Nfld. & Labrador

Furey flies in to Port aux Basques after record storm severs highway links in N.L.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey has arrived in the town of Channel-Port aux Basques to help assess the damage of a massive storm that has blanketed much of southwestern Newfoundland, leaving extensive damage and record rain totals in its wake.

Storm breaks 24-hour rainfall record and the area's 2-day record

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey landed in Channel-Port aux Basques early Thursday afternoon, flying into the community via helicopter due to roads being washed out by the storm that has blanketed the southwestern part of the province. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey has arrived in the town of Channel-Port aux Basques to help assess the damage of a massive storm that left record rain totals and damage in its wake.

Furey, who travelled via helicopter along with Transportation Minister Elvis Loveless due to roads in and out of the community being washed out by the rain, arrived just after 1:30 p.m. NT on Thursday. 

The trip also included picking up a medical patient who needed to be transported to hospital for non-emergency treatment. Helicopter services are currently being used for emergency situations with no timeline on when roads will be repaired — but Furey said that work is underway.

Just over 165 millimetres of rain has fallen in Channel-Port aux Basques since Tuesday, setting records for the highest 24-hour rainfall total and highest two-day rainfall amount, according to Environment Canada meteorologist Rodney Barney.

The northern Codroy Valley was drenched with even higher rainfall totals: 195.6 millimetres.

"The water levels are down compared to what I was expecting, compared to some of the footage that we've seen. So that's a good sign," Furey said. "Some of the damage is a bit worse though when you see it in person."

Furey told CBC News Wednesday that about 5,000 people are currently isolated from the rest of the province due to the storm and road washouts.

Couple rescued by helicopter 

Meanwhile, a chopper rescued two people from an area near South Branch known to locals as Over Falls.

Chris and Melissa Battiste, who live off the grid in a yurt tent in the area, said they were prepared to see the storm out — until water levels started to rise.

"I was watching the brook come up slowly, like every hour it would come up a couple inches and that wasn't a big deal," Melissa Battiste said. "But around midnight, one o'clock, it started coming up six inches at a time to a foot at a time. It was very, very fast. It was about three feet in an hour."

The forest around them was "flooded completely," Chris Battiste said.

"We would have had to swim somewhere. … There was nowhere to go."

Barachois Ground Search and Rescue and the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre were deployed to find the duo and their dog, Blue. But the RCMP said rescuers couldn't find them due to the weather and a road washout. Police said a Cougar helicopter rescued them just before 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The water is receding now, and they hope to head back to their home as soon as possible.

Rising water levels around Chris and Melissa Battiste's home, a yurt in an area near South Branch known as Over Falls, forced them to be rescued by helicopter Wednesday. (Submitted by Chris and Melissa Battiste)

Battiste called the experience "freaky" at times, but said he was proud of Blue for staying calm. 

"I was worried about him jumping out or tipping us over and me landing in a tree," he laughed.

"It was comforting just to be out of the damn helicopter. Tea time, that's all I'm thinking. I was thinking, 'OK, I'm getting home and having a nice, hot cup of tea.'"

Washouts and road closures have peppered the Trans-Canada Highway and roads from the Port aux Basques area north through the Codroy Valley.

While a damp, showery day with low winds lies ahead, said Barney, the rain warning is over for the area, and conditions will be more favourable for cleanup efforts.

WATCH | Storms cut off communities in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia:

Storm damage cuts off communities in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland

12 days ago
Duration 2:07
People in parts of Cape Breton, N.S., and Newfoundland and Labrador are grappling with widespread destruction after days of record-setting rain washed out roads and cut off communities from supplies and medical care. 2:07

Assessing damage

Channel-Port aux Basques Mayor Brian Button said things are calming down Thursday morning in his community, and most of the damage was done to the Trans-Canada Highway, which connects the town — and supply chains from ferries — to the rest of the island. 

"We're cut off right now. We've got four major washouts out there, so we're anxious now," Button said.

"The weather hasn't allowed officials to actually get on site and to take a look and be able to determine what's going to be needed to be done there. With the heavy rains that we did have, and the still flowing of water, it wasn't safe really to be able to do it, and they haven't been able to get the crews there."  

A section of highway east of Port aux Basques is completely wiped out. Crews were dispatched to assess the washouts at daybreak Thursday. (Troy Turner/CBC)

Button said he's been in contact with Loveless and the Department of Transportation every three or four hours since the storm first hit and that crews were assessing road washouts Thursday.

WATCH | The CBC's Garrett Barry shows the damage in Port aux Basques:

Major TCH damage in southwestern N.L.

12 days ago
Duration 1:20
CBC reporter Garrett Barry describes the situation in Port aux Basques. 1:20

Knowing there is extensive damage throughout the area, road repairs could take a week, according to Loveless. Crews brought equipment to begin work on the roads Thursday morning.

New culverts are also expected to arrive in the region Thursday, according to the province, with roads being fixed on a priority basis.

"Once you get to sites and start to do work there may be unknowns that we're not aware of," Loveless said Thursday. "But right now there's certainly a window of a week's work in terms of restoring operation to get roads open. For sure a week."

Crews began work to repair parts of the damaged highway Thursday morning. (Héloïse Rodriguez-Qizilbash/Radio-Canada)

Supply issues

Button said emergency service plans are in place and that the situation in his town is "well under control." The mayor is asking residents to go easy on shopping and only to pick up essential items.

"We are going to have some supply issues."

Furey said the government is prepared to deal with the threat of supply issues, using helicopters and securing help from the federal government where necessary, and said pharmaceuticals are the number one supply concern.

"We'll triage it appropriately. But obviously, health and safety is the No. 1 priority, so that would be kind of top of the triage pyramid. After that, we'll see."

As for health-care services in Port aux Basques, Western Health said that because of road conditions only dialysis, cancer care and emergency services will be provided at the Dr. Charles L. LeGrow Health Centre on Thursday. 

All other in-person appointments at the hospital and MP Place — such as X-rays, blood collection, COVID-19 vaccinations, and mental health and addictions services — will be rescheduled.

The health authority said it will contact patients to confirm whether scheduled virtual appointments or home visits will proceed.

Ferries running to Argentia

The Marine Atlantic ferry run between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia was still being impacted on Thursday. The 11:45 a.m. run to and from North Sydney, N.S., has been cancelled for the morning. The company said in a media release it has implemented its contingency plan to temporarily resume the Argentia ferry service — on the Avalon Peninsula, on the island's east coast — at the request of the provincial government.

Transportation Minister Elvis Loveless says road repairs could take a week. (Héloïse Rodriguez-Qizilbash/Radio-Canada)

The first sailing between North Sydney and Argentia was scheduled to depart at 6:30 p.m. NT. The company said customers with reservations would be contacted with additional information as soon as preparations have been finalized.

The Argentia terminal is a seasonal service that normally operates between June and September, but employees are preparing it to accept customers on an emergency basis, Marine Atlantic said.

The company said 225 commercial trucks were waiting in North Sydney to make the ferry trip to Newfoundland, and a crossing was to be made later Thursday for those waiting to cross from Port aux Basques, communications officer Darrell Mercer told CBC News.

"While there's very few customers in Port aux Basques right now, we will be able to move that traffic to their destination," he said.

"As the days progress we're going to be developing … a limited scheduled between Port aux Basques and North Sydney while we'll also have a schedule reflect the crossings to Argentia."

Two ferries will service the Argentia route, while one will pick up the Port aux Basques crossing, Mercer said. 

The service is a long time coming for Chantal Rousseau, who's been stuck in the community since Monday.

"I'm so happy. Fingers crossed, it looks like it's running. But after four days of cancellations, I'm remaining very optimistic," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from CBC Newfoundland Morning

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