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Woman missing after Fiona sweeps homes into sea, wreaks havoc across East Coast

'A storm for the ages'

UPDATE: 1:05 p.m.

Neighbours pulled a woman from the waters off southwestern Newfoundland early Saturday after a storm surge caused by post-tropical storm Fiona enveloped her home, causing it and several others to collapse into huge waves driven by hurricane-force winds.

RCMP Cpl. Jolene Garland said police were also investigating reports that a second woman had been swept into the Gulf of St. Lawrence under similar circumstances, but the Mountie said the status of that woman had yet to be confirmed.

Garland said the first woman, who she did not name, was given medical treatment and is believed to be fine. As for the second woman, police have yet to confirm reports that the rising waters pulled her from her basement in Port aux Basques, N.L.

"It's too dangerous for us to enter into a search for that woman at this point," Garland said in an interview. "We can't substantiate her current location."

Meanwhile, Garland confirmed that other homes in the coastal community were evacuated as Fiona closed in on Newfoundland's west coast.

Both incidents were reported between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. local time, when a storm surge raised water levels at Port aux Basques to a record level. At the time, two peak gusts were recorded at 133 kilometres per hour, according to the weather office in Gander, N.L.

"We're all used to wind and rain here, but this is not a normal amount of wind and rain," Garland said. "The ocean waves that surged onto residential properties is abnormal. It has caused a lot of electrical fires ... and many are without power as a result. And there's a lot of flooding."

Earlier in the day, the town of 4,200 declared a state of emergency.

Rene Roy, editor of the weekly newspaper in Port aux Basques, said he saw evidence that nine homes, including a two-storey apartment building, had been washed out to sea as wind-driven waves hit the rocky shoreline and soared about 25 metres into the air.

Roy said the small island at the head of the town's harbour, which includes the Channel-Head lighthouse, usually protects Water Street East from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. But that didn't happen early Saturday as the waves broke over the island.

"The water was smashing in, 80, 90 feet high," he said. "It just took that apartment building."

He said it was unclear what happened to the building, but recalled it backed on a 10-metre-wide lawn that once stood about two metres above the water in the town's bay. It had about a dozen units, he said.

From his cousin's home on Mouse Island, Roy said he could see three houses "now a pile of rubble in the ocean."

Powerful gusts are common in Port aux Basques, which is at the island's southwestern tip and is home to a busy port that includes daily visits from ferries that link Nova Scotia with Newfoundland.

The homes in the low-slung, coastal community are built to withstand the worst that the ocean has to offer, Roy said, adding he once used a device known as an anemometer to measure gusts reaching 130 kilometres per hour on his street.

Born in Port aux Basques, Roy moved away but returned home seven years ago. The former firefighter said a 52-year-old neighbour who has lived in the community his entire life confirmed that he had never before witnessed such a powerful storm.

"It's one for the ages," Roy said.

David Neil, a meteorologist at the Gander weather office, said Fiona's extraordinarily low barometric pressure — which set a Canadian record when the storm made landfall in Nova Scotia between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. — would have been responsible for raising water levels at Port aux Basques to a record 2.73 metres at 10 a.m.

The low pressure at the centre of the storm acts like a suction cup, lifting the water well above its normal level. When coupled with the high tide, the result can be disastrous. It's called the "inverse barometer" effect.

As well, Neil said the waves were reaching 12 metres high close to shore.

"This storm was extreme, even for that area," he said. "It was a perfect combination to hit that area hard."


UPDATE: 11:50 a.m.

Police in Newfoundland and Labrador say two people were swept out of residences that collapsed into the sea as post-tropical storm Fiona hit Saturday.

RCMP Cpl. Jolene Garland says one woman was rescued by local residents in Port aux Basques, N.L., and is believed to be fine after receiving medical attention.

"We have a report about another woman who was believed to be swept out into the ocean as her residence was damaged as well — apparently swept out from the basement," Garland said. "We haven't been able to verify a status on that woman." She said storm conditions are too dangerous to conduct a search.

Towns in Cape Breton and on Newfoundland's southwestern coast declared states of emergency as post-tropical storm Fiona — one of the strongest storms to ever strike Eastern Canada — continued to lash the region Saturday.

Rene Roy, editor of the weekly newspaper in Port aux Basques, said he saw evidence that nine homes, including a two-storey apartment building, were washed out to sea by a massive storm surge and wind-driven waves that soared about 25 metres into the air.

"Lower Water Street is devastated with damage," said Roy. "There are homes gone. There are homes in the street .... The RCMP are actively investigating whether people have been swept away."

Brian Button, the mayor of Port aux Basques, pleaded with residents not to roam around and urged those at risk to seek higher ground.


UPDATE: 8:40 a.m.

Towns in Cape Breton and on Newfoundland's southern coast declared states of emergency on Saturday as post-tropical storm Fiona — one of the strongest storms to ever strike Eastern Canada — continued to lash the region.

Brian Button, the mayor of Port aux Basques, N.L., said some local homes have been washed away amid high winds and surging water levels. In a Facebook Live video posted on Saturday morning, he pleaded with residents not to roam around and urged those at risk to seek higher ground.

“So anybody that’s being told to leave their homes, you need to leave,” Button said on Saturday. “There are no ifs, ands or buts, you need to leave.” He warned if they didn’t go, they might find themselves cut off.

“A house can be replaced but you can’t be, so you need to go and … we’ve already had houses and things that have been washed away, so we need you to go now,” Button said.

Fiona was churning out hurricane-force winds at about 150 kilometres per hour when it made landfall around 4 a.m. in eastern Nova Scotia, between Canso and Guysborough. The brawny storm has knocked out power to more than 500,000 homes and businesses across the Maritimes.

The Canadian Hurricane Centre in Dartmouth, N.S., said Fiona set an unofficial record for the lowest-ever barometric pressure for a tropical storm making landfall in Canada. The recorded pressure at Hart Island was 931.6 millibars.

"The pressure of a storm is a very good indication of its intensity — how strong and intense the winds will be," said meteorologist Ian Hubbard. "The deeper the pressure, the more intense it's going to be."

The Halifax Stanfield International Airport reported a gust of 109 km/h at 3 a.m., and a gust hit 135 km/h at the mouth of Halifax Harbour. As well, a gust reached 161 km/h over Beaver Island, N.S., which is along the province's eastern shore.

In Sydney, gusts hit 141 km/h at 3 a.m. local time, causing severe damage to some homes.

"We've had several structural failures," said Christina Lamey, a spokeswoman for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, adding no one was hurt. She said it was unclear how many homes had been damaged, but there were reports of collapsed walls and missing roofs.

"The first responders are really stretched right now. We want people to stay off the roads," she said. "Most of the roads have hazards on them, with power lines down and trees down as well."

Several dozen people in Sydney were forced to move into a shelter set up inside a downtown hockey arena.

Arlene and Robert Grafilo fled to Centre 200 with their children after a massive tree fell on their duplex apartment, trapping them in their basement unit.

“We heard a lot of noise outside and then we realized that there are a lot of cracks in the house and we looked outside and saw the tree had fallen,” said Arlene Grafilo, 43, as her children — ages 3 and 10 — played in a waiting area set up by the Red Cross.

“We were trapped and we couldn’t open the doors and the windows, so that’s when we decided to call 911. The children were scared,” she said, adding firefighters eventually rescued them.

As of 11 a.m. local time, Nova Scotia Power was reporting 406,000 customers were in the dark — almost 80 per cent of the homes and businesses it serves.

On P.E.I., Maritime Electric was reporting that 82,000 of its 86,000 customers were without electricity, and NB Power reported 54,000 New Brunswick customers without power, most of them in and around Moncton, Shediac and Sackville.

People in Charlottetown woke up to howling winds, broken branches and downed power lines Saturday morning after a night that saw sheets of rain envelope the city.

"From tonight until possibly Sunday, stay inside unless it is absolutely necessary," the city said in a statement. "Stay off the roads, and expect continuing power outages."

At the Charlottetown airport, the wind was gusting at 120 km/h at 10 a.m. local time, and a 150 km/h gust was recorded at the eastern edge of the Island at East Point.

Steve Clements, who spent the night at Jack Blanchard Hall, one of Charlottetown’s temporary shelters, said he was thankful to be “out of the elements.” He said most other shelters are open from around 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., which is inconvenient during a major storm.

“It's temporary. It's also really loud. And it's not easy to sleep,” he said with a laugh pointing around the room. “But ... It's better than the alternative. It’s better than being out.”

Meanwhile, parts of eastern Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have recorded 75 to 150 millimetres of rainfall. Final totals have yet to be tallied.

In coastal Cow Bay, N.S., southeast of Halifax, Caralee McDaniel said the nearby Atlantic Ocean was "just wild."

"We're watching the wild waves crashing," she said in an interview from her friend's home, which lost power around 11:30 p.m.

"We have candles and several devices fully charged .... We have buckets of water and some boiled water in a Thermos so we can make coffee," she said.

"(Last night), you could see the windows flexing... There was a lot of creaking and howling winds ... At times, we were wondering if the wind was going to blow the windows in."

Storm surge warnings remain in effect for most of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, southwestern Newfoundland, eastern Nova Scotia and the East Coast of New Brunswick, with waves possibly surpassing 12 metres in eastern portions of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Cabot Strait.

Coastal flooding remains a threat for parts of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island including the Northumberland Strait, the Gulf of St. Lawrence region including Iles-de-la-Madeleine and eastern New Brunswick, southwest Newfoundland, the St. Lawrence Estuary and the Quebec Lower North Shore.

Hurricane and tropical storm warnings remain in effect for most areas.

The hurricane centre said conditions will improve over western Nova Scotia and eastern New Brunswick later in the day, but will persist elsewhere.


UPDATE: 8:15 a.m.

Police in the Newfoundland community of Port aux Basques say the town is under a state of emergency as post-tropical storm Fiona lashes Eastern Canada.

The town's mayor said some local homes have been washed away amid high winds and surging water levels but provided few other details.

Brian Button's update came in a Facebook Live post in which he urged residents to get off the streets and seek shelter.

A similar message came from the local RCMP, who said residents must obey evacuation orders and find somewhere safe to ride out the storm as first responders address multiple reports of fires and floods in the area.

Fiona made landfall in Nova Scotia at around 4 a.m. local time and almost immediately wreaked havoc across Atlantic Canada and parts of Quebec.

More than 500,000 people across the region are without power due to the storm.


ORIGINAL: 7:20 a.m.

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality has declared a state of emergency as post-tropical storm Fiona — one of the strongest storms to ever strike Canada's East Coast — continues to lash the island.

Fiona was churning out hurricane-force winds when it made landfall at around 4 a.m. at the eastern edge of mainland Nova Scotia, near Canso.

The Canadian Hurricane Centre in Dartmouth, N.S., says Fiona set a record for the lowest-ever barometric pressure for a tropical storm making landfall in Canada. The unofficial recorded pressure at Hart Island was 931.6 millibars, a measure of the storm's strength.

The centre says widespread gusts between 90 and 120 kilometres per hour have been reported over Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Iles-de-la-Madeleine and southwestern Newfoundland, with a peak gust reaching 161 km/h over Beaver Island, N.S.

In Sydney, N.S., the largest city in Cape Breton, the wind caused severe damage to some homes, forcing families to flee.

"We've had several structural failures," said Christina Lamey, a spokeswoman for the region. She confirmed that no one was hurt. She said it was unclear how many homes had been damaged, but there were reports of collapsed walls and missing roofs.

About 20 people have taken refuge at the Centre 200 sports and entertainment facility in Sydney, she said.

"The key message from that is for people to stay at home," Lamey said in an interview. "The first responders are really stretched right now. We want people to stay off the roads. Most of the roads have hazards on them, with power lines down and trees down as well."

The storm has knocked out power to more than 500,000 homes and businesses across the Maritimes.

As of 8:30 a.m. local time, Nova Scotia Power was reporting 414,000 customers were in the dark — that's about 80 per cent of the homes and businesses it serves.

On P.E.I., Maritime Electric was reporting 82,000 of its 86,000 customers were without electricity, and NB Power reported 47,000 New Brunswick residents without power, most of them in and around Moncton, Shediac and Sackville.

In Charlottetown, city officials are advising residents seeking shelter at local reception centres to remain where they are until it is safe to move through the city.

"From tonight until possibly Sunday, stay inside unless it is absolutely necessary," the city said in a statement. "Stay off the roads, and expect continuing power outages."

The city remains strewn with fallen trees and downed power lines, and several streets remain blocked.

"Our dispatch centre received over a hundred calls overnight regarding downed trees and power lines," the statement said. "Crews are doing what they can, but the majority of the cleanup work will begin once wind speeds decrease from the levels we are currently experiencing."

Parts of eastern mainland Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have recorded 75 to 125 millimetres of rainfall.

In coastal Cow Bay, N.S., southeast of Halifax, Caralee McDaniel said the nearby Atlantic Ocean was "just wild."

"We're watching the wild waves crashing," she said in an interview from her friend's home, which lost power around 11:30 p.m.

"We have candles and several devices fully charged ....We have buckets of water and some boiled water in a thermos so we can make coffee," she said.

"(Last night), you could see the windows flexing... There was a lot of creaking and howling winds ... At times, we were wondering if the wind was going to blow the windows in."

Storm surge warnings remain in effect for most of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, southwestern Newfoundland, eastern Nova Scotia and the East Coast of New Brunswick, with waves possibly surpassing 12 metres in eastern portions of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Cabot Strait.

Coastal flooding remains a threat for parts of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island including the Northumberland Strait, the Gulf of St. Lawrence region including Iles-de-la-Madeleine and eastern New Brunswick, southwest Newfoundland, the St. Lawrence Estuary and the Quebec Lower North Shore.

Hurricane and tropical storm warnings remain in effect for most areas.

The hurricane centre said conditions will improve over western Nova Scotia and eastern New Brunswick later in the day, but will persist elsewhere.



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