Nova Scotia

Breakwater couldn't save homes, road and fish plant from storm in northern Cape Breton

Post-tropical storm Fiona has seriously damaged the community of New Haven, near Neils Harbour, N.S.

'The building just couldn't take it. Even the concrete walls caved in during the storm'

Several hundred metres of New Haven Road, near Neils Harbour, N.S., crumbled and washed away during Saturday's storm. Area residents say there's nothing left but a rocky beach. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

People in northern Cape Breton are shocked by the strength of post-tropical storm Fiona, which devastated the small community of New Haven, near Neils Harbour, N.S.

It destroyed a road and damaged the fish plant, some homes and boats.

Roland Michaelis, operations manager for the Victoria Co-op Fisheries, said the plant commonly prepares for storms, but this time high tide coincided with the storm surge and created six-to-eight-metre waves.

The plant is behind a breakwater, but even that didn't help.

"I didn't expect ... to be missing a corner of the building and part of the first floor is missing," Michaelis said. "It's just devastation.

"The building just couldn't take it. Even the concrete walls caved in during the storm, so that just shows you the kind of force it had."

The Victoria Co-op Fisheries processing plant and New Haven Road, both inside the breakwater at New Haven Cove, suffered serious damage due to Saturday's storm. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Victoria Co-op Fisheries is the largest business in the county, with up to 150 employees. It buys the catch from 120 fishing boats.

"People either work at this facility or are fishermen around here," said Michaelis.

Fishing season has been over for weeks and processing just finished on Friday.

The plant sustained millions of dollars in damage and frozen seafood worth another $1 million is in danger of spoilage.

The plant has up to seven refrigeration units holding frozen seafood when the power was lost.

"Some of them are sealed pretty tight and wouldn't have any water penetration," said Michaelis. "The other ones, once water gets inside, that product is pretty much damaged and we wouldn't be able to sell it."

Roland Michaelis, operations manager at the Victoria Co-op Fisheries processing plant in Neils Harbour, N.S., says no one anticipated a storm powerful enough to take out a concrete wall. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

On Sunday, workers were busy moving pallets of frozen crab and bait into the co-op's freezer trucks, known as reefers.

"We're trying to put as much in the reefers as we can, but we're not going to be able to get all of the product in the reefers," Michaelis said. "Where we get the rest, we're not sure, but we're working on it."

Two 12-metre-long sea containers full of product were lifted off their pads and moved 30 or 40 metres along the pier.

About 30 temporary foreign workers from Mexico were scheduled to leave after processing finished, but couldn't get out on Sunday.

The co-op is now trying to book new flights for them and get a bus to pick them up.

Michaelis said he hopes to get the plant back in business when fishing season opens in April, but that depends on the company's ability to replace damaged processing equipment.

"I think we can put the building together and we can fix the outside in a couple of months," he said. "Equipment generally takes a long time to order and it's more technical than it used to be, so that equipment usually has some lead times."

Part of the wooden deck of a bridge on New Haven Road, near Neils Harbour, N.S., ended up hundreds of metres away across the cove after Saturday's storm. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Michaelis is optimistic, though.

"I've been through this before. Usually you get back on your feet. It's just a matter of time."

Adele Hatcher lives on Stoney Lane, just behind New Haven Road, across the cove from the fish plant.

Several hundred metres of the road washed away and the ocean came closer to her house than ever.

"It was pretty scary," Hatcher said. "About 7 o'clock in the morning, we had full-on waves hitting the side of my house halfway up my dining room window, but no water came into our house."

She managed to rescue the generator from the front steps before they were swept away and two large trees came down in the yard, but missed the house.

Hatcher said the trailer belonging to her neighbour, Dora Rogers, was thrown off its foundation and moved about six metres. A fishing boat ended up where the trailer was and several sheds were also shoved around.

"About 7 o'clock, we heard a big rumble and then a big wave came in and took the boat and the trailer at the same time," she said. "It was one huge wave that moved them."

Adele Hatcher of New Haven Road, near Neils Harbour, N.S., describes how the ocean moved her neighbour's trailer about six metres and replaced it with a fishing boat. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Rogers, who is 84 and lives alone, was not in her trailer at the time.

"Her house is completely totalled," Hatcher said. "They went in and everything from waist-high is covered in mud and just totally destroyed, everything that poor woman worked at taking care of her house. It's a real shame."

Danny Rogers said he always takes his mother in at his place when there's a storm coming and he was glad he did this time, too.

His mother's house was literally swamped by the ocean.

"That's the first time it was ever this big," Rogers said. "It come over the road a few times before, but this time it just took everything. Lifted it up and moved it around."

The sea took a boat along with two sheds and moved them to the other side of the trailer.

The trailer is unsalvageable, but Rogers said he was able to get some things off the walls, including some pictures of his father's time as lighthousekeeper on St. Paul Island.

His mother has been down to the trailer for a look, but was too emotional to talk to reporters.

"She was pretty shocked the first morning," Rogers said. "I brought her out here this morning to look at it and she was pretty upset again, but she's all right now. She's not too bad."

A large part of New Haven Road washed away in the storm on Saturday, leaving four homes cut off and forcing people to take a long detour to get to nearby Neils Harbour. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Rogers works at the fish plant and will now have to drive 20 minutes the opposite direction and use the Cabot Trail to get to Neils Harbour because several hundred metres of New Haven Road have disappeared.

That has left four homes with no road access, but neighbours said the families were OK.

Herbert Seymour, 93, lives alone on a property between the fish plant and the washout.

He has been there for 70 years and slept through most of the storm on Friday night, but awoke to a loud noise.

"A wave was hitting the house here," Seymour said. "I was scared it was going to beat the windows out."

He has had a front-row seat for many storms and got through this one unscathed.

"I like watching them, but I don't want to see no more like that."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 36 years. He has spent half of them covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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