Prince Edward Island recovering from 'epic' storm

Dave Stewart
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Epic and unprecedented are two words being used to describe the blizzard that slammed into P.E.I. over the past two days.

More than 50 centimetres fell in the Charlottetown area, making the P.E.I. capital the second worst hit community in the Maritimes to Rawdon Gold Mines (near Stewiacke) in Nova Scotia.

CLICK HERE FOR SNOW TOTALS AROUND THE MARITIMES

By comparison, nearly 23 centimetres was measured by Environment Canada at Slemon Park, just outside Summerside.

"It's unbelievable. It's going down like a winter we've never had before,'' said Charlottetown's public works chairman Terry Bernard as city crews were out in full force from the early morning hours. All streets in the capital region were expected to be open by 6 p.m. Thursday.

The city was also asking people to avoid the downtown, banning all parking until further notice.

"It was epic,'' said The Weather Network's Chris St. Clair, who delivered live weather reports Wednesday and Thursday from Charlottetown and the Confederation Bridge, the latter of which was completely shut down for 12 hours straight and shut down again around 9 a.m. Thursday before opening to small vehicles only around 3:45 p.m. Thursday.

It's only the 11th time since the Confederation Bridge opened in 1997 that it has been shut down to all traffic.

Even the Hillsborough Bridge, which connects Charlottetown and Stratford, was closed following a multi-car pileup on Wednesday afternoon.

CLICK HERE FOR A MAP OF PHOTOS FROM THE STORM

"Significant,'' is the word Linda Libby, meterologist with Environment Canada, used to describe the latest weather event. "This storm has to be, in terms of impact and duration, one of the biggest storms of the season, possibly the biggest. Some people say it's the biggest storm in the past 10 years but that depends on where you're at in the Maritimes.''

Strong northwest winds gusting up to 100 km/h persisted throughout the day Thursday. In parts of the province, gusts were measured in excess of 110 km/h through the day Wednesday and overnight into Thursday.

Plows were pulled off the roads about 6 p.m. Wednesday and many roads were still impassable well into the day on Thursday. RCMP warned the public repeatedly to stay off the roads, although the national police force tweeted on social media pictures of abandoned vehicles in spots across the province.

Schools across the Island were shut down Wednesday and Thursday; Holland College, UPEI and government offices were also shut down.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Prince County Hospital cancelled all non-emergency procedures on Thursday although the hospitals' emergency departments were still operating.

Jamie MacDonald, CAO of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Communities Hospitals East (Souris-Kings County), said anywhere from 50 to 100 staff members put in at least 24-hour shifts to get through the storm. That includes doctors, nurses, pharmacists, LPNs, nutritional staff, maintenance, security staff and more.

"People are putting in very long work days and many of the staff have been working 24 hours or more . . . to ensure that our in-patients here are looked after and well maintained and that the emergency department remained open,'' MacDonald said, noting that when possible they made sure staff got a chance staff were taking breaks to sleep and eat. "All hospital team managers have been meeting regularly (Thursday) just to determine who is coming in, who isn't able to come in, what our plan is and where our priorities are. (Hospital staff) are going above and beyond the call of duty.''

Also involved in those talks were Island EMS, staff with the Island's Emergency Measures Organization and the provincial government's Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.

As for cancelling elective surgeries, MacDonald said it was necessary due to staffing levels and in the best interests of patients.

"We don't want patients coming in in this bad weather and with what we have to work with,'' she said, referring to staffing availability through the blizzard.

They weren't the only ones putting in long hours. So were the workers in manors across the province, coffee shops, convenience stores, etc.

It was also a hectic couple of days for Maritime Electric. At the height of the blizzard, there were 16,000 customers without power but crews still ventured out in the worst of conditions under plow escort and managed to restore power to all but 494 customers by late Thursday. One of the utility's crews got stuck in snow as did the plow that was trying to get them out so the workers spent the night in the truck.

"It is incredibly slow going,'' Kim Griffin of Maritime Electric said in an email to media around 1:35 p.m. Thursday. "We now have 16 crews deployed in (the) east, west and central (areas of the province). There have been many instances where crews could not make it down secondary roads for repairs and had to move to other calls.''

Due to accessibility issues and road conditions, the utility didn't expect to be able to restore everyone's power by Thursday night.

The blizzard also shut down flights into and out of the Maritimes.

Doug Newson, CEO of the Charlottetown Airport Authority, said things were getting back on track Thursday.

"We have had two flights come and go so far, with delays, and everything else is planned to be on time but that could change depending on the weather,'' Newson said. "Obviously it is very windy at the airport but crews have been working hard to keep runways and aprons clean.

The only flight that didn't get out was the early morning flight as the plan didn't get in last night.''

The blizzard warning ended early Thursday morning and the wind warning was cancelled late Thursday afternoon.

Libby said more snow is on the way Sunday, with 15-30 centimetres in the forecast, and another one for Wednesday, with about 20 centimeters expected to fall. That's two of four more snowstorms to come before the middle of April, she said.

 

dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/DveStewart

Organizations: Holland College, Environment Canada, Rawdon Gold Mines Queen Elizabeth Hospital RCMP Prince County Hospital Maritime Electric Communities Hospitals East Souris-Kings County Emergency Measures Organization Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Charlottetown Airport Authority New London

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Slemon Park Nova Scotia Summerside

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