After being given permission by the city to have a single vehicle on the road, The Telegram travelled throughout St. John’s to get a sense of how things are since the state of emergency was declared due to Friday’s storm.
At 9 a.m., other than a few people shovelling and a few people walking their dogs, the streets were mostly empty.
Amanda Kelly was trying to get her vehicle unstuck, after having to abandon it Friday in the entrance to her parking lot, where it stayed until Sunday. She was happy the vehicle at least started.
Some streets in the downtown area were still completely covered in snow, piled up to the tops of the parked cars. A woman on her way to work at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital had to walk over a couple feet of snow which stretched the entire length of Feild Street.
A man stuck his head out of his window across from Leo’s on Freshwater Road, to see if the Telegram had information regarding pharmacies being open, before saying this storm was worse than the storm of 1977 in Boston.
The Nearys were on their way to go sliding in the Kenmount Terrace area, saying the past couple days of being stuck in their house had made them stir crazy. While they spoke to the Telegram, their daughter Sophie tugged on her mother Jennifer’s arm, desperate to go sliding.
As for St. John's Mayor Danny Breen, he says he hasn’t had a whole lot of sleep since declaring a state of emergency on Friday.
“It’s a major decision, not only to call it, but how to manage it as you move forward,” Breen said.
Breen was out visiting various parts of the city with staff and says a good job has been done of getting one cut through the snow in most areas of the city.
“They’ve got a majority that are done (but) there’s still a lot that don’t have one cut.”
Having one cut makes it difficult for two cars to travel on the same road at the same time, with one car having to stop and wait for the other to pass. This is a challenge for emergency and city staff.
“The main thoroughfares, the main arteries are two lanes,” Breen said.
“(But) the volume of snow is incredible... I’ve never seen it like that before.”
The city will now have to do an extensive amount of snow removal, he says. Typically, the city would blow the snow up onto lawns, but because there is so much snow accumulated on people’s property already, this is not an option.
“We’re going to have to truck it away in a lot of areas (and) to do that we need to open the road more to get a dump truck on the street,” he said.
And with more snow expected to come tonight, Breen says city staff will have to go back and clear those cuts again.
Having the responsibility to declare a state of emergency was not an easy decision, and one that required careful consideration, Breen says. And because it is rarely used, he believes it may need updating.
“This is an old act,” Breen says, referring to Section 34 of the City of St. John’s Act. “The last time it was used was 35 years ago. It appears to me this needs to be modernized a bit because there’s more things that happen in a city now.”
Breen spoke of Eastern Health’s strong recommendation to the city to allow for pharmacies to open to allow people to fill their prescriptions. But the point of a state of emergency is to keep as many people off the roads as possible. And because pharmacies carry so many products other than medication, it gets complicated.
“You can’t really tell them, no, you can’t sell those,” he said.
Opening service stations so that private contractors could buy fuel for their vehicles and begin plowing, had similar complications.
As well, Breen said the definition of what is an essential service needs review.
“I think after this is all over, we’re going to have to sit down, look at the act, go through what our experiences were with this and make some changes,” he said.
But as of now, Breen says the city simply wants people to stay off the streets.
“That’s the most important thing, to allow our equipment the opportunity to clean up the aftermath of the storm,” he said.
Troops have arrived in Newfoundland and are ready to aid the province following an unprecedented snow storm that prompted a domestic @cafoperation #OpLENTUS.— JTFA | FOIA (@JTFA_FOIA) January 19, 2020
We stand with Canadians in their time of need. Your community is also our community. pic.twitter.com/2ax2R9GOou
For seniors or people who have a physical disability and require assistance shoveling, Breen says he wants the public to know help is arriving.
“There’s 120 reservists on the ground here now and we have another 100 coming in from New Brunswick,” he said.
The reservists will be helping shovel people out of their house. Anyone requiring this service will be able to put their name in by calling 311 or 754-CITY (2489). It will be evaluated and prioritized based on need.
The city is anticipating phone lines to be busy, so people can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Operators will call you back when they can.
“There is no book that tells you how to manage these situations,” Breen said. “You really have to continuously monitor it, continuously engage your staff and the public and community groups and community partners.”
Lt.-Comm Brian Owens, public affairs officer with Joint Task Force Atlantic, said the yellow CH149 Cormorant helicopter seen flying over St. John’s on Sunday was sent with a four-person crew from Greenwood, N.S.
It’s a search and rescue aircraft that can be positioned at key places in Eastern Canada based on potential need.
It will be stationed in Gander where there is technical and support staff, but Owens said it can get to St. John’s quickly if needed.
The Cormorant can be used for search and rescue missions, but also for aerial reconnaissance to pinpoint areas of need — that’s what it was doing when it was flying over St. John’s on Sunday. The crew gathered aerial information to help headquarters formulate better plans to assist people in the city.
Also on Sunday, CFB Gagetown sent 100 personnel and supplies to St. John’s via a CC130 Hercules aircraft. It will bring another 120 troops on Monday, as well as a CH148 Cyclone helicopter.
Paired with the 120 local St. John’s area reservists called up to help with the effort, on Monday there will be anywhere from 200-300 troops on the ground in St. John’s, said Owens.
Twitter: @andrewlwaterman | @juanitamercer_