As Nova Scotia emerges from heavy snowfall, woman describes anxious wait for rescue

As Nova Scotia emerges from heavy snowfall, woman describes anxious wait for rescue
A person shovels snow in Halifax on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. Cleanup in Nova Scotia could take days after more than a metre of snow piled up in some parts of the province over the weekend.

Some residents in Cape Breton were anxiously awaiting rescue on Tuesday after a huge dump of heavy, wet snow over the weekend jammed entrances to homes, blocked roadways and prompted a local state of emergency.

The cleanup has been underway for days in Nova Scotia, after up to 150 centimetres of snow accumulated in parts of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, including Sydney, the largest community on the island.

Snowplows are accompanying ambulances to get to people in need of medical care, while volunteers with a search and rescue organization have been dispatched to help vulnerable people with snow removal.

Debbie Crane, 61, said Tuesday morning she hadn’t left her home in Whitney Pier, a Sydney neighbourhood, since Friday night, when blowing snow created drifts that blocked both entrances and buried her car.

By Tuesday morning she had missed a kidney dialysis appointment at the local hospital and she was worried. As her anxiety about getting the vital treatment grew, Crane said she limited her intake of fluids to reduce the strain on her kidneys.

“I’ve been chewing gum to keep moisture in my mouth, and I just use a little bit of water to take my medications,” she said in an interview.

Later in the day, however, her brother showed up to dig a narrow path through a snowdrift blocking an entrance, and her sister helped shovel a path to the street. Crane said a Good Samaritan driving a snowplow also assisted before her ride to the hospital arrived.

Christina Lamey, a spokeswoman for the municipality, said people who need to get to a hospital should call 911, which starts the co-ordination of ambulance transport with snowplow backup.

“Plows are supporting emergency calls as much as possible, but this is very challenging,” Lamey said in an email. “We are asking people to clear their doorways and walkways to the street to facilitate emergency access.”

The municipality has stopped all transit services and waste collection, and city hall remained closed Tuesday. Many side streets have yet to be plowed while others are down to a single lane.

The municipality asked people to stay home. “If you are able to assist others with snow clearing, do so in your own neighbourhood … Roadways are being cleared for emergency response and travel of essential workers,” it said in a statement.

Video images posted on social media show massive drifts sculpted by the wind, dug-out driveways that look more like large trenches, scores of homes with blocked entryways and many tired residents with shovels at the ready. Before-and-after photos of a parking lot in Sydney shows eight vehicles that disappeared under the snow with barely a trace.

Paul French, a spokesman for the Search and Rescue Volunteer Association of Canada, said volunteers have been sent to offer their help within the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and the Halifax region.

In Cape Breton, SARVAC crews are helping with snow removal, particularly at the homes of vulnerable people and those who require medical attention, he said. In Halifax, they are completing wellness checks among the homeless population.

French said some of the other 21 SARVAC organizations in Nova Scotia will likely be called to help in other municipalities still buried in snow.

Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan has said Parks Canada will send snow removal equipment to help clear the roads in Cape Breton, and the Canadian Coast Guard will dispatch helicopters to deliver critical supplies and evacuate people in need. Organizations such as the Red Cross will help with humanitarian work, he said.

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality declared a local state of emergency on Sunday, which may remain in place for the rest of the week.

On Tuesday morning, schools across Cape Breton were closed, as were schools in parts of the province’s northern and eastern regions, where the snowfall reached above 70 cm in some areas.

Meanwhile in Prince Edward Island, one of the many people working to dig the province out from this weekend’s dump of snow helped reunite a Vernon River, P.E.I., woman with her horses, which had been stuck for days in a pasture.

Erin Redmond, who runs a heavy equipment rental business in Lake Verde, P.E.I., brought his tractor and snowblower to the farm at 6 a.m. on Tuesday, and carved a trail to get the horses back inside after almost three days.

“Helping or rescuing horses, now that’s a new one for the resume,” Redmond said in an interview.

The pair of horses ran toward the back of the farm during the storm and became stranded by a wall of snow, he said, adding that he used a snowmobile to bring them blankets, water and food. It took less than an hour to clear a path and get the horses back to the warm barn, Redmond said.

“I used my tractor and snowblower, and I got my trusty dog with me. We went and we do what we do … You don’t want to see somebody struggling. You try and help people out, I mean that’s just what we do here.”

Meanwhile, the cleanup continued in the Halifax region, where 30 to 50 cm of snow was recorded on the weekend.

Erica Fleck, Halifax’s chief of emergency management, said most of the roads in the Halifax region have been plowed but many roads in residential areas need another pass.

“A lot of people are going to be grumpy because they’re going to have plows go by … and you’ll see the bumps at the end of your driveway,” she said in an interview, adding that the priority for snow clearing has now shifted to sidewalks and bike lanes.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2024.

— With files from Michael MacDonald and Lyndsay Armstrong in Halifax

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