Hurricane Fiona has killed one person, destroyed dozens of homes, and left hundreds of thousands in Atlantic Canada without power—after causing five deaths and widespread destruction in the Caribbean. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned Canadians that things will only get worse as extreme weather becomes more frequent, linking the devastating post-tropical storm to climate change.
On Sunday afternoon, the Canadian Coast Guard and the RCMP found the body of a missing 73-year-old woman who was swept out of her home in Port aux Basques, Newfoundland. Her house was among the more than 20 that were destroyed, including a two-story apartment block, and more than 200 people remain displaced under a strict evacuation order, reports CBC News. Several houses remain at risk after the storm eroded away the ground beneath them. The local water system has been compromised and a boil advisory is in place in the town of 4,000 residents.
Forecast as a “historic, extreme event for Atlantic Canada” by the Canadian Hurricane Centre, Fiona lived up to billing—with winds clocking above 170 kilometres per hour, and rainfall totals edging past 190 millimetres in parts of Nova Scotia. Canadian military personnel have arrived there “to do reconnaissance work ahead of operations to restore transportation and remove debris.”
Cape Breton was particularly hard hit. Osborne Burke, general manager of a fisherman-owned fish processing plant in Neils Harbour, described impact as “horrendous.” Putting recovery costs at “north of $1 million,” he added, “it’s damage we never, ever thought would occur.”
Canadian Coast Guard helicopters and ships are on the scene offering storm relief in Port aux Basques and Quebec’s Magdalen Islands, both of which were extremely hard hit by Fiona and remain under states of emergency. More than 300,000 people across the Atlantic region are without power, and many are without heat.
“Recovery is going to be a big effort, and we will be there to support every step of the way,” Trudeau told media. He added Ottawa would match Red Cross donations from individuals and corporations for the next 30 days. The federal government has pledged to make financial assistance available if provinces find the cost of the disaster too much to bear, The Globe and Mail reports.
Trudeau also explicitly invoked climate change as a driver behind more frequent and ferocious storms making landfall on Canada’s coasts. Noting that “things are only getting worse,” and warning that monster storms that used to arrive only once every 100 years will likely become far more frequent, he urged the imperative to build more resilient infrastructure, reports The Associated Press.
Quebec Premier François Legault also acknowledged the role of climate change in producing stronger, more frequent storms. Speaking on Saturday as the province began to clean up from its own thrashing by Fiona, which left nearly 6,000 without power on the mainland alone and water supplies imperilled by electricity outages, Legault said this reality will require the province to work more closely with municipalities on climate adaptation. Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec government had previously promised $7 billion to improve infrastructure in the face of climate change and electrify transport, but municipalities have yet to receive those funds, CBC News says.
Fiona originated in the Caribbean early last week as a Category One storm. It hammered Puerto Rico—still desperately trying to rebuild from Hurricane María’s onslaught in 2017—before barrelling north, building to a Category Four hurricane, and brushing Bermuda with pounding rain and fierce winds.
Before Fiona made landfall in Atlantic Canada, the Washington Post warned the storm could prove particularly fierce, with models simulating a storm “with an air pressure between 930 and 935 millibars.”
“Typically, the lower the pressure, the stronger the storm,” wrote the Post.
The Canadian Hurricane Centre said Fiona had an unofficial pressure of 931.6 millibars early Saturday morning, “which made it the lowest pressure for a landfalling storm on record in the country,” the Globe and Mail says.
As of Sunday afternoon, more than 24 hours after the storm made landfall near the coastal village of Whitehead, Nova Scotia, almost 92% of Prince Edward Islanders (81,000 people) were without power or heat. Repair crews had started assessing damage generated by wind gusts that reached 170 kilometres per hour, a deluge of rain that delivered more than 100 millimetres to some parts of the province, and storm surge of nearly two metres. Expectations are that it will be at least several days before power is restored to everyone on the island.
Charlottetown Chief of Police Brad MacConnell said people should “stay home unless you absolutely need to go somewhere, like a reception centre or a place in need.”
“Now is not the time to be curious about what’s going on in our community, now is not the time to be reckless in your actions by exposing yourself to danger,” he warned. “And now is not the time to be selfish when it comes to those things.”
He added that while a full assessment of damage to Charlottetown is not yet possible, there has been “a lot of devastation”, with virtually no part of the city emerging unscathed.
The storm also “severely damaged fishing harbours in Atlantic Canada, which could hurt the country’s C$3.2 billion lobster industry, unless it is fully restored before the season kicks off in few weeks,” says Reuters. All told, “while the full scale of Fiona’s devastation is not immediately clear, the storm could prove to be one of Canada’s costliest natural disasters.”