Residents and politicians from coastal Labrador are furious with the latest delay in moving fresh food and other goods to communities where empty shelves have been the norm for weeks.
"It's depressing. It's affecting our lives," said Martha Winters-Abel, a resident of Hopedale, one of several communities where groceries are in short supply.
"A simple thing like food — you can't get. I know we're isolated, but God, it's 2014. Something has to be done."
Several problems have aligned to worsen the chronic challenges of moving food and consumer supplies to the isolated communities on Labrador's coast.
On Monday, Nunatsiavut Marine — a company run by the Inuit government in northern Labrador — said the crane aboard the MV Astron had broken, meaning that deliveries could not be made to Makkovik and other communities.
The setback came on top of other problems that started when heavy ice delayed the start of the shipping season. Last week, the 42-year-old Astron could not pick up freight in the Newfoundland port of Lewisporte because another vessel had been docked there, forcing the ship to head north with less food than anticipated.
Provincial Transportation Minister Nick McGrath's office said flights will carry freight into Labrador communities later this week to help alleviate the problem.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, McGrath's office said it was in the process of contacting retailers in Black Tickle, Rigolet, Postville, Makkovik, Hopedale, Natuashish and Nain to advise them of the flights.
They were also told all freight going on the flights must be delivered to Air Labrador Cargo in Happy Valley-Goose Bay by 4 p.m. Wednesday.
The flights will provide groceries and other essential items until the Astron returns to service Saturday.
Sequence of setbacks
On top of the Astron's problems, the passenger and cargo vessel MV Northern Ranger cannot sail because it is waiting on lifeboats.
Randy Edmunds, a Liberal who represents the northern Labrador district of Torngat Mountains in the House of Assembly, said the situation is deplorable.
"I've never seen such disregard for human life on the north coast of Labrador as I've seen with this government," Edmunds said.
"Someone is not doing their job there."
'It's so maddening'
Food continues to be flown into coastal communities, but is usually prohibitively expensive.
"There's empty shelves, and I'm sure it's not only me as a mother or me as a grandmother concerned about what are we going to buy for our next meal," said Winters-Abel.
She said she can afford to pay for fresh food by air — a pound of ground beef, for instance, sells for about $10 — but many of the people in her community cannot, and thus rely on dwindling supplies of canned goods.
"There's no need for it being flown in … It's deplorable. If this happened in other parts of Newfoundland, in other parts of Canada, it would be all over the news," she said.
"It's so maddening."
An official with Nunatsiavut Marine says repairs at the Astron should begin on Wednesday, after it docks in Lewisporte. The vessel is expected to be en route back to Labrador this weekend.