Lee brings flooded roads, downed trees and power outages as it heads toward Maritimes

Lee brings flooded roads, downed trees and power outages as it heads toward Maritimes
Waves crash against a breakwater in Port Maitland, N.S. as post-tropical cyclone Lee approaches on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023.

Post-tropical storm Lee flooded roadways, toppled trees and downed power lines in coastal parts of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick on Saturday as it barreled north across the Atlantic ocean to make landfall.

Pam Lovelace, a Halifax municipal councillor for an area that includes the famous Peggy’s Cove lighthouse, rattled off a list of damage the storm had already wrought in the first half of the day. Some roads were underwater, some were blocked by fallen trees, and several boats along the harbour in St. Margarets Bay were flooded.

“We really need people to stay away from the coastline,” she said in an interview. “If your boat is in the water right now, there is nothing you can do to get it out. The storm surge last night at high tide was massive, tonight it’s going to be even worse.”

Across the Bay of Fundy, the mayor of St. Andrews, N.B., looked on with concern, bracing for a similarly powerful impact as the powerful storm approached.

“The big concern is we’re approaching hide tide,” said Brad Henderson. “The next hour will be an important hour in our coastal community.”

Hurricane Lee had transitioned into a powerful post-tropical storm as it made its way north across the Atlantic ocean toward the two provinces on Saturday.

SEE PREVIOUS: Maritimers race to tie down gear, stock up on food as hurricane Lee approaches

As of about noon local time, Lee was about 90 kilometres southwest of Yarmouth, N.S., with the centre of the storm on track to make landfall later in the afternoon, said Environment Canada meteorologist Jill Maepea. Lee was initially expected to land in southwestern Nova Scotia, but Maepea said there was speculation its path would arc further west, possibly crossing the Bay of Fundy to land in southern New Brunswick.

“It will be very close,” she said in an interview. “But regardless of landfall, the whole area is seeing lots of heavy rain, strong winds and waves.”

The raging storm was travelling at about 41 kilometres an hour across the Atlantic ocean, whipping up sustained winds of around 120 kilometres an hour, she said.

Lee had already soaked parts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia with up to 60 millimetres of rain, and Maepea said some areas would see totals of more than 100 millimetres. Officials had recorded waves of up to 12 metres high in offshore areas, she added.

Power outages also blanketed both provinces, with officials reporting more than 147,000 people without electricity in Nova Scotia and more than 36,000 in the dark in New Brunswick, as of 2:45 p.m. local time.

A hurricane watch was in place for Grand Manan Island and coastal Charlotte County, N.B., and for most of Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast, stretching from Digby County through to Halifax County. A tropical storm warning remains in effect for most of Nova Scotia and for New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy coast and parts of the province along the Northumberland Strait.

In Yarmouth, N.S., where forecasters first thought the storm might make landfall, Lee’s wrath seemed to be winding down by Saturday afternoon.

Town officials feared a storm surge could cause heavy damage if winds had shifted around to the south at noon when tides traditionally reach their peak, but that never came to pass.

Peter Churchill, manager of the Killam Brothers Marina in Yarmouth, said Lee didn’t put up much of a fight in the morning.

“Things look fine now,” he said in an interview outside his small, cramped office at the marina. “With the east wind, it kept things at bay …. The hurricane definitely did make a switch. Things here have been relatively calm.”

In St. George, N.B., a family from the United States gathered around a table in the Granite Town Hotel, checking for the latest news on their devices as the lights flickered above them.

Paul Sherman is from coastal Maine and said he’s used to wild storms and bad weather, though his traveling companions — his sister, his two daughters and their husbands — were not.

“We’re having a good time,” he said. “It’s a family thing, so as long as we’re together, just about anything can happen and we don’t care.”

Nicole Poirier, the vice president of operations at NB Power, said Friday that about 300 response crews had already fanned out across the province in anticipation of widespread outages.

As outages climbed across Nova Scotia, the province’s privately owned utility issued a news release to say it had over 600 people in the field working to restore electricity.

Back in Halifax, Mayor Mike Savage said though the rain was letting up somewhat, winds were expected to keep blowing at up to 100 kilometres an hour.

“This is no time to go wave watching or to be out on the roads unnecessarily,” Savage said during a mid-afternoon storm briefing. Lee, he added, could still be dangerous.

He said a number of roads in the municipality had been blocked by sea water and debris from downed trees and power lines. Officials couldn’t provide a number, but said road blockages had been reported along several roads, including the road to Peggy’s Cove.

“While we do not yet know the full impact of this storm system we do know that coastal regions experienced high seas and storm surge at high tide this morning. We remain very concerned with storm surge for the next high tide tonight in particular,” the mayor said.

Harbour ferries had been taken out of service while municipal parks, recreation centres and libraries had also been closed. Officials were also working to help keep the city’s homeless population safe by opening three shelters, Savage said.

Lovelace said anxiety was high and people in her district were worried, especially as they’d already contended with devastating forest fires and disastrous floods earlier this year.

“People are exhausted … It’s so much in such a small time period,” Lovelace said. “From a mental health perspective, we’re asking people to check in on their neighbours.”

People are also being asked to prepare to evacuate if needed, she added.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 16, 2023.

— With files from Sarah Smellie in St. John’s, N.L. and Keith Doucette in Halifax

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