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.