Hurricane Dorian Update
Cumberland Regional Emergency Management
Hurricane Dorian was one of the most destructive storms Cumberland County has ever experienced. It rivaled Juan and White Juan in terms of power, however its consequences were much more severe. As early as Monday, September 2nd, it was reported by media that Dorian would make landfall as a category 1 hurricane in Nova Scotia.
We began to prepare for the hurricane by asking our Comfort Centres to get ready to accept people over the weekend, and we held meetings with all Municipalities in Cumberland County. Those meetings covered information about the storm, its potential consequences and asked all to look at their own environment to determine how they might be impacted and how they could continue to provide services under difficult circumstances.
Its outer bands were impacting Southern Nova Scotia early Saturday morning. The hurricane began its transition to post tropical as it came ashore in Nova Scotia Saturday evening.
By 6pm Saturday residents of Cumberland County were beginning to realize that this was not going to be just another storm and by 10 pm some were surprised and frightened by the strength of Dorian.
Throughout the day heavy rain and wind were experienced, producing dangerous driving conditions and power outages. By 11pm many locations were without power, windows and buildings were shaking with some sheds being blown over. Trees were falling on cottages, houses and power lines. Many of our stately trees that have stood as icons throughout the county and towns fell victim to the storm. Some fell closing streets and highways, putting people in the dark.
Oxford received the greatest amount of rainfall in the Province, as evidenced by the large washouts along Highways 321 in Rockley and 301 in Kolbec. Efforts to warn the travelling public of the washouts became futile - when cones were placed on the roads the high winds would blow them away.
Little River, Black River, and River Philip all overflowed their banks, causing water to run over the roads.
Winds at the shore of the Northumberland Strait were fierce, producing a storm surge that caused erosion and damage to armoured shores. There were numerous reports of energized power lines on the ground and in trees, causing fires.
By Sunday morning, September 8th, most of the storm had passed. Daylight provided a much better understanding of the consequences of Dorian, and the recovery process began.
Roads were closed by downed trees, telephone and power poles, including their lines. There were also washouts on many of the same roads. Communication was sporadic with both landline and cell phone coverage lost. Our ability to contact Comfort Centres and request they open was hampered because of this. Only emails were able to be sent, initially, to get the centres up and running. On a number of occasions the amateur radio community was asked to make calls on behalf of Cumberland REMO. Throughout the morning our municipal public works in Amherst, Oxford and Cumberland were involved in responses to the consequences of Hurricane Dorian. Provincially the Department of Transportation, Nova Scotia Power and EMO we're ramping up operations to respond to the issues that were being reported.
Consequences of the storm on Sunday
There were close to 20,000 customers in the Cumberland region without power and over 400,000 provincially. This represents about 80% of the province of Nova Scotia. We had four roads closed completely from washouts and many shoulders washed away creating hazardous travelling conditions.
The following is a brief of some of the consequences by Cumberland County Districts. Needless to say power outages, roads blocked and trees down were common to all districts. The following are some consequences that were unique to individual districts.
There was minor flooding of the Tantramar Marsh and, some farmers had removed their livestock prior to the storm. Saturday afternoon a tree fell on a house on Blair Lake Rd, started a fire and Amherst Fire responded. Fuel reserves on Monday were down to one day supply.
Had minor flooding of the Nappan Road near the Lower Porter Road, specifically the bridge at the stream crossing.
A massive tree in Amherst Head fell on a car traveling toward Pugwash. The driver saw the tree falling and attempted to avoid but the tree landed on the hood of their car, crushing the vehicle to the pavement. The air bags were deployed however no injuries were reported.
The storm surge event that lifted the boats and docks in Tidnish, left them on Jackson Pt. Rd and partially in the front yards of houses. Many cottages were damaged by trees and a number of the armoured shore areas experienced erosion. The fire paging tower for Tidnish lost power and was not operating for a time on Sunday. Downed trees blocked cottage lanes and prevented some cottage owners from leaving.
Prince Albert St., Pugwash, partially flooded causing some basements to flood as well. The basement of the Hospital had water running in and only through proactive action on the part of maintenance were they able to keep the water to a minimum. The Crowley Rd at the Pugwash end washed out from the heavy rain.
By Tuesday much of the water people had run off for reserve, had been used and there was a demand for flushing and drinking water throughout the area. Pugwash Home Hardware made its facilities available to the public for filling water containers. Hartford Rd remains closed from Conns Mills Road to Crowley Road, due to wash out and may be closed for the next month. Highway 321 at Rockley washed out and was closed. Power was off to the Pugwash water supply and running on emergency backup power. The Chlorination plant was also without power and a generator from our fleet was used to keep it running.
Phone services were lost for an extended period of time along the Gulf Shore making calls to emergency services impossible. Our backup communication contingency was initiated to provide a local contact for any emergency calls. With the high demand for fuel, the Wallace Ultramar which had backup power ran out of fuel on Monday.
Highway 301 at Kolbec experienced washouts at the height of the storm. Warning cones placed on roads were blown away and the area remained unsupervised for a period of time. Highway 321 at Rockley had washouts as well. Flooding of Little River, Black River and River Phillip caused restricted access to some areas.
There were very few calls from this area; however two calls for assistance late in the week were critical in nature. In one case an elderly couple one running out of oxygen required immediate assistance. The power had been out so long that emergency oxygen bottles were running out and their home was getting very cold. Their phone was out and both had mobility issues. REMO provided a generator and an electrician to get there power back on. Springhill GSR provided water and food initially and REMO contacted The Salvation Army to assist. Another house on Lynn Rd had a critical situation with one person who required electricity to keep their oxygen flowing. We were preparing to respond when the power came back on.
Phone system was down for an extended period requiring the activation of our backup communication contingency. With the power out to the waste water pumps, some residents were beginning to have issues. We had one report of smell coming back up from the toilet and others who could no longer use their bathroom facilities.
The fire dispatch tower on Cape d’Or Rd. had no power and the batteries eventually failed. This seriously impacted the ability of the Fire Department to receive calls and generators had to be used to keep the tower running. The Rite spot store in Advocate provided a valuable service to the community, continuing to provide meals and supplies, however struggled to keep power running as its backup power infrastructure began to fail. A spare generator was sent down to assist with keeping the store open and fuel availability to the community. By Monday they ran out of fuel making Parrsboro the nearest fuel supply. Driving to Parrsboro required caution with so many trees partially blocking the road, and shoulder washouts added to the difficulty. Ramshead River Road was closed for an extended period of time from Route 209 to Yorke Settlement Road.
There were a few road shoulders that washed away but overall there were few calls from the district. Of significant note is the washout that occurred next to the Community Center, exposing the culvert that managed the outflow of water from the Pit Pond.
The following is a short brief on how the Community Center was utilized and a recommendation that I support.
On Sunday, September 8th, 2019 the Dr. Carson & Marion Murray Community Centre opened its doors to the public from 9:00am -5:00pm, as a Comfort Centre following Hurricane Dorian. The comfort centre offered charging stations, coffee/tea, and a light snack. There were approximately 150 people of all ages who utilized the comfort centre throughout the day.
On Monday Sept. 9th Wheaton’s Irving was running low on fuel with only 2000 liters left in their tanks. They began limiting fuel at 20 liters per customer and eventually ran out later in the day.
We had as many as 10 Comfort Centers open across the county and I would like to acknowledge the sacrifices made by all of the volunteers. Many, who under difficult circumstances of their own, made themselves available to ensure our residents had a sense of confidence and support, that their basic needs would be met.
I have asked for meetings with the Comfort Centers to discuss what worked well, what didn’t and how we can improve things in the future. Many lessons were learned from this storm and I will be collecting as many as possible to evaluate and implement where possible. I am also asking groups and organizations across the Cumberland region to contact me and make arrangement to have a 72 hours Emergency Preparedness Presentation so we as a County can be better prepared for next one.
It was Sunday evening, the 15th of September before the power was back on to all residents in the Cumberland County region - a full 8 days. Given the massive extent of damage I believe Nova Scotia Power did an increadable job at restoration and recommend a letter be forwarded to the utility expressing our gratitude for a job well done.