All commercial flights leaving St. John’s are grounded until Wednesday morning, as the state of emergency continues in Newfoundland and Labrador’s capital city.
The airport made the decision Monday afternoon to proactively cancel all flights scheduled for Monday night and Tuesday, as citizens are still not allowed on city streets unless it is essential.
Restrictions will be lifted on Tuesday, allowing residents to drive their cars and get groceries for the first time in 72 hours.
The City of St. John’s announced that food stores within city limits would open Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in St. John’s. Bars, restaurants, fast food chains and outlets are not allowed to open.
“Residents please be prepared to purchase enough food for your family for 48 hours,” said St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen in a release. “Future opportunities to open food stores during this state of emergency will be evaluated and communicated as conditions warrant.
Gas stations and 11 select pharmacies were allowed to open Monday, giving people access to essential medication and fuel for generators and snowblowers.
While people can drive to pharmacies and stores, they cannot take taxis or any public transportation, prompting some complaints from citizens.
“We’re in a state of emergency,” Breen told CBC Radio. “I don’t think we can have the answer to everything. We’re trying to make it possible for people to get their prescriptions and Eastern Health has a list of pharmacies they suggested we open.”
Overnight blizzard conditions leading into Monday morning complicated efforts to deal with unprecedented weather.
Roughly 12 centimetres of snow fell in the metro area overnight, with heavier snowfalls in other parts of the island. That brings the total accumulation at St. John’s International Airport to about 90 centimetres. Mount Pearl and Paradise have about 100 centimetres.
Breen spent the afternoon driving around the city with Premier Dwight Ball to survey to stark situation in which many people are stuck.
Snow is typically blown up onto lawns in residential areas, but with towering snow banks and limited space, it now has to be loaded into dump trucks and taken away.
Breen addressed complaints that people trying to call the St. John’s city services hotline 311 to get help could not get through, saying call volume is high and recommending that people just keep trying.
“You’re not being forgotten,” Breen said.
He defended the ongoing state of emergency, saying that it’s ultimately short-term pain for long-term gain.
“This is a very serious situation here … we don’t want any cars on the road,” Breen said.
“[People driving] is only delaying the process — we have to clean up the city.”
The four hours of strong winds and snow set back some of this weekend’s efforts to clear streets.
That setback also applies to cleanup efforts on the highways on the Avalon, said Transportation Minister Steve Crocker.
While the highways are open, except Witless Bay Line, “they are snow covered, slushy in places after last night’s snow,” Crocker said.
The message is straightforward: If you don’t need to be on the highways, don’t try it. Crews need space to widen the roads, as parts are seeing drifts again and one lane in each direction is the norm.
He said people are going to need to adjust their highway driving for months to come, noting that any new snow or high winds could fill in areas that were previously cleared.
He urged people to give highway crews extra space, as workers have said people are coming dangerously close to the heavy equipment as they widen the roads.
Municipal Affairs Minister Derrick Bragg said Happy Valley-Goose Bay offered to send 14 heavy equipment operators and mechanics from Labrador to the island to assist in the cleanup.
Bragg said the municipalities affected by the storm appreciated the offer, but decided to handle it on their own.
“Right now, the cities feel and the towns feel they are managing. They have sufficient staff to do it,” Bragg said. “So we’re not facing burnout yet, but if we get any more snow, we will be facing burnout, I’m sure of that.”
What’s on the military’s priority list?
Troops from CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick arrived in St. John’s Sunday, before the latest storm set in. About 450 troops from across Canada are being mobilized in a federal response that was authorized Saturday.
“Our troops will be there as long as needed,” said Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan at a news conference in Winnipeg. “We’ll make sure we don’t leave until the job is done.”
Some of the top priorities for the troops are to clear roads, attend to elderly and sick residents and ensure that people who need medical care get to hospitals and clinics.
People in need can call a hotline at 709-729-3703 to request help.
The forces members are armed with shovels and snowblowers and have started digging people out, but the city says help is limited to vulnerable populations.
Premier Dwight Ball confirmed there’s an extensive list of people needing to be freed.
Ball said the military will also help dig out fire hydrants and transport essential workers. The Canadian Red Cross will also be on hand to help, he said.
Troops will work out of an emergency operations centre headquartered at the MCP building on Major’s Path. That hub will co-ordinate what needs to be done based on calls made to various municipalities.
“We hear lots of examples of people right now are just not able to get out of their homes, and this creates another fear and stress on individuals given the fact that if they were in an emergency, someone would have to get there,” the premier told CBC Monday morning.
“So we need a place to co-ordinate and have this call centre set up.”
Military troops are also helping first responders, who have struggled with snow-covered streets and two different bouts of blizzard conditions since Friday.
“We as Newfoundlanders, we come together, we help each other out,” said Roger Hounsell, a deputy platoon chief with the St. John’s Regional Fire Department.
“Everything is starting to get a little bit normal again, if that’s possible after such a large amount of snow.”
On Monday morning, Breen said police will start enforcing the rules of the state of emergency — up to a $5,000 fine for people and stores who disobey it — if needed.
“We’re focused on getting the streets open and getting the residents back to their normal routines … not in penalizing people. That said, we can’t let it get out of control because we really need the streets to be open and available to the snow-clearing equipment and our operators.”
After initially saying no fines had yet to be issued, James Cadigan, a spokesperson for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary said penalties had in fact been levied. He did not know how many tickets officers wrote, but said he would look into getting more information.
Blue skies on Sunday called to St. John’s residents running low on supplies and eager for exercise. As snow removal progressed, pedestrians filled the streets, with many walking dogs and looking for convenience stores flouting the city’s order to remain closed.
Power has been restored to most of the more than 20,000 who lost electricity during the storm, however some customers in the Bonavista area are still without power.
Numbers to note
Those needing information or assistance can call the following numbers:
- 911 for emergencies requiring fire, police or ambulance response.
- 1-888-709-3555 to speak to a registered nurse.
- 1-888-737-4668 for mental health crises.
- 709-777-3571 for non-emergency health inquiries, missed health appointments or emergency transportation to the hospital for dialysis.
- 709-754-2489 or [email protected] for those requesting military assistance with snow removal.