Record-smashing blizzard holds eastern Newfoundland in grip

 

Much of eastern Newfoundland remained in the grip of a stunning blizzard Saturday morning, although wickedly high winds that had racked the island were subsiding.

Officials pleaded with residents to stay inside and off roads, which were so dangerous that even government plows could not cope with a record-setting onslaught. The blizzard brought 76.2 centimetres of snow to St. John’s International Airport, although other areas — including in the city itself — reported more.

The 69 centimetres that fell by late Friday beat a record for a one-day snowfall that had stood since April 5, 1999, when 68.4 fell.

Blizzard warnings remained in place at 5 p.m. NT for the Avalon Peninsula, although they were lifted for the Burin Peninsula.

A of emergency remains in effect in St. John’s and in numerous other municipalities. The order means that businesses must close, and vehicles must stay off roads.

“Bunker down. We aren’t going anywhere anytime soon,” said St. John’s Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary. “Do not set your expectations that things are going to shift quickly here.”

Some snowplows are back on the roads after being taken off for safety reasons in the height of the storm, but they have a massive task ahead of them.

A storm surge warning also remains in effect for the northeast coast of Newfoundland, which covers scores of coastal communities.

All flights in and out of St. John’s International Airport are cancelled.

John Norman, the mayor of Bonavista, said strong waves managed to reach the third floor of his home around 11 p.m.

“I assumed being one of those residents being close to the water I’d hear something … but to hear it go over your roof and rain down over your roof, it’s quite something,” he said.

“It seemed like a hurricane, with snow.”

Norman said residents must stay inside, despite the snow tapering off.

“There is no way for us to rescue someone if they go out … There is just no way to launch a search party right now.”

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‘Roofs blowing off houses’

Dean Foley, platoon chief for the St. John’s Regional Fire Department, said crews required a snowplow escort to respond to each call it could handle. Snowblowers were also used in some cases.

“We’re getting roofs blowing off houses, people trapped in their cars — an assortment of everything, I’ll say,” said Foley.

High winds and proximity to the ocean meant that sea salt was leading to dangerous situations with pole fires. “The salt is gathering on the poles, and sparking up some fires on the poles,” he said.

Snowplows with the Department of Transportation and Works received more than 100 requests for help as of Friday evening.

Private snowplow operator Shawn Roche has been attempting to clear commercial lots since Friday morning.

He said it took 35 minutes to go a single kilometre.

“I wouldn’t even looking at venturing out until at least tonight, maybe tomorrow,” Roche said. “I looked at the on ramp to Peacekeepers Way and a plow when through it. The plow got stuck and I’m stuck in behind him.”

Roche said the snow is unlike anything he has seen in many years, and suspects it will take a long time to clear up the snow.

“To put a cow path through, it will take all day.”

157 km/hr wind gusts

CBC meteorologist Ashley Brauweiler said wind gusts in St. John’s were estimated to have hit 157 km/h at peak. She said estimates were being used because instruments may have stopped recording data.

Before dawn, wind gusts had subsided, but were still over 100 km/h. Brauweiler said winds will continue to fall during the day.

This is the middle of the street. The snow is up past my waist.

About 16,000 Newfoundland Power customers were without power through the night.

Power has been knocked out in pockets from St. John’s to Grand Falls-Windsor, including all of Bell Island, large swaths of the capital city and neighbouring towns.

“Severe weather conditions and impassable roads currently preventing our crews from safely accessing storm-related outage areas,” a Newfoundland Power advisory said Saturday morning

Firefighters asked people in the historic neighbourhood of the Battery in St. John’s around 8 p.m. Friday to evacuate after an avalanche of snow smashed into a home, sending heavy snow through the building. An update is expected later today.

Man still missing in storm

As the storm continues, a family in a rural area in Conception Bay is searching for their missing son. Josh Wall, 26, left his Roaches Line home to walk to a friend’s house at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, and has not been heard from since.

He later told his parents he was going to visit a friend in Marysvale, and decided to leave on foot around 12:30 p.m. after he couldn’t get a taxi.

A few hours later, Wayne Wall tried calling his son on his cellphone, but it went straight to voicemail. He later learned that Josh Wall sent his location via his cellphone to his friend in Marysvale, with a note saying he was lost and his phone’s battery was about to run out of power.

His last known location was on a backcountry path through the wilderness, and Wayne Wall said his son is not familiar with the area.

Josh Wall was wearing a heavy winter jacket and a warm hat, mittens and boots. But it’s not believed he was wearing snow pants.

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