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What happens when a hurricane approaches Canada during a pandemic?
In this file photo, boats are pushed along the waterfront in Halifax as hurricane Dorian approaches on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
TORONTO -- On the first day of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, Canadians and Americans in the Atlantic region are bracing for severe storms and hurricanes over the next few months.
Hurricane activity in the North Atlantic Ocean is projected to be above normal, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2020 Atlantic hurricane season outlook. Environment Canada said in a statement last month that the 2020 hurricane outlook serves as an outline for tropical or tropical-like cyclones that could affect Canadian waters.
Environment Canada’s senior climatologist David Phillips said Canada could be facing up to 19 named storms, some of which can become category three hurricanes.
On average, Canada sees 13 named storms in a season and the Canadian Hurricane Centre responds to three or four tropical cyclone events per year. However, a combination of major climate factors including warmer than average sea surface temperatures, is the likely reason for the agitated weather this season.
Phillips said, while he wants to remind Canadians in high-risk zones to have an emergency plan, he understands it can be difficult to prepare for a natural disaster during a pandemic.
“I can clearly tell you though that it’s not a question of to evacuate or to not evacuate because of the pandemic, it’s a matter of [I’ve seen it in the U.S.] instead of sending people to gymnasiums and schools they [government officials] might rent hotels to have that physical distancing. So clearly, it’s an extra challenge that we’ve never dealt with before in terms of alerting people about the risks of the hurricane season,” he said Monday on CTV’S Your Morning.
Environment Canada’s May statement said Canadians should take all precautions when preparing for a hurricane.
“The Canadian Hurricane Centre encourages Canadians to prepare for the 2020 hurricane season by assembling emergency kits, readying their homes and properties, and following the Centre's hurricane bulletins online or through local media,” the statement read.
The Canadian Red Cross is often on the front lines when it comes to natural disasters, providing access to food, clothing, shelter, and other personal services. However, with the ongoing pandemic, emergency management co-ordinator John Spicer said services, especially shelters, are evolving amid the pandemic.
“Throughout the past couple months, we’ve been in contact with various community groups as well as commercial accommodation providers just to get their availability for some accommodations that might be needed,” Spicer told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview Monday.
Emergency shelters often include community centres or local schools; however practising physical distancing in a confined space can be difficult.
“Typically, we would use congregate shelters in many types of different disasters but given the current situation we’ll look at other options available. So, we’ll have commercial accommodation available to us should we need them and congregate shelters would be a last resort,” he said.
Spicer said their volunteer methods are also evolving as volunteers who would normally be physically present at a disaster site are being told to try to help over the phone first. Over-the-phone aid involves assistance on how to deal with a crisis and Spicer also said the Red Cross can now electronically transfer monetary aid via email to help provide food support or any other urgent needs. While the Canadian Red Cross has access to personal protective equipment (PPE), Spicer said it is in short supply. Canadians are asked to prepare for hurricanes this season like they would for any other natural disaster, Spicer said, and to seek help from crisis organizations even during the pandemic.
“They [Canadians] should always have a 72-hour prepared emergency kit ready to go and be self-sufficient for 72 hours until help is available. I think it’s more important now than ever to ensure a prepared kit is stocked and ready to go should it be required,” he said. “We’re still there for them. We’re still there to help and we’ll just evolve like most organizations are these days to ensure we can provide the service that’s required.”
ACROSS THE BORDER
Over in the sunshine state, Florida officials say they will use schools and 200 hotels as shelters but first they need to be sanitized and all furniture is being removed before it can be used. Checkpoints will also be set up for evacuees where they will undergo health screening, including having their temperatures checked.
While potential evacuees are told to have emergency supplies unique to their household’s needs, personal protective equipment is expected to be in short supply for both evacuees and volunteers. Florida alone has had more than 50,000 cases of COVID-19 and with cases continuing to rise, the number of hurricane relief volunteers is also expected to drop.
Missouri is facing this volunteer problem, specifically in Clarksville, which is located near the Mississippi river. Clarksville relies heavily on the support from local organizations, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and volunteers. Since the city cannot afford a permanent flood barrier near the river, volunteers will aid in building an eight-foot rock wall, with sand bags on top to stop the water in the river from entering the city. The American Red Cross is expected to aid the state with volunteers from its own organization, but the danger of the virus spreading in a large group remains.
The hurricane season generally lasts from June 1 to November 30.
With files from CNN