Igor leaves thousands stranded in Newfoundland

Tens of thousands of people in Newfoundland are still cut off from important services as the massive cleanup after Hurricane Igor kicks into gear.

Repairs will cost more than $100M, minister says

Tens of thousands of people in Newfoundland were still cut off from important services Thursday as the massive cleanup after Hurricane Igor kicked into gear.

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Strings of communities along the Burin Peninsula in southern Newfoundland and the Bonavista Peninsula to the north were cut off from road access to highways, and were either running out of gas or without the electricity to operate pumps. Broken bridges and washed-out roads were making it impossible for vital supplies, including food, to be trucked in.

One Toronto woman told CBC News in St. John’s her elderly mother is in dire straits on the Bonavista Peninsula.

Winnie Quinn said her mother, Carrie Ricketts, 90, spends every summer in her hometown of Knight's Cove before returning each fall to spend the winter with her family in Ontario.

She was scheduled to drive to St. John's on Tuesday to catch a flight out of the province, but her plans were cancelled by the storm.

Many sections of the road on the peninsula where she is have been damaged.

Quinn said Ricketts and a few dozen other people are now stuck in Knight's Cove without power and she said food supplies are running low.

"She's a small, tiny, feisty woman. She doesn't need me or anybody else to talk for her but this is getting to her," said Ricketts’s daughter, Winnie Quinn.

"She said that in her 90 years she's never seen anything like this. When I heard her voice cracking on the phone and she said to me, 'Winnie if you saw the devastation, ah, you wouldn't believe it.’ So, she is being shaken now to her roots."

Quinn said a helicopter may be the only way to get her mother out of danger.

"I know that there are many people in this situation. I know that there are medical situations and I wouldn't expect her to be put ahead of them, but she is 90 and she’s totally isolated and the fear is setting in," said Quinn.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was scheduled to fly to Newfoundland on Thursday night and tour damaged areas Friday.

Harper may be asked to offer the military's assistance to help restore basic infrastructure, including roads and bridges, in areas like Random Island, a Trinity Bay island that is home to a string of tiny communities.

Elsewhere in Newfoundland, travel along the Trans-Canada Highway was disrupted because of an enormous crater left behind in Terra Nova National Park by an Igor-caused washout.

That section of highway was reopened Thursday evening.

Late Thursday morning, traffic at another spot on the Trans-Canada, near Gambo, was temporarily halted when a sinkhole opened in the asphalt. Vehicles were diverted to a regional highway known as the Gander Bay loop. The same area was closed briefly in August 2008 after heavy rainfalls.

Tom Hedderson, Newfoundland and Labrador's acting minister of emergency, said he was startled when he flew over some of the most heavily damaged areas Wednesday with Premier Danny Williams.

Hedderson said the repair bill will cost at least three or four times the $27-million incurred by tropical storm Chantal in 2007.

Hedderson was particularly struck by damage he saw from the skies over Random Island.

Barbara Dean-Simmons, a journalist who lives on the island, said the military is needed to help residents rebuild basic infrastructure.

"It's just incredible. I can't describe it," she said. "We're on our own, basically. Neighbours helping neighbours."

Police urge calm

Police urged people to remain calm amid reports of shortages of vital supplies.

"People do not have to panic," RCMP Sgt. Boyd Merrill said. "They do not have to rush to the grocery store. We'll get through this."

Power remained out in some areas, including numerous pockets of St. John's. Newfoundland Power official Bob Pike told CBC News that 15,400 households and business were without power Thursday morning, well below the 60,000 affected on Tuesday. 

The utility had brought in extra crews from Alberta and Prince Edward Island to restore power for 6,500 customers in the St. John's area, which has resembled a checkerboard at night, with power out in specific and sometimes small pockets.

Pike said the challenges of restoring power are different across the province, requiring different strategies. On the Bonavista Peninsula, crews will use helicopters to restore power to substations, allowing teams to then work on feeders and power lines "in a very safe, systematic manner," Pike said.

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro equipment has been shipped east but is being held up by the break in the Trans-Canada Highway.

Schools on the Burin and Bonavista peninsulas were closed Thursday. On the Avalon Peninsula, most schools reopened two days after Igor dropped between 120 and 240 millimetres of rain in the hardest hit areas. However, at least 16 schools in St. John's and other communities were still without electricity Thursday.

The problems with power have caused new problems with phone service. Brenda Reid, a communications official with BellAliant, said the battery-power backups at some centres have been depleted, leaving 11 communities — such as Port Rexton, Newman's Cove and Charlottetown — without phone service.

Reid said that as Newfoundland Power restores power to those areas, phone service can be returned.