Eastern Newfoundland reeling, search underway for missing man after blizzard
Published Saturday, January 18, 2020 11:00AM AST Last Updated Sunday, January 19, 2020 12:38PM AST
Two residents stroll down New Gower St. in St. John’s on Saturday, January 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaugha
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- Eastern Newfoundland struggled Saturday to remove record-breaking snowdrifts and searchers combed through a wooded area for a missing man following a blizzard that paralyzed much of the Avalon peninsula.
Christina Smith, 60, a St. John's, N.L., resident, described the snow piled "up to your neck," in some areas, as the musician and her husband attempted to clear passages to their home in the Outer Battery area.
Her neighbourhood was hit by an avalanche at the height of the storm on Friday night.
"There was an almighty bang and crack sound .... Snow funnelled down the cliff and hit our house and the tenant's next door," she said, saying the snow hit their deck and chicken coop.
Premier Dwight Ball formally requested assistance from the federal government Saturday, including mobilization of the Armed Forces, to provide relief to areas of the province hit by the storm.
Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O'Regan answered that call, saying the federal government was already working to deploy all available resources on the ground.
"The first thing the premier said to me late last night and again this morning is access to the hospital," said O'Regan, noting they need to ensure patients on dialysis or receiving chemotherapy are able to get the care they need.
"You've had workers in that hospital some of whom who've been going now for 36, 38 hours, and they need to be relieved, so we need to get professionals back into the hospital."
O'Regan said the federal government is still working out exactly how the military will be able to help the city. He said he expected to provide another update later on Saturday.
The intense snowfall that brought St. John's and many other communities to a standstill on Friday slowed overnight and ended in the capital Saturday morning.
However, with more than 70 centimetres of new snow on the ground in some areas and strong winds piling up drifts and creating white out conditions, roads remained clogged and treacherous.
"The roads are impassable and that's it, there's nothing that can be done," said Andrew Piercey, 37, a dispatcher with Jiffy Cabs in St. John's, in an interview at noon local time.
He described an exhausting walk through snowdrifts to get to work, spending more than an hour to travel about one kilometre. And when he got to work, he realized there were initially no taxis to dispatch.
"I was hallucinating. I've done some stupid things, but that was the dumbest thing I've ever done in my life," he said.
Meanwhile, the RCMP in Bay Roberts said search teams were looking for 26-year-old Joshua Wall, who remained missing after leaving his home in Roaches Line, a small community about 70 kilometres west of the capital, to walk to a friend's home in Marysvale.
Police said they believe that Wall is in a wooded area between the two communities, and his worried relatives posted images of the young man on social media.
Investigators paused their search overnight, but said they planned to take it back up on Sunday morning.
There have also been widespread power outages. Newfoundland Power said Saturday its crews had been working to restore electricity for about 21,000 customers hit by the storm.
The City of St. John's and several nearby communities declared states of emergency late Friday morning that remain in effect, obliging businesses to close and all non-emergency vehicles to stay off the roads.
At the peak of the storm, which some described as being like a blizzard in a hurricane, even snowplows were pulled off roads due to near zero-visibility conditions. However, plowing operations in St. John's resumed overnight.
Rob Carroll, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said the city had experienced a new record one-day snowfall of 76.2 centimetres, breaking a previous record of 68.4 centimetres that fell on April 5, 1999.
Meanwhile, winds at the St. John's International Airport were recorded at between 120 and 157 kilometres per hour at the height of the storm.
Air traffic in the region was also shut down Friday, and the airport issued a release that there would be no flights before Sunday at the earliest.
St. John's Mayor Danny Breen said he's lived in the city most of his life and he's never seen a storm of this magnitude.
"I've never seen the combination of the amount of snow, the rate of snowfall, and the wind speed that we've had here over the past couple of days," he said in an interview Saturday.
Early in the morning when the snowplow came to clear his street, Breen said he could hear the vehicle but he couldn't see it because there was so much snow.
He said he's about 178 centimetres tall, and "right now ΓÇª the snow in front of my front step is over my head. I can't see either one of my cars in the driveway."
Breen said the residents across St. John and the surrounding area had pretty much all woken up to the same scene.
St. John's Fire Chief, Sherry Colford, said considering the amount of snow that fell and the intensity of the winds, damage to the city has been minimal.
"We lost a roof off a house as part of a structure fire," she said in an interview. "With the extensive winds you will have some damage. Our challenge hasn't necessarily been downed power lines, it's been getting our trucks around."
Colford said a fair number of responses her team has had to do over the past few hours have been on foot: "We've actually had to park and walk for medical calls and to check on businesses."
Breen couldn't say when the state of emergency would be lifted. He said some of the main roads in the city are still down to one lane and it is hard to predict how long it will take to clear enough snow to reopen them.
Authorities have also been urging residents to keep in contact with elderly neighbours and to continuously stay in touch with people if travelling in case of an emergency.
Ashley Fitzpatrick, 28, was among the thousands of residents when went outside through the day to begin shovelling or using a snowblower.
She had posted time-lapse images from a security camera showing the accumulation of snow burying her vehicles.
The resident of east-end St. John's said the greatest concern is for people in basement apartments, whose exit might have been blocked by the drifts.
"Some haven't been able to leave their houses and had to have neighbours come and dig them out," she said during a break from snow clearing.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2020.