Immediately call 911 and we will dispatch one of our crews to take care of it.”

Hutt asked those without power to be patient, saying she understood many people were frustrated by the company’s inability to promise specific repair deadlines.

She said additional crews had been called in from Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, Florida and Maine.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil praised the utility for its response to Dorian.

“They’ve done a tremendous job of dispersing their technicians across the province,” he said from his home in the Annapolis Valley.

Meanwhile, emergency officials in Nova Scotia were urging people to stay home, but it was clear many weren’t listening.

“All the people who are lined up on the roads waiting for coffee, they are actually impeding our crews from getting out there,” said Erica Fleck, Halifax’s assistant chief of community risk reduction.

“We can’t clear the roads unless we can get to them, and 300 cars at drive-thrus in different locations is stopping our progress.”

Heavy traffic was reported in parts of Halifax as gawkers headed downtown to have a look at a construction crane that had collapsed into an empty apartment building still under construction. Others wanted to see the city’s slightly mangled waterfront boardwalk, or the other apartment complex with a missing roof.

At least four homes in Halifax also lost their roofs. Many others were damaged by upended trees.

About 300 soldiers from Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in central New Brunswick were expected to help with cleaning up debris and restoring electricity on Sunday afternoon, a military official confirmed. Another 400 “immediate reaction forces” were on standby.

Across the region, residents got to work cleaning up Dorian’s mess.

Joseph Elias, 85, stood in the hallway of his home on his quiet residential street, looking outside at the aged oak tree that had toppled onto the house where he’s lived for 25 years.

“We were sitting down by the window and we heard a big bang,” he recalled. “It’s kind of hard to go outside the front door because there are branches all over it.”

On the east side of Halifax harbour, Dartmouth resident Ronnie Van Dommelen said his home lost power on Saturday night when a large tree fell over.

“It went down and pulled down my power and my neighbour’s power,” he said, surveying the wires, which were pulled tight toward his front lawn at a sharp angle.

“The sound of the wind was like a continuous howl that would get worse every once in a while.”

In New Brunswick, crews worked through the night to restore power, transit services were delayed in Moncton on Sunday morning and many intersections were without working traffic lights.

Officials in Saint John, N.B., urged citizens to keep their distance from fallen trees in the town’s historic King’s Square, which have “deep historical relevance and significance.”

In Newfoundland, hurricane and tropical storm warnings remained in effect for much of the province’s west and north coasts. On the western side of the island, Dorian continued to tear up trees and yank down power lines.

In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Dorian’s winds battered Quebec’s Iles-de-la-Madeleine, where gusts of up to 120 km/m ripped roofs off buildings, uprooted trees and knocked out power to much of the island chain.

At one point, over 7,000 homes were without power — representing nearly all of Hydro-Quebec’s customers there.

Environment Canada said the islands could expect “storm to hurricane force winds” and heavy rainfall that would gradually diminish as Dorian headed toward Newfoundland.

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