Military pitches in with hurricane Igor relief in N.L.
Published Sunday, September 26, 2010 10:11PM EDT
CLARENVILLE, N.L. - Sea Kings beat overhead and soldiers were on patrol Sunday as the small town of Clarenville, on Newfoundland's east coast, became a military base for hurricane relief.
Army trucks and jeeps rumbled along the main drag in this picturesque town of about 5,000 people as 140 troops from Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, N.B., prepared to help.
Soldiers in green fatigues milled around the local civic centre that has become the staging ground for Operation Lama, standard military code for hurricane response. They have come to pitch in with a rebuilding task that is well underway since hurricane Igor blew through on Tuesday, leaving a wide path of destruction.
Randy Phillips, a construction contractor who lives near Clarenville, has been working since Wednesday to fix crumbling roadways. He welcomed the military's arrival.
"There's a lot of bridges down," he said as he headed back to work on the Cabot Highway on the Bonavista Peninsula.
More than two dozen communities were still cut off since Tuesday's mammoth rainfall turned rivers and brooks into torrents that plowed through asphalt. The soggiest places were lashed with 200 millimetres of rain or more.
"A lot of those people are crying out for help," Phillips said. "They're running out of groceries. They're running out of gas."
Electricity for the most part has returned, while much-needed supplies are getting into many isolated communities by boat and all-terrain vehicle.
Lt. Ian McIntyre visited some of the worst damage in the province Sunday in nearby Port Rexton and Trouty with a team of military engineers and provincial officials. They were there to assess how soldiers can best use their skills and heavy equipment when their rebuilding effort starts as early as Monday.
"People in Trouty, they're pretty industrious," McIntyre said of a temporary bridge locals had built over a washed-out culvert to run supplies into the community using all-terrain vehicles.
It's one of more than two dozen communities cut off from the closest towns and Clarenville, which is a service hub for communities on the Bonavista Peninsula.
On the nearby Burin Peninsula, Marystown and other enclaves were getting gas and groceries delivered by ferry five days after Igor's fury wiped out crucial bridges that link them to larger centres.
Three naval ships and Sea King helicopters helped deliver essential supplies to isolated coastal villages.
Igor cut a daunting swath through the provincial road network that will take weeks to repair.
Crowds of bystanders in Clarenville braced against the down draft Sunday as a Sea King landed in a barricaded section of a Sobeys grocery store parking lot.
Kathryn Marsh of Hickman's Harbour said the military might is needed and appreciated.
"Most of the people around here come to Clarenville. It's the hub," she said. "The only services you can get are up here. So if people are cut off from here, they're cut off from pretty well everything."
The Sea Kings have been tasked to meet urgent transport, heavy-lift, night-flying and supply needs.
Military officials say the relief operation will continue in Newfoundland for as long as it takes to help reconnect communities.
Cpl. Jamie Keating, an engineer from CFB Gagetown, served in Haiti after an earthquake levelled much of the country earlier this year.
He said it's nice to help Canadians here at home "however we can."
"It feels good to put all of our hard training to good use."
Cpl. Dan Wade said the operation includes soldiers with a wide range of reconstruction experience.
"I think our main focus is bridging right now, but we can offer any carpentry skills, plumbing, electrical. We've got a pretty wide variety of people."
He described the storm's toll as "a disaster."
"It's too bad. But Newfoundlanders are strong people. They're going to be back on their feet soon."
Hurricane Igor hit an eastern stretch of the province with high winds and a massive rainfall that flooded homes, overwhelmed sewage systems and wiped out whole sections of highway.
One man was killed on Random Island when the road he was standing on collapsed, sweeping him toward the sea.
Residents found the body of 80-year-old Allan Duffett buried under beach debris Saturday.
Marsh knew his family and said his death is "absolutely devastating."
Duffett had been trying to check on a nearby boat when a rush of water swept the road out from under him.
Amid the sadness and stress of the last five days, tales of local heroes and simple kindness have filled radio airwaves. Newfoundland hospitality and generosity are famous, perhaps never more so than in a crisis.
"They seem to be taking care of each other pretty well," McIntyre said of the people in Trouty, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Danny Williams visited Friday.
"They're in good spirits, considering what they've been through."