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Military to assist P.E.I. in cleanup efforts, King says

The Canadian Armed Forces will assist P.E.I. with cleanup efforts as the impact of post-tropical storm Fiona on the Island continues to be assessed.

Premier Dennis King said at a briefing Sunday afternoon that 100 military personnel would arrive in the evening to assist the province’s recovery efforts after a request for assistance sent Saturday was approved by the federal government.

Military personnel are expected to be on the ground assisting provincial crews by Monday morning.

Fiona hit P.E.I. in the early morning hours of Saturday, with heavy rain and winds over 170 km/h. There have been reports of widespread damage to property, but no serious injuries to people.

King said Department of Transportation crews and contractors have been out assessing the damage. He said road infrastructure seems to have fared better than initially expected, but that there are “considerable pockets” of severe damage, particularly those areas affected by the tidal surges.

He said six roads are completely closed, and several bridges are impassable. 

King said the government will be working on an urgent financial assistance package to help individuals and industries, and that the federal government has pledged to put together a plan with the finances required to get wharfs rebuilt “as fast as possible.”

“This will be probably the biggest recovery project [that we’ll ever have to deal with],” he said. “What the final number will be, I don’t know. But I expect it to be significant.”

Schools closed, hospitals relying on generators

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A drone picture showing damage to the Queen Charlotte Intermediate building in Charlottetown. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

King said at least six schools have received considerable damage, and the Department of Education is examining contingency plans.

All schools in P.E.I. will be closed Monday and Tuesday, with a further announcement to come on Tuesday.

“Thank you for taking this seriously. Thank you for looking out for one another,” said Justice and Public Safety Minister Darlene Compton.

“It’s times like these that we see how we rally together and the countless stories that I’ve been hearing from Islanders about helping one another out. It shows me that we can get through anything together.”

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Workers removing fallen trees from the road. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Health P.E.I. confirmed late Sunday the Prince County Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital both had power restored to them. Earlier that day, CEO Michael Gardam had said Island hospitals were open, but running on generator power.

Gardam said MRIs and many elective surgeries have been postponed, and COVID-19 testing clinics are closed.

“We’re really on emergency measures only,” Gardam said. “We’ve scaled back everything that we’re doing to really just caring for patients that are in the facility, our emergency room, that sort of thing.” 

Gardam said Hillsborough Hospital has some leaks but all hospitals escaped relatively unscathed. Health P.E.I. offices also sustained damage that will require staff to work from home for the time being.

1 death related to generator use

Tanya Mullally of the province’s Emergency Measures Organization said there has been one fatality since Saturday’s briefing.

The cause is undetermined, but she said the preliminary findings point toward generator use.

She urged Islanders who have portable generators to use them outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

“We can’t urge enough individuals,” she said. “We understand that you need to have your generator running, but we just urge you to please use that safely so we can make sure that we don’t have any further injuries or any fatalities.”

Widespread power outages remain

Maritime Electric spokesperson Kim Griffin said that there’s a small pocket in the downtown area that feeds the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the Irving Oil terminal whose power had been restored.

But Griffin said 92 per cent of the utility’s customers are still without power.

As of 8:40 p.m., power remained off to more than 81,000 Maritime Electric customers.

Griffin said crews are still “not halfway through” their assessment but have so far recorded over 300 down poles across the province.

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Some roads in Charlottetown have been blocked off Sunday to allow crews to clean up fallen trees from post-tropical storm Fiona. (Shane Ross/CBC)

A helicopter was in the air surveying transmission towers. Griffin said so far crews haven’t seen any major damage to transmission lines.

When asked earlier in the day when residents should expect power to be restored, Griffin said she simply didn’t know — and warned it could be as long as 48 more hours.

Maritime Electric already has crews from out of province helping out, and Griffin said more crews from neighbouring provinces are on the way.

Maritime Electric also reminded residents to assume downed power lines are live and to stay clear.

The premier said the power restoration to the terminal will allow for the distribution of gas on the Island. But officials reminded Islanders to drive only as needed so crews can get the gas they need.

Residents asked to stay home

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More than 82,000 Maritime Electric customers were still without power Sunday morning. (CBC)

Officials are asking residents to stay off the roads and shelter in place as downed trees and power lines are still down across roads all over the Island.

Charlottetown police Chief Brad MacConnell told CBC News Sunday morning it’s still not safe for residents to venture outside except in case of emergency.

“We ask people to stay home unless absolutely necessary,” he said.

“Stay home unless you absolutely need to go somewhere, like a reception centre or a place in need. Now is not the time to be curious about what’s going on in our community, now is not the time to be reckless in your actions by exposing yourself to danger … and now is not the time to be selfish when it comes to those things.”

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Many people emerged from their homes on Saturday to survey the damage. (Shane Ross/CBC)

MacConnell said there’s “a lot of devastation” and hardly an area of the city that hasn’t been significantly impacted.

Some roads in Charlottetown were blocked to allow crews to work unobstructed. Crews are prioritizing main roads around fire stations and reception centres, according to a news release issued Sunday by the City of Charlottetown.

Cellular service and access to internet remained intermittent on Sunday morning, communication unreliable.

A spokesperson for Bell Aliant told CBC News the majority of the company’s wireless sites on P.E.I. were operational on either battery backup or generators. Eastlink officials said the downed trees, poles and lines were creating challenges for crews. And Rogers said in a statement teams were coming in from Ontario and Quebec to help.

Resumption of travel and transit unclear

Mike Cassidy with T3 Transit — which operates in Cornwall, Charlottetown, Stratford and Summerside — said crews were waiting on stores and restaurants to open before resuming transit operations.

“Right now our lives on Prince Edward Island have changed drastically with Hurricane Fiona,” he said.

“Everything that we do operationally has to change. Transit cannot go out onto the streets when there are no stores, no businesses, no grocery stores, open … We are ready to go at a moment’s notice when we hear what is happening.” 

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In downtown Charlottetown, many roads remained completely blocked on Sunday. (Shane Ross/CBC)

Most flights in and out of Charlottetown Airport were cancelled Sunday, as Charlottetown Airport CEO Doug Newson said crews were busy assessing damage and cleaning up the property.

“Overall when you look at the infrastructure, it’s in pretty good shape. The terminal itself didn’t really sustain any major damage other than a little bit of water and the runway infrastructure at this point looks like it’s pretty good,” he said.

Newson said the airport hopes to reopen as soon as possible and extra flights and larger planes were being added to Monday’s schedule. 

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