Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's state of emergency will officially lift Saturday morning

St. John's Mayor Danny Breen announced Friday afternoon the state of emergency for the city will be officially lifted at 6 a.m. on Saturday. 

Business owners have worried about paying employees after being forced to close

St. John's Mayor Danny Breen says the city's state of emergency will end 6 a.m. Saturday. (Gary Locke/CBC)

St. John's Mayor Danny Breen confirmed Friday afternoon the city's state of emergency will be officially lifted after eight days at 6 a.m. on Saturday. 

A 24-hour parking ban outside the designated downtown will stay in place, and the city is offering

Metrobus and GoBus service is resuming Saturday morning. The city is offering free rides on both until Feb. 7 to encourage people to leave their vehicles at home.  

The city said there will be detours on bus routes, and drivers are asked to be cautious and expect it to take longer to get around. 

"I want to thank the public for their cooperation and patience during this time," Breen said Friday afternoon.

"It's been very trying and difficult time, not only the for residents, but for businesses and employees who were adversely impacted and I really want to thank them for their support and for their patience as we dealt with this."  

Schools aiming for Monday reopening

The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District hopes metro-area schools will be open Monday. The district announced Friday afternoon that bus routes may be temporarily adjusted, and parents and students should check the district's website, where all changes will be listed on Sunday.

District CEO Tony Stack said the school district continues to work with the province and the city to determine if snow clearing has been sufficient enough to open all schools. Stack said some schools in St. John's may remain closed on Monday. 

Breen said the snow clearing effort moved over 4,000 truckloads of snow so far with no plan to stop just yet. The mayor added safety is still a number one priority even after the state of emergency is lifted.

"Everybody is going to have to play their part in this, and the drivers and people driving cars are going to have to take their time. They're going to have to be aware that there's people out on the road," Breen said.

"This is not the time to be going out to have a look around and see what the snow is like."

Breen added sidewalk clearing in the city has begun, with school zones having priority.

While the state of emergency will be lifted, the snow-clearing work isn't over, Breen said, and will continue around the clock with no timeline yet for when it will be finished.

Struggle for businesses

Meanwhile business owners in the metro-area have been struggling after being shuttered for more than a week.

Dave Hopley is heartbroken he can't pay his employees for scheduled days they missed during the state of emergency in St. John's, but says he just doesn't have the money. 

The co-owner of Rocket Bakery got choked up as he explained why his workers will go without much-needed wages over the past eight days.

An emotional Dave Hopley says he can't afford to pay his employees for time missed due to the state of emergency. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

"It's stressful on them and it's stressful on us," he told The St. John's Morning Show. "We're one of the businesses that won't be able to afford to pay our staff for missed time."

Hopley said each day their two locations were closed, they lost $5,000.

Rocket Bakery has been allowed to open since Wednesday as a food store, selling bread, milk and pastries. They are not allowed to sell prepared foods, however, until the state of emergency lifts on Saturday morning.

Rocket Bakery was allowed to open as a food store, but not as a restaurant during the state of emergency. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

Hopley said the devastating losses could have been avoided, if the city had loosened the restrictions during the state of emergency.

Pedestrians weren't technically allowed out in the streets, but it was a rule that wasn't strictly enforced. Downtown was teeming with pedestrians while businesses were not allowed to open.

"It doesn't seem to make sense to close everything down completely. Let's be a little bit more strategic about it next time," Hopley said.

Count on support

Premier Dwight Ball told reporters Thursday the province is looking at all federal programs to find a way to help affected workers, but acknowledged there is no legal requirement to pay workers during a state of emergency.

On Friday, Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said the province has asked about financial assistance to help those affected, and that Newfoundlanders can count on the federal government's support.

"I'm very pleased with the collaboration that took place, and we got resources that they required out there," he said, adding Ottawa is "going to do our very best to be there for them."

Blair didn't say how much financial support will be available, though there is a program and criteria in place and discussions are underway.

Emotional time

Brenda O'Reilly is one of the best-known business owners in downtown St. John's.

Speaking at her Yellowbelly Brewery on Friday morning, she began to cry as she spoke about the efforts she saw across the city during the past week.

The Canadian Armed Forces have been active in St. John's since Monday, digging out people who are trapped inside their homes.

Brenda O'Reilly owns several downtown businesses, including Yellowbelly Brewey and O'Reilly's Irish Newfoundland Pub. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

"If they show up tomorrow, we'll certainly buy a drink for them," said O'Reilly.

The economic impact for downtown business owners is especially bad for this storm, since most didn't enter the winter on a strong footing.

"We're in the hospitality business so we're going to put our smiles back on and get at it," O'Reilly said.

The St. John's Board of Trade is joining in the call to support local, sending out a news release on Friday asking people to get out to their favourite bar, restaurant or hotel on the weekend.

The Atlantic Business Magazine launched a "#Snowmageddon2020 Support Small Business Bingo" game, challenging consumers to do things like explore downtown, visit a local café, try a new drink and leave a bigger tip.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Adam Walsh

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