Storm Fiona batters Canada’s east coast, forcing evacuations

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (Reuters) – Powerful storm Fiona swept through eastern Canada on Saturday, bringing hurricane-force winds, forcing evacuations, blowing trees and power lines and leaving hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses without power.

The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the storm’s center, which has been downgraded to Post-Tropical Hurricane Fiona, is now in the Gulf of St. Lawrence after racing through Nova Scotia.

After the storm took its toll on Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, it hit Newfoundland, but it is now likely to weaken, the National Immigration Commission says.

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Port au Basque on the southwestern tip of Newfoundland has declared a state of emergency and evacuated parts of the city that have suffered from flooding and road erosion, according to Mayor Brian Patton and police.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Newfoundland said on Twitter: “First responders are dealing with numerous electrical fires, residential flooding and water laundering. Residents are being asked to comply with evacuation orders and find a safe place to weather the storm.”

“This is hitting us hard right now,” Patton said in a Saturday morning video posted to Facebook urging residents to stay home or evacuate if asked. “We have a fair amount of destruction in the city… We don’t need to injure or injure anyone else during this.”

CBC reported that homes along the coast were destroyed by the storm, and featured images of the wreckage and extensive damage in the city.

Fiona, which nearly a week ago hit Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean, made landfall between Canso and Guysboro in Nova Scotia, where the Canadian Hurricane Center said it recorded the lowest barometric pressure of any landfall storm in the country’s history.

Ian Hubbard, a meteorologist with the Canadian Hurricane Center, told Reuters it appeared Fiona had lived up to expectations that it would be a “historic” storm.

“She seems to have the potential to break the all-time record in Canada, and she appears to have done so,” he said. “We still haven’t gotten out of this yet.”

Storms are not uncommon in the area and usually pass quickly, but Fiona is expected to affect a very large area.

Hubbard said Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island still had many hours of strong winds, rain and storm surge, and Newfoundland’s west coast would be bombarded throughout the day.

While scientists have not yet determined whether climate change has affected Fiona’s strength or behaviour, there is strong evidence that these devastating storms are getting worse.

Hundreds of thousands without strength

Utility companies said about 79% of customers, or 414,000, were without power in Nova Scotia, and 95%, or 82,000, lost electricity in Prince Edward Island. The area was also experiencing intermittent mobile phone service. Police across the area reported multiple road closures.

“It was a wild ride last night, it looked like the whole roof was going to blow off,” said Gary Hatcher, a retiree who lives in Sydney, Nova Scotia, near where the storm made landfall. A maple tree fell in his backyard but did not damage his home.

Hubbard said Sydney had recorded winds of up to 141 kilometers per hour.

The storm weakened somewhat as it moved north. As of 11 a.m. (1500 GMT), it was over the Gulf of St. Lawrence about 100 miles (160 km) west-northwest of Port au Basque, with maximum winds of 80 mph (130 km/h) and heading North. At about 25 mph (41 kph), the NHC said.

The commission said Fiona is expected to maintain hurricane-force winds until Saturday afternoon.

As a powerful hurricane when it hit the Caribbean islands earlier in the week, Fiona killed at least eight people and caused nearly all of Puerto Rico’s 3.3 million residents to lose power during a severe heat wave. Nearly a million people remained without electricity after five days.

So far, there have been no reports of casualties in Canada.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Saturday postponed leaving Japan, where he was due to attend the funeral of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to receive briefings and support the government’s emergency response, Press Secretary Cecily Roy said on Twitter.

Canadian authorities have sent out emergency alerts in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, warning of severe flooding along the beaches and dangerous waves. People in coastal areas were advised to evacuate.

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Reporting by Eric Martin in Halifax and John Morris in Stephenville; Additional reporting by Evlis Rivera in San Juan and Puerto Rico; Ismail Shakeel and Steve Shearer in Ottawa; Written by Steve Shearer; Editing by Frances Kerry and Bill Bercrot

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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