St. John's airport to resume operations early Wednesday, state of emergency remains in effect
Mayor says crews working clear roads, make streets 'as safe as we can get them'
Planes will soon begin flying again to and from St. John's International Airport, although Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball says it could be weeks before the region returns to normal after a record-smashing blizzard.
The City of St. John's announced Tuesday afternoon that the airport, which has been shut down since Friday's punishing storm, can resume commercial operations as of 5 a.m. NT Wednesday. Airport employees will be allowed to travel to work earlier than that.
The state of emergency will remain in effect for St. John's on Wednesday, but the city is easing its restrictions when it comes to certain activities:
- Taxis can resume full operation starting at midnight tonight.
- Family doctor and specialist clinics can open at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
- Gas stations will be allowed to open Wednesday.
- Pharmacy and food stores can open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Oil companies can make deliveries for home heating.
St. John's Mayor Danny Breen told CBC Radio shortly after the city announced its continuation of the state of emergency that he has been in contact with city food banks, but most are having trouble opening due to snow blockages.
"[We're] just working on that this evening to see when they can open up. So, that's an ongoing thing that we're working on, and hopefully we'll have something more on that soon," Breen said.
Peter Avery, CEO of the St. John's Airport Authority, told CBC Radio that the airport is prepared to open on Wednesday and get back to business as usual.
"We're in pretty good shape right now. All of our main facilities, and our airfields, parking lots and roadways are cleared. So, we're ready for the go-ahead tomorrow morning," Avery said.
"There's no question about the ability for our airfield to accept the aircraft."
Avery said St. John's International Airport is expecting at least 2,000 passengers inbound on Wednesday, with the same amount looking to fly out.
He said Air Canada has added additional flights for Wednesday's run, and will be potentially upgrading to larger aircraft to fit more passengers. WestJet has followed suit, Avery said.
"It'll be a busy day. We ask people to exercise caution and also to carpool and take taxis where you can," he said.
Remain civil, drive slowly
Residents were getting a hint Tuesday of what life was like before the blizzard, as some businesses opened their doors for the first time since the city was slammed by a massive snowstorm.
Gas stations, pharmacies and grocery stores opened at 10 a.m. with city officials urging residents to stock up for at least two days — but also to remain civil and drive slowly.
As community food sharing groups pop up online and supplies inside homes dwindle, grocery stores were overwhelmed as thousands of customers showed up to shop.
At least one supermarket issued a pre-emptive limit of two loaves of bread per customer. Some supermarkets had to close their doors for periods of time to let long queues run through the checkouts.
Outside, cleanup efforts continued.
"We have never seen it like this before," Ball said on Power and Politics Monday night, describing the volume of snow the city has to remove or push aside in order to allow vehicles through the streets.
Cleanup efforts are expected to take so long that all metro-area schools are closed for the rest of the week.
"This is a student-first decision around safety," said Tony Stack, chief executive of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD).
"Having that volume of students on the roads in the condition that they're in … would be problematic."
Stack said the goal was to give people enough notice so they could make other plans.
Breen said there was at least one cut through the "vast majority" of streets in the city.
As for clearing sidewalks, Breen said it's something that will be happening, but it won't be immediate.
Transportation Minister Steve Crocker said that outside the city, cleanup of provincial roads is going well. Crocker said there are still challenges with highway off-ramps in the metro-area, but he was hopeful that Witless Bay Line on the Southern Shore would be opened soon.
"We had one truck through there now, and we're widening it. It's still not opened but we're hoping to have it opened later today or early tomorrow," he said.
"Most of our main arteries right now are in fair, winter driving conditions."
Handshakes, hugs for military members
There has been widespread praise for estimated 450 military troops who are helping with the post-storm recovery. Personnel and equipment landed on the island Sunday night and will likely remain until at least the end of the week.
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces spent much of Monday digging trenches from front doors to streets.
"Yesterday was a busy day," said Maj. Kerry Sears of 37 Service Battalion. "There's a lot of handshaking, a lot of hugging the soldiers."
Troops are doing everything from clearing heat pumps to helping doctors get to work, and have assignments coming in from all directions.
Some of their top priorities include clearing roads, attending to elderly and sick residents and ensuring that people who need medical care get to hospitals and clinics.
Numbers to note
Those needing information or assistance can call the following numbers:
- 911 for emergencies requiring fire, police or ambulance response.
- 1-888-709-3555 to speak to a registered nurse.
- 1-888-737-4668 for mental health crises.
- 709-777-3571 for non-emergency health inquiries, missed health appointments or emergency transportation to the hospital for dialysis.
- 709-729-3703 or firstname.lastname@example.org for those requesting military assistance with snow removal.