Montreal

'Everything was ravaged': Dorian leaves Magdalen Islands in shambles

Residents of the Magdalen Islands have been asked to stay home as the roads are impassible in some areas after a post-tropical storm raged through the Maritimes this weekend.

Waves topped 20 metres and wind gusts hit 150 km/h, Environment Canada says

Authorities have yet to assess the damage to properties in the Magdalen Islands after the tropical storm tore through the region with winds strong enough to move cottages. (Bruno Leliévre/Radio-Canada)

Ralph Josey was up all night, struggling to keep his lobster boat off the wharf as storm surges in the Gulf of St. Lawrence generated waves as high as 20 metres.

"Well, I guess if you're a fishermen, you put a lot of hours in anyways. Just part of the duty, I guess," said Josey, who lives on Quebec's Entry Island — part of the small archipelago that makes up the Magdalen Islands.

After wreaking havoc in the Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian was downgraded to a post-tropical storm by the time it made it to Canada on Saturday.

On Sunday morning, island residents were asked to stay home as the roads are impassible in some areas.

Authorities say the storm brought exceptionally powerful winds that downed power lines, damaged properties and sent debris flying, but no injuries have been reported.

"Everything was ravaged," recounted island resident Alfred Arseneau, after watching one of his rental cottages get blown like a sailboat for more than 100 metres before it finally splashed down in a body of water.

Though people in the region are used to high winds, this was something else entirely, Arseneau said. Two of his tenants were forced to flee in the night.

This cottage was blown by the wind, travelling about 100 metres before stopping in a body of water. (Bruno Leliévre/Radio-Canada)

"It was like an apocalyptic scene," he said. 

"Everything has moved. It was much bigger than anything I've seen in the past, and we're used to having pretty strong storms."

Though it wasn't a hurricane, the storm hit Quebec's Gaspésie–Îles-de-la-Madeleine region with enough power to knock out electricity for about 7,000 Hydro-Québec clients on the Magdalen Islands and on the Gaspé peninsula.

Blocked roads, no injuries

Jonathan Lapierre, mayor of the Magdalen Islands, said it's still too early to say just how extensive the damage to properties is, but the wreckage extends beyond homes and businesses. 

In some areas, portions of seaside cliffs, already fragile and eroding under normal conditions, were torn away, he said.

And some recreational infrastructure has "completely disappeared," he said.

Sections of the shoreline bike path were obliterated by the storm as were large swaths of the famous red cliffs that surround the Magdalen Islands. (Martin Toulgoat/Radio-Canada)

He many roads are blocked with debris from storm surges or downed trees and power lines. But, he said the situation could have been much worse. The islands were well prepared for the storm, known it was on the way.

"Fortunately, on this side, we are still doing well," said the mayor, describing the several hours of sustained winds overnight as exceptional. "It was quite the storm."

Hydro crews are on the job Sunday morning, working to restore power to more than 3,000 island clients, he said.

Sheds, trash cans and entire cottages were pushed by the winds in the Magdalen Islands, leaving debris strewn everywhere Sunday morning. (Bruno Leliévre/Radio-Canada)

The underwater communication cables that carry internet and phone services to the islands from the mainland are not damaged, he said, but there was some flooding and damage to marina docks, boats and trees.

Looking ahead, Lapierre said there are questions to come. Island residents will need to make strategic choices when it comes to rebuilding on the shoreline. The population will have to "adopt a position of retreat or withdrawal" in certain sectors, he said.

"We cannot always fight against the meteorological events as we know it," he said.

'Changing from hour to hour'

Residents of the Magdalen Islands are encouraged to check the municipality's Facebook page for regular updates, report power outages to Hydro-Québec and call the municipality for nonmedical emergencies. Otherwise, dial 911, the town says.

"The municipality continues to monitor the changing storm conditions," states the Municipalité des Îles-de-la-Madeleine Facebook page. "All municipal services are mobilized and are responding to emergencies."

On Cap-aux-Meules, considered the gateway to the Magdalen Islands, Hydro-Québec spokesman Jonathan Côté said efforts to restore electricity are going well because the grid did not suffer serious damage.

Post Tropical Cyclone Dorian's path on Sunday. (CBC)

"It's really a situation that is changing from hour to hour," he said. "In the middle of the night, it has gone up to 3,600 customers, and it has even gone up to 7,000 customers this morning, so almost all the islands."

Côté said, once the winds die down, electricity should be completely restored.

Keeping the boat off the wharf

As for Josey on Entry Island, he said he headed out to his boat at around midnight, keeping it in gear so it wouldn't be pushed onto the wharf. He was in the driver's seat for more than four hours.

"The wharf was covered with water," he said. "She wouldn't have been up on the wharf there, but it would've done a lot of damage to the boat."

Though island residents are used to high winds, he said the gusts were fierce.

"She blew hard for sure," he said.

Entry Island, which is about two kilometres wide and three kilometres long, is set apart from the rest of the islands and not accessible by car. 

There were some trailers and at least one building damaged by the storm on the island, said Josey, but he hadn't heard of any major damage or injuries.

Post-tropical cyclone

According to Environment Canada, the centre of the post-tropical storm was located about 157 kilometres north-northeast of the islands.

Dorian is still considered an intense post-tropical cyclone with winds hitting 130 km/h. Some offshore buoys reported wind gusts hit 150 km/h, with peak waves topping 20 metres.

Post-tropical storm Dorian brought high winds and storm surges to Quebec's Magdalen Islands, but so far no injuries have been reported. (Martin Toulgoat/Radio-Canada)

On the Magdalen Islands, winds gusted to 120 km/h, Environment Canada said, and rainfall in some areas reached 150 millimetres.

There were over 500,000 power outages across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, the agency said. The storm has uprooted trees and it even knocked down a crane in downtown Halifax.

With files from Radio-Canada and La Presse Canadienne

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