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Weathering the storm

Estimated millions of damages along CBS coastline

By Mark Squibb | Vol. 32 No. 42 (Jan. 23, 2020)

Although enduring a shorter state of emergency than neighbouring municipalities such as Paradise, Mount Pearl, and St. Johns (who were still under a state of emergency as of publication on Wednesday), Conception Bay South was dealt a hard hand by what some have dubbed the ‘storm of the century.’

The most extensive damage was along the coastline, with both CBS mayor Terry French and Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club Commodore Larry LeDrew estimating millions of dollars worth of damage.

“The barachois, which is the natural protective wall, was breached, and about a 500-metre section of it was flattened right out, which exposed the yacht club to the open sea,” explained LeDrew.

“We can’t get out to assess the total amount of damage, but the electrical poles are all down, there are sections of the wharf that have been destroyed… we had two main wharves, and one of them is pretty much destroyed,” he explained.

There was also damage to the parking lot, with waves lifting large sheets of asphalt, as well as a influx of debris into the channel, reducing both it’s width and depth by an estimated 75 per cent.

“The word ‘devastating’ has been used,” LeDrew summarised.

“Our next step now is to do clean up of the site. We have four boats that have minor damage, one that is more severally damaged, and they have to be dealt with.”

Other boats will need to be moved to a safer location.

LeDrew said he couldn’t recall the club ever suffering so much damage, although he recalled the barachois being breached back in 2013.

“But this is unprecedented,” he said.

Mayor French added that extensive damage had been done along the beaches and coastal walking trails throughout town.

“In Long Pond, the beach is no longer there in places. And we have a new beach in places along Kelligrews and Upper Gullies and Seal Cove. So, there’s quite a bit of damage along our bay,” he explained. “We haven’t had a chance yet to do a real good assessment. Our trail system, unfortunately, saw some significant damage. And we’ll be reaching out to our federal and provincial partners to help us with theses significant damages.”

At least two local churches, Topsail United and All Saints in Foxtrap saw siding ripped off their steeples by the 120 kph winds.

French said that in preparing for the record setting blizzard, he had hoped for the best, but prepared for the worst.

“You have to prepare for if it’s going to be just as bad as they’re saying, or worse,” said French.

“The first thing you think about of course is having the resources, and how to keep the residents as safe as possible. So that was playing on my mind, and our staffs minds, in the couple of days leading up to it.”

The Town, along with other metro communities, called a state of emergency Friday, although it was some time after other communities declared their own state of emergencies.

 “We were a bit long calling the state of emergency. We waited a few hours extra because we still had equipment that was operational, on the road, and working. And we had staff that were dedicated to the cause,” said French. “We were fortunate enough to have plenty of local contractors in our town who stepped us as well, so we were pretty well able to double our complement of snow clearing equipment… We needed front end loaders to clear away for our snowplows to get in.”

CBS removed the state of emergency Sunday afternoon.

French said that it’s a trying time for a community when such disasters happen and decisions must be made that maybe not everybody will agree with.

“We all have different opinions when a state of emergency should be called, when it should be lifted, when a warming station should be opened, when they shouldn’t, but I just want to let people know that there are an awful lot of decisions that need to be made for a whole host of different reasons,” he said. “For example, the other night we had our power gone in the east end of our town. And there were people saying, ‘How come the warming centre wasn’t opened?’ Well, the reality of it is that we had to weigh the option whether it was more dangerous for someone to remain in their home, cold under blankets, or let them get out and try to get to a warming centre, then get back home. So, you’re constantly weighing these tough decisions.”

French noted that while the roads are now clear, walking is certainly not ideal, and it may be sometime before things return to normal.

“This may be the new norm. We may be looking at not seeing some gravel and sidewalks for some time,” he allowed.

He applauded residents who took it upon themselves to shovel out fire hydrants (of which there are about 1,300 in CBS.)

“I’ve noticed a lot of people shovelling out fire hydrants. And being a place that has had two significant structural fires in the past week, I can’t thank people enough who’ve taken it upon themselves to do that,” he said. “They’re the unsung heroes in my mind.”

French said for now, the Town will be focused on cleaning up — and discussing what to do when the next big storm hits.

“There’s always room to improve,” he admitted. “We’ll be re-evaluating this for months: about things that we could have done differently, things that we did, things that we shouldn’t have done, and communication. I’m sure we’ll go over that with a fine tooth comb, because we always try to get the message out there, and that can be pretty challenging.”

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