More government aid for Dorian damage, says P.E.I. premier

A $50,000 contribution to food banks announced earlier this week by the P.E.I. government is just the beginning of aid, says Premier Dennis King.

'We will sort of kick-start formally the provincial disaster relief program'

'We are looking at, every day, trying to figure out what is the easiest way to do this,' says Premier Dennis King. (Kevin Yarr/CBC)

A $50,000 contribution to food banks announced earlier this week by the P.E.I. government is just the beginning of aid, says Premier Dennis King.

The money was aimed at helping low-income Islanders replace food lost during power outages following post-tropical storm Dorian.

King said the government made that move in consultation with the Emergency Measures Organization, and discussions for further assistance are continuing.

"We're trying every day to assess the damage and what the needs and requirements are," King told CBC News: Compass host Louise Martin on Friday.

"We will sort of kick-start formally the provincial disaster relief program." That program will allow the provincial government to "trigger" matching federal funds for things such as uninsurable issues, he said.

"We are going to streamline some of the assistance when it comes to low-income Islanders," he said.

King said the government has been trying to do what they can, given the circumstances.

"This was, you know, an unprecedented storm," King said.

Opposition says too little too late

Opposition MLA Hannah Bell has been critical of the government's response.

"Could it have been done sooner? A day earlier? Perhaps. We certainly hope by mid-next week money will be in the hands of those who need it," King said.

In a release, the provincial government said it appreciates the patience of Islanders and reminded people about fire and food safety during outages.

Starting 9 a.m. Saturday, Islanders that want information on storm recovery can call the Canadian Red Cross. As power gets restored, government will be shifting focus to helping Islanders address some of the other challenges involved in storm recovery, including economic recovery, the release said.

There have been comparisons made to Hurricane Juan, which hit P.E.I. in 2003. The day after that storm the Red Cross was offering emergency aid for those with power out. Two and a half days after Juan there were about 1,000 customers without power.

Nearly a week after Dorian, thousands still remain without power in pockets across the province.

Considering aid from Ottawa

King said it is not his role to direct specifically what is going to happen, but to consult with professionals in emergency response and make sure they have the resources to get things done.

"We need to take the direction," King told Island Morning on Friday.

"It's not something that a politician steps in and says let's do this, let's do this. There's a process that has to take place."

King said he has had two conversations with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week, and Ottawa is prepared to send aid, but the premier said the advice he is receiving is that given the expertise required in getting power restored —which is the biggest issue the province is currently facing — there is not much the federal government can do to help.

Communication problems

King was asked about problems the Alberton Fire Department had communicating with its members in the wake of the storm.

Alberton fire Chief Shannon Dumville said cell service was down in the area. The fire department had to rely on its VHF radio system, which is meant for short-range communication.

"I think what we have to figure out now is how did we do it before," said King.

"We need to work with our professionals. They know."

In July, Bell shut down an Island-wide paging system used by fire departments. In the legislature at the time, the government said it was making funding available to upgrade fire department paging systems.

King said while he feels the province is doing a great job in dealing with the disaster, there will undoubtedly be lessons to learn.

"It's always something that you look back and say there are things that we have done well during this disaster and there are things that we need to improve upon," he said.

King said once the review is done it will be made public.

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With files from Island Morning