Building collapses as Juan ravages Nova Scotia

From Monday's Globe and Mail
Monday, September 29 – Online Edition, Posted at 2:13 AM EST

Halifax — Hurricane Juan slammed into southeastern Nova Scotia last night bringing blistering winds and torrential rains, killing at least one person and causing a section of a four-storey apartment building in Dartmouth to collapse.

At least three people were trapped inside the building, said a spokesman for the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Also, an ambulance driver was killed when a tree was uprooted and crushed the vehicle as it was responding to a call near the Camp Hill Hospital in Halifax.

The eye of the storm hit the coast about midnight Eastern time, sending waves of more than 10 metres high crashing over the boardwalk, with roaring winds that snapped huge trees, scattering them across city streets.

A state of emergency was declared, and hundreds of residents in coastal communities spanning about 100 kilometres east and west of Halifax were told to leave their homes. Winds that at times blasted up to 180 kilometres an hour brought Juan ashore with ferocious intensity.

The storm became so vicious it forced weather experts at the Hurricane Centre to flee their 19th-floor offices in the building that overlooks Halifax Harbour.

"The storm was much much worse than we expected," said Peter Bowyer, project manager at the hurricane centre late last night. "Winds were much harder than we thought."

Evacuation centres staffed by Red Cross workers were set up in Halifax and Dartmouth, as the combined force of wind and high tide swamped coastal roads. Power was knocked out along a massive stretch of the southeast coast. Thousands were left without telephone and cell phone service. Damage was extensive.

People in coastal spots stretching from Sambro to Clam Harbour, as well as along the harbourfront in Halifax, were told to spend the night with friends or make their way to local fire halls or community centres. Mike Myette, deputy director of the province's Emergency Measures Organization, said it wasn't known how many people would be affected.

Earlier, as the storm intensified, it scattered gaggles of reckless teenagers, some in flip-flops and rain slickers, who had been wandering back and forth onto several long docks as those were being swamped by waves.

The eye of the storm was expected to eventually carry on toward Prince Edward Island, passing through hours before the polls open for a provincial election.

The force was expected to be hardest on Halifax, the city that is home to about 400,000 residents.

"This is the worst-case scenario for Halifax," said Chris Fogarty, a research meteorologist at the hurricane centre. "We expect a full impact on the city. We are advising people to take cover at home and batten down the hatches. There will be a window of about five hours where it will be extremely intense."

Power went out at Casino Nova Scotia in Halifax slightly before midnight, obliging managers to open slot machines manually and return coins dropped in by the dozens of gamblers who took their chances and ignored weather warnings.

Beer continued to be served in the casino even as patrons were being advised they could seek temporary shelter in a hotel ballroom opened for those who wanted to wait out the storm. People were being told to stand clear of any windows and were discouraged from walking home. Intense winds made opening doors nearly impossible.

"We're expecting they could blow out pretty easily in this," Mr. Fogarty said.

Docks and seawalls were expected to flood, as is the picturesque, historic Halifax waterfront.

By 8 p.m. local time last night, Emergency Measures Organization officials were urging people who live on the water to leave their homes.

"We're telling people to batten down the lawn furniture and even board up windows that face the ocean," Lori Patterson of EMO said. "They should prepare for power outages by having flashlights and batteries."

Over the weekend, mariners tied down their boats or moved them to more protected areas. The Department of National Defence repositioned ships and submarines to Bedford Basin, which adjoins the harbour but is more sheltered. The Coast Guard had 11 search and rescue vessels on standby. Flights in and out of Halifax Airport were grounded at supper time. In Lunenburg, N.S., some three dozen yachts were hauled in and the Bluenose II placed in drydock.

At Peggys Cove Sunday afternoon, the famous and enormous rocks that drop off to the sea with breathtaking steepness were mobbed as the early storm surge brought larger-than-usual waves. Several police officers warned people to stay back from the edge.

Juan, a Category 1 hurricane, measures 300 kilometres across and is considered a small storm for its type. But because it is compact, the weather system within — the wind and rain — packs a more powerful punch.

"This is a strong and very focused storm," Mr. Fogarty said.

Yet despite all the drama, Nova Scotians seemed relatively calm about the approach of hurricane Juan. With no Sunday shopping, mobbing Canadian Tire for batteries and duct tape and Home Depot for plywood was not an option. Most people carried on with their business.

Maritimers are familiar and even comfortable with extreme weather — be it rain, snow, wind or fog — and are generally always prepared for emergencies born by Mother Nature.

"I'm from Cape Breton and we're used to weather," said Doug MacEachern of Fall River, N.S., who with his wife Helen spent the afternoon watching the waves blossom in size and ferocity at Lawrencetown Beach, a favourite spot of surfers. "It's no big deal where I come from to have the power go out two or three days at a time."

Ms. MacEachern said they came to the beach to watch Juan's early stages, but would not overstay their welcome as the elements worsened.

With the storm still eight or nine hours from landfall, a half-dozen surfers rode the rough waves, children played in the sand and people walked their dogs.

Meanwhile, emergency officials made plans. Travel on the 13-kilometre Confederation Bridge linking PEI and New Brunswick was to be restricted last night. Nova Scotia Power put 400 workers on standby.

"We're very concerned about lightning hitting our poles, lines and transmitters," spokeswoman Margaret Murphy said. "We deal with weather all the time, but a hurricane is rare and very serious."

It was Sept. 14, 1996, when hurricane Hortense skimmed Halifax, bringing heavy rains and one-metre water-level surges.

"This is expected to be worse," Peter Bowyer, project manager at the Hurricane Centre, said. "If this storm arrives as it looks during high tide, we're being set up for a potential record water level in Halifax Harbour.

"There will be some flooding in the downtown or at the waterfront. And I don't mean flooding from rainfall, I mean the harbour rising up over the waterfront."

Hortense, responsible for $3-million in insurance claims, uprooted trees, tore into roofs, blew out windows, peeled the roof off a 12,000-square-foot office building and left tens of thousands of Nova Scotians without power.

Tropical storms commonly douse Atlantic Canada each summer and autumn, but a full-fledged hurricane making landfall with a major city directly in its path does not occur often.

Juan is the 10th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1 and runs through Nov. 30. The storm was expected to weaken and transform into an extratropical storm in the Gulf of St. Lawrence later today.

The most recent hurricane to approach Nova Scotia was Gustav on Sept. 12, 2002, but a hurricane-force storm has not slammed directly into the province in 40 years.

With a report from Domini Clark

Copyright © 2003 Bell Globemedia Inc. All Rights Reserved.