Juan Was No Friend

This city, we’ve been brought to our knees.

Carol MacInnis
Longtime Halifax resident
quoted in The Daily News

At 11 p.m. on Sunday night, Indiana Jones, Junior and I were standing at Chebucto Head* (“Duncans Cove” on the map below) to look at Juan right in the eye. And the bastard just spat at us, spewing salty Atlantic water in our face. Right then and there Indiana and I knew that Juan was no friend to make fun about. But what we didn’t realize at the time was that we really were looking at him in the eye.


* Know that we were not total yahoos like those walking the rocks of Peggy’s Cove. The waves were some 100 feet below us and the wind was facing us (from the ocean).

Indeed, Juan didn’t make landfall just east or just west of Halifax; he struck a bull’s eye on Halifax, following a north-northeast track up the harbour through the province and into Prince Edward Island (as a tropical storm by that point). For those of you in the southeastern United States, Juan was a baby hurricane: a Category 2 as it approached Nova Scotia, but likely Category 1 at landfall. But the meterological data, as well as an evaluation of the damage sustained, suggest he was at least on the high end of 1 if not still a 2.

Driving back into the city, Indiana and I realized we had to get back home and fast. On the radio, it was being announced that, for the first time in history, both harbour bridges were being closed. (The Macdonald was opened in 1955 and the Mackay in 1970, so never since 1970 were we without at least one harbour crossing. Fortunately, we didn’t need to employ the bridges to get back home.) By 11:30, the people on CJCH/C100 radio were saying that Juan was peaking. However, in reality it was merely beginning to peak, hitting hard until 1:30.

As we made our way through the maze of streets in the blacked out city, we realized that the Nova Scotian coast wasn’t going to serve Juan the kick in the teeth that it did to previous hurricanes. Quinpool Road, in the centre of peninsular Halifax, was an obstacle course of fallen trees and other debris. Our only detour on our way to Fort Needham was to make sure Trickles, Indiana’s mom, was safe, dry, and not in total darkness.

Unlike Indiana, I was unable to fall asleep, so at 3:00, given that the wind had died down considerably, I armed myself with a flashlight and went for a walk around my neighbourhood. It was hard to see, but I could tell there were tree branches everywhere — on the streets, the boulevards, the sidewalks… I steered far away from them as I could see power lines tangled among the debris. Walking a short way up Isleville Street, I could discern that most streets leading to it were blocked by walls of fallen branches.

Or so I thought they were only branches…

In the calm, foggy daylight at 7:30, Indiana and I went exploring through the neighbourhood. More people than I had ever seen at once in the neighbourhood were out and about, all in a daze, trying to comprehend what had just hit.

Nova Scotia Power “suffered the worst damages to its system in the company’s history as result of Hurricane Juan,” according to a media release published today. At the peak of the storm-induced blackout, some 300,000 Nova Scotian homes were without power. I consider myself very lucky to be among the thousands whose power was restored early this morning. Some 54 hours without power and maybe 40 dollars’ worth of lost perishable food: So what compared to other people’s losses!

The carnage you see in my photos, bad as it is, is nothing compared to the city’s downtown and south end. Part of the roof of one of the hospital buildings (the VG between South St. and University Ave.) blew off, as did several other roofs, including an apartment building on Dartmouth’s Windmill Road. Our famous Public Gardens, as some have said, are “devastated,” as is Point Pleasant Park, where a reported 25,000 are down. (Aerial shots of the park are heartbreaking.) The South End, where Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s University are located, is in such a state that power won’t be restored until the weekend, leading to the cancellation of classes until Monday. Public schools will also be closed until Monday. Nearly 1,000 army troops are helping the power company with the cleanup.

There were two fatalities during the storm itself, including a paramedic on the line of duty. Equally tragic, a mother and two children died in a house fire Monday night, the cause of which is believed to be candles during the blackout.

As a whole, people are patient with regard to the restoration of power, although some tempers are rightly flaring up after three days without a warm meal and hot water for a shower. While the massive cleanup operation continues, some pointed questions are being raised. For instance, did Environment Canada underestimate the fury Juan would pack? Ironically, EC’s Canadian Hurricane Centre, located in Dartmouth, had to be evacuated until today after it lost power and recorded powerful gusts. Its only statement issued at 11:30 this morning reads in part:

Environment Canada staff are pouring over meteorological and damage reports from Hurricane Juan to determine the exact strength of the storm at landfall. The largest winds reported were from McNabs Island in Halifax Harbour with a 2-minute sustained wind of 151 km/h and gusts to 176 km/h.

According to a CBC backgrounder on tropical storms, a Class 1 hurricane is defined as causing “minimal” damage as a result of 119-153 km/h winds and a 1.2-1.5 metre storm surge, while a Class 2 is defined as causing “moderate” damage as a result of 154-177 km/h winds and a 1.8-2.4 metre storm surge. The damage not just to trees but also to buildings and the historic waterfront suggests we got hit by a Class 2, which was the same as Isabel in North Carolina on September 18. The mild September I blogged about earlier may have contributed to the waters off Nova Scotia being warmer than usual which, in turn, didn’t cool down Juan as much as we’d usually expect. Little wonder, therefore, that the people at Environment Canada are keeping a close eye on Tropical Storm Kate. Even though it is still very far away, it seems to be taking a northerly path, prompting Environment Canada to make this quasi-apologetic statement: “Bulletins on Kate…if required…will be issued within 72 hours of when the storm is forecast to affect Canada or her territorial waters.”

Once tallied, the losses incurred by Juan will certainly be in the tens of millions of dollars. Some fishermen’s and farmers’ lives have been shattered — a lot worse than losing pink flamingos and lawn gnomes. As far as hurricanes go, Juan is the worse Halifax has seen.

{13} Thoughts on “Juan Was No Friend

  1. Wow, quite the shots you’ve posted.

    I’m glad to see you’re back online. I’ve been looking a couple of times a day to see if you’d pop up soon. Looking at your pictures, I have this crazy notion that if I could just lean some of those big trees back to a standing position, they trees, ground and all, would go back the way they were. You must be glad that Junior has a home of his own, away from falling trees.

    And speaking of falling trees, the Public Gardens….devastated…it breaks my heart.

  2. Glad to see you back and hear that you guys made it ok! Is that Indiana Jones in one of those pictures – the guy squatting down by a tree?

  3. Actually, BW, I heard rumours that in some cases, there might be attempts at pushing some trees back up. That would depend on a lot of factors, including how badly each tree root system has been damaged. The fear, of course, is that those trees might become prone to disease and bug infestations or not be stable in another storm. Hard to say… The abundance of trees is one of the features that makes Halifax so charming, but it this instance it proved to be a huge liability.

    Yes, Steph, that’s Indiana Jones. He figured he would pose there to give y’all a sense of perspective/dimension.

  4. We’ve been waiting and wondering when you’d be back. I think my e-mail wishing you a “happy hurricane” reflects the flippant attitude we had all adopted with regard to hurricanes hitting NS. With the several hurricanes that have reached the coast over the past few years and the minor damage they have caused, we had become quite nonchalant about these storms. Lots of media hype (think Micala Chu running around the waterfront getting her hair wet), a little excitement, but very anti-climactic – or should I say “anti-climatic”:-) As much as Environment Canada’s warnings were accurate, I don’t think anyone translated them into “loss of life, thousands of downed trees, many flattened buildings and long-term power outages.” I’m curious to know if there were a lot of people driving the streets in the midst of the hurricane and, after having seen the destruction and learned of the deaths caused by falling trees,if you’d do it again. The aerial shots of Pt. Pleasant Park are heart-breaking. After the beetle infestation of the last few years, it makes you wonder how much stress the park can endure. Glad to hear you’re ok!

  5. That’s so true, Hiker. I mean, the last hurricane I remembered was Hortense, which dumped a phenomenal amount of rain and blew some branches down, but nothing of the scope of Juan. For this generation of Maritimers at least, when it’s announced that we’re in the path of another hurricane, we’re likely not to be so flippant about it. Traffic in and around town Sunday evening was lower than usual, but there were quite a few people at Herring Cove and Chebucto Head as late as 10 p.m.

    By 11, however, there was much less traffic and that served Indiana and I another clue as to why we needed to get back home ASAP. Because Junior is heavier than his predecessor, he fooled us into believing the wind wasn’t as bad as it was. We didn’t make the link to how bad it was until we started seeing the fallen trees. And no, after seeing this storm, you can be sure I won’t be driving around. On Tuesday we traced back the route we followed that night and we really could have been hurt badly.

    I still think the people at Environment Canada’s Canadian Hurricane Centre were blasé like the rest of us. They spoke of wind gusts up to 140 km/h, and we know now that we got much worst than that. They, too, based on past experience, figured Juan would receive a cold shower off Nova Scotia, and disagreed somewhat with the American National Hurricane Center on the severity with which Juan would strike. I think now everyone, including EC, will look differently at hurricanes coming this way, and EC will issue outright hurricane warnings rather than mere “heavy wind/heavy rainfall” warnings.

  6. Another irony – when the EC office had to close its doors in Dartmouth, Fredericton’s office took over for them. Guess what office EC is planning to “scale down” (if not close) in the near future – Fredericton. So the next time the Halifax office has to close, your nearest alternate office will probably be somewhere in Quebec!

  7. Jeez! Well really, I think E.C. in Halifax has to rethink its location in a high rise on the Dartmouth waterfront. Atlantic Canada is probably not on its way to becoming the Canadian Carolinas, but if the four Atlantic provinces are becoming more susceptible to hurricanes — some say so due to global warming — then some measures have to be taken …at least for the Halifax office.

  8. Glad to hear you guys are okay. My relatives are as well. Just some minor damage around their homes. I just wrote an entry about the complete lack of info down here about the Hurricane.

  9. Looking at these pictures, reading the stories and watching the news, I’m amazed that Moncton only got windy, warm and wet weather. We’ve been lucky. Upon her arrival in Hfx, the Bar Hopper called me and described her drive from Truro to Halifax: very, very dark (no power), thick fog, eery… When she finally got home, her block was the only area where there was any power since Truro. Incredible!!!

  10. Here’s what bugs me. I live on the West Coast of the US. We heard all about the hurricane that hit our coast last week. It was on the news all the time. All sorts of fancy graphics. Other shows were interrupted. Obviously, the hurricane was extremely important to everyone.

    But, if you hadn’t blogged about it, I wouldn’t have know Juan even existed.

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