Official runaround on offering help to storm-tossed visitors

N.B. visitor caught in vortex of help but ended up stranded anyway as officials declare everyone else responsible

Dave Stewart
Published on July 8, 2014

Angela Veness of St. Martins, N.B., says she will think twice before vacationing on P.E.I. again.

Veness, 49, and a group of friends bought tickets to the Cavendish Beach Music Festival last fall and booked a tent site at Raceway Park in Oyster Bed Bridge, one of the sites associated with the festival.

They scrambled to seek shelter on Saturday as post tropical storm Arthur hammered the province, unable to make it through the night in a tent. Some who tented at Raceway Park found hotel rooms in Charlottetown.

Veness said the Comfort Inn in Charlottetown was booked but was helping tenters find other hotels. She said the Delta Prince Edward offered her a room at a substantial discount. Bob Boyle, who operates a seven-room hotel in Brackley, allowed his guests to take in others who were camping in tents.

By that time the storm was in full swing. Veness said she didn’t want to drive back to the city in that weather.

“We spent Saturday night sleeping in our cars,’’ Veness said Tuesday. “Many around us, their tents were completely destroyed and they had no shelter.’’

Veness spent the day calling a number of provincial government departments, asking why tenters were not offered shelter.

“We were looking for nothing other than a roof over our heads, not for communities to come and feed us. We were prepared with food. We weren’t looking for blankets, we brought that stuff with us. We just wanted shelter.’’

The province’s Office of Public Safety told The Guardian Tuesday that there is a graduated process for emergency management and response. Individuals, such as people, private businesses and corporations, are encouraged to take steps to prepare to sustain themselves and their families.

That graduated process indicates municipalities are expected to manage an emergency within its jurisdiction and if the demands exceed their capabilities, nearby communities may provide additional resources or personnel. The municipality also may request help from the Office of Public Safety.

This protocol also states that the province steps in when requested by local authorities.

“The province takes the safety of Islanders and its visitors very seriously,’’ a spokeswomen with public safety said in an email.

The P.E.I. branch of the Canadian Red Cross told The Guardian on Monday that a plan was in place but no request came from individuals or municipalities for help.

Kevin Power operates Raceway Park which was one of the sites people, who attended the festival, were able to set tents up.

“We got along quite well. We didn’t have a thing to worry about,’’ Power said Tuesday. “Mind you, I didn’t enjoy that weather.”

Power said his site never lost power and had a generator on hand to keep his facilities, such as restrooms, operating for the tenters.

Power said campers at Raceway Park seemed to be entertaining themselves and said that if anything did happen he had four security people on site who had medical training.

Tourism Minister Robert Henderson said once a weather warning is issued information is sent from the Office of Public Safety to all provincially-run and all private campground operators.

“We ask that they share the information with guests,’’ Henderson said. “At provincial campgrounds, we offer refunds to anyone who pre-booked nights they are not going to use because of weather.

“We direct anyone who does not want to camp, but wants to stay on the Island, to our visitor information centres where staff will happily assist them to find roofed accommodations (and) that was exactly the protocol we followed this weekend. We assisted dozens of visitors at locations across the Island.’’

Veness said no one reached out to her group.

“They did not check on people,’’ Veness said of Raceway Park. “They didn’t come through to see if we needed help with anything. A gentleman who was camping further down and had a travel trailer was going site to site checking on every single individual. He said ‘I don’t have much but if you need anything please come down or if you’re scared or you have no shelter. We’ll take in as many as we can’.

Veness said that job should have fallen to the province’s Office of Public Safety.

“I feel like the Island let people down. (P.E.I.) is know for its tourists . . . they were absolutely pathetic in their lack of care about what was happening to people in tents.’’