P.E.I. government, aid groups fielding thousands of calls for Fiona relief

P.E.I. government information services have had to juggle resources to field a huge volume of calls from Islanders looking for help in the wake of destruction caused by post-tropical storm Fiona.

‘We wanted to make sure people were safe’

Tree down in driveway.
The Department of Transportation is out assessing the danger posed by downed trees that are being reported through Access P.E.I. (CBC)

P.E.I. government information services have had to juggle resources to field a huge volume of calls from Islanders looking for help in the wake of destruction caused by post-tropical storm Fiona.

"It was all hands on deck for Fiona response," said Mark Arsenault, chief citizen experience officer for Service P.E.I.

"We've gone through this before with COVID and other situations, [including] Dorian, so we just sort of redeploy staff to where it makes sense," he said. "[For] the worst storm in Island history, Fiona, we wanted to make sure people were safe and getting the information they needed."

Arsenault is responsible for Access P.E.I. In addition to directing people toward government services, the agency was also taking information about downed trees that were potentially hazardous, having fallen on houses or across roads or driveways.

From this past Thursday to Saturday, Access P.E.I. received 3,000 to 3,500 phone calls.

Information gathered by Access P.E.I. is being passed on to the Department of Transportation, which is sending out crews to assess problems and schedule tree removals. Arsenault expects the most urgent jobs will be done within a week, but work will continue until the snow flies and perhaps even resume in the spring.

The phone number for Access P.E.I. is 1-833-734-1873.

'Somebody to talk to'

Meanwhile, the province's 211 service, which provides referrals for health and social services, has turned to 211 operations across the country to help it deal with the volume of calls coming in.

The service was overwhelmed for a time last week, said Treena Smith, director of community impact for 211. By Thursday, when all provincial civil servants were back at work, all calls were being answered. Wait times that were about 12 minutes on Friday are now down to a minute and a half.

Some Islanders are dealing with extensive damage to their property. (Brian McInnis/The Canadian Press)

People have been calling 211 to seek help purchasing food and clearing debris. They are also wondering about power restoration.

"A lot of times people are calling just to have somebody to talk to, because of their feeling of being so overwhelmed and a lot of us being in the dark for a long time," said Smith.

"The sense of wanting information, the sense of being in the dark — those were the things that were really trying for people."

Helping to clear trees

Samaritan's Purse, a non-governmental aid group, arrived on the Island to set up a centre before Fiona struck.

The group has been busy ever since, putting tarps on roofs to help keep homes dry and helping people clear trees.

Canadian disaster relief manager Tammy Suitor said the group cleared about 150 trees from one driveway alone so that it would be passable on Sunday.

She told Island Morning they won't be leaving anyone behind.

"We are staying. Every work order we write, we will get to," she said.

"If [trees] are just lying in the yard, they're not going anywhere. We will get there to clean them up, but it's going to take us a little bit of time."

Even those being told they'll have to wait are grateful to get a call, Suitor said, and some say the group is the first to call them back.

The relief agency was also on the Island after Dorian, and Suitor said the need is much greater this time around. The group has had about 200 requests for help, and she expects to receive close to 300 before all the work is done.

The phone number for Samaritan's Purse is 1-844-547-2663.

With files from Island Morning


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