Nfld. & Labrador

Military set to aid Igor-stricken Newfoundland

The Department of National Defence will help Newfoundland communities devastated by Hurricane Igor, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday.

Devastating hurricane called province's worst in generations

The Department of National Defence will help Newfoundland communities devastated by Hurricane Igor, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Danny Williams toured areas of Newfoundland's Trinity Bay that suffered enormous upheaval during Hurricane Igor. ((CBC) )

Three navy ships and at least two Sea King helicopters have been deployed, loaded with generators, fuel, food and water. Early Friday evening, troops from CFB Gagetown, N.B., were at the ferry terminal in North Sydney, set to head to Newfoundland.

Harper, who viewed a swath of Igor's devastation from a Canadian Coast Guard helicopter, called the flood damage the worst he has ever seen in Canada.

"[I've] seen some pretty bad damage and heard some pretty harrowing stories," he said.

While at least 300 workers were already assigned to more than 100 separate repairs on roads and bridges, they will now be backed by the might and resources of the Canadian military.

Lt.-Cmdr. Pierre Babinsky told CBC News that the Forces had been expecting the call.

"There's some ground troops that are making their way toward Newfoundland from Gagetown," he said, referring to the Canadian Forces Base in New Brunswick.

The Trinity Bay community of Trouty, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited on Friday, was hard hit by Hurricane Igor. ((Courtesy of Kim Toope))

"As well, we have ships that are equipped with Sea King helicopters [that] are proceeding in that general direction," Babinsky said in an interview from Ottawa.

Transportation and Works Minister Tom Hedderson said specialized military helicopters would speed repairs in damaged areas.

"These assets will support the ability to fly at night and heavy lifting capacity," Hedderson said. "Looking at the resources that we had, because obviously we need all the support that we can get, the gap that we saw was night time, especially as it applies to isolated communities."

Hedderson also said the government has stationed a ferry and two helicopters at Clarenville which will be dedicated to moving supplies to isolated communities on the Bonavista Peninsula.

Babinsky said military personnel will handle any assignment they are given, from supplying power to delivering supplies to stranded Newfoundlanders whose roads were washed out by Tuesday's flooding.

The move came as Harper surveyed some of the worst damage brought to Newfoundland by Hurricane Igor, which experts now describe as a historic weather disaster.

Meanwhile, an official at CFB Gagetown confirmed it has sent 12 members of its reconnaissance team to Newfoundland and Labrador.

On Friday, Harper, who had already offered federal emergency assistance to the province, visited Trouty and Britannia, two Trinity Bay communities that were among Igor's casualties.

Premier Danny Williams, who joined Harper and Senator Fabian Manning on Friday afternoon's tour, said the level of damage he saw during a tour Wednesday was shocking, particularly on Random Island, a 35-kilometre-long island nestled into the west side of Trinity Bay.

Williams visited Britannia, where 80-year-old Alan Duffett was swept away with rock and debris to the sea when a road gave way beneath his feet during the height of Tuesday's storm. Searchers have been unable to find any sign of Duffett's body.

"When we finally got down to the area of the island where the gentleman lost his life, that was just a terrible scene," Williams said. "It was completely gouged and torn away."

The Newfoundland and Labrador government is unofficially expecting the tally of Igor's damage to reach $100 million. While emergency road connections are being made, Williams said long-term solutions would take time.

"It's going to be a month, three weeks to a month, before we get all the transportation issues dealt with," he said.

Igor, which crumbled highways and bridges and knocked out power to tens of thousands of people, continued to leave thousands of people stranded Friday, with shortages of gas, food and other supplies becoming increasingly pronounced.

"There are no hurricanes/post-tropical events of this magnitude striking Newfoundland in the modern era," Environment Canada said in a statement.

"In statistical terms, this was effectively a 50- to 100-year event, depending on how one chooses to define it."

The Trans-Canada Highway, which on Thursday was closed at two different sections, was open Friday, although motorists were told that travel would be slow near new repairs at Terra Nova National Park, where Igor ripped open a crater on the sole route through the Cobblers Brook area.

All schools on the Burin and Bonavista peninsulas remained closed Friday. Most schools on the Avalon Peninsula, however, were able to open, largely because power was restored.

About 2,600 households and businesses were still without power on Saturday morning.

In St. John's, only three streets remain closed.

"We're getting down to a short list, finally," said Paul Mackey, the city's manager of public works. "We're making headway."

Mackey said the city's emphasis remains the clearing of countless numbers of fallen trees and branches from streets and public areas.