A weather system that forecasters described as “a historic storm for eastern Canada” slammed the region’s coastal towns Saturday, washing away entire homes and blocking roads after making landfall in Nova Scotia before dawn.
Waves about 40 feet or higher hit the eastern shore of Nova Scotia and southwestern Newfoundland, forecasters said.
The storm covered playgrounds in water, ripped coastal houses from their foundations and knocked over large trees. At least two people were reported to have been swept into the ocean, one of whom was rescued and another who was missing, police said.
“This is a very powerful and dangerous storm,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who canceled a trip to Japan because of the storm, said at a news conference Saturday.
Trudeau said the Canadian government had approved Nova Scotia’s request for federal help and would deploy the Canadian Armed Forces to respond to the aftermath of the storm. The full picture of destruction was not clear late Saturday, but Trudeau said Fiona had caused “significant damage” and that “recovery will be a big effort.”
Canadian forecasters said Saturday that an unofficial reading indicated that Fiona was “the lowest-pressured land-falling storm on record in Canada” with a recorded pressure of 931 millibars.
Fiona was among the strongest storms known to make landfall and hit Canada, said Dan Kottlowski, a senior meteorologist and lead hurricane forecaster at AccuWeather.
“By the time it made landfall, Fiona was not technically a hurricane,” Kottlowski said. “But it still carried the same wind and damage and hit with the veracity of a strong Category 2 hurricane.”
In eastern Canada on Saturday, at least one coastal town was overwhelmed with flooding that destroyed buildings. More than 300,000 customers were without power in Nova Scotia as of 6 p.m. Saturday, according to Nova Scotia Power.
In Port aux Basques, a community of about 3,600 people on the southwestern tip of Newfoundland, several homes and buildings were washed away. The city was under a state of emergency Saturday.
René Roy, editor-in-chief of Wreckhouse Weekly, a local newspaper, said at least nine homes had been destroyed, including an apartment building that he estimated had eight to 10 units.
“This thing is an absolute howitzer,” Roy said. “This is as bad as anyone here has ever seen. It’s not just the wind we’re worrying on, that’s going to knock out power, that’s going to tear off shingles and so on. We’re used to that. But what we’re not used to is 30-, 40-, 50-foot waves coming up onto the roads, moving houses 60 feet or just completely vaporizing them.”
Roy said he lived in the east end of town, which was evacuated as the storm bore down Saturday, and was staying with a cousin on the west end, about 120 paces from the harbor. He said that he did not know if his house was still intact and that most people in town were cut off from one another because of power failures and flooded roadways.
Seamus O’Regan Jr., Canada’s labor minister, said that he had spoken with Brian Button, the mayor of Port aux Basques in Newfoundland, and that Button had told him that at least 20 homes in the community had been destroyed. The mayor could not immediately be reached.
“He said there’s a devastation there that they just haven’t seen and couldn’t even imagine,” O’Regan said. “People there are used to having power outages but it is quite another thing to lose your home.”
Cpl. Jolene Garland of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said two people had been swept into the ocean after their residence collapsed. The first person was rescued and received medical attention, Garland said. Police had been told the second person had died, but they had been unable to confirm the death or investigate it because of the dangerous conditions in the area.
In Nova Scotia, the greatest effects were in Cape Breton on the east end of the province, where downed power lines and debris littered the streets, Tim Houston, the premier of Nova Scotia, said at a news conference Saturday.
The storm had been downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone from a Category 3 hurricane Friday. Post-Tropical Cyclone Fiona was about 80 miles northwest of Port aux Basques and producing maximum sustained winds of 70 mph Saturday evening, according to the National Hurricane Center in the United States.
Fiona was forecast to bear down on Labrador and the Labrador Sea Sunday and weaken later in the weekend, the Canadian Hurricane Center said in an advisory.
Forecasters were also monitoring three other weather systems in the Atlantic on Saturday, including Tropical Storm Ian, which could threaten Florida as a major hurricane early next week. It was about 250 miles south-southeast of Jamaica’s capital late Saturday, and it was expected to strengthen over the central Caribbean Sea.
In Bermuda on Friday, officials and residents assessed Fiona’s impact. The island’s weather service said some areas had experienced hurricane-force winds, including a 100-mph gust on the western side of the island.
Jonathan Smith, an author and a former Bermuda police commissioner, said that the island had avoided the worst of the storm.
“We were just at the fringe of sustained hurricane-force winds,” he said as he tended to damage at one of his buildings. “Had Hurricane Fiona tracked just 20 to 50 miles further east, this would have been a very destructive encounter.”
Fiona, which formed as a tropical storm Sept. 15, has battered parts of the Caribbean in the past week, including Puerto Rico, which experienced widespread power outages. As of Saturday evening, nearly 800,000 people in Puerto Rico were still without electricity, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks interruptions.
At least four deaths have been attributed to Fiona: two in the Dominican Republic and one each in Puerto Rico and Guadeloupe, where the storm hit last Saturday.
The Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June through November, had a relatively quiet start, with only three named storms before Sept. 1 and none during August, the first time that had happened since 1997. Storm activity picked up early this month with Danielle and Earl, which formed within a day of each other.
The links between hurricanes and climate change have become clearer with each passing year. Data shows that hurricanes have become stronger worldwide over the past four decades. A warming planet can expect stronger hurricanes over time and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms — although the overall number of storms may drop, because factors like stronger wind shear could keep some weaker storms from forming.
Last month, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued an updated forecast for the rest of the season that still predicted an above-normal level of activity