March 5th, 2024

As Nova Scotia emerges from heavy snowfall, woman describes anxious wait for rescue

By The Canadian Press on February 6, 2024.

A person shovels snow in Halifax on Monday, February 5, 2024. Cleanup in Nova Scotia could take days after more than a metre of snow piled up in some parts of the province over the weekend. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

SYDNEY, N.S. – Some residents in Cape Breton were anxiously awaiting rescue on Tuesday after a huge dump of heavy, wet snow over the weekend jammed entrances to homes, blocked roadways and prompted a local state of emergency.

The cleanup has been underway for days, after up to 150 centimetres of snow accumulated in parts of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality including Sydney, the largest community on the island.

Snowplows are accompanying ambulances to access people in need of medical care, while volunteers with a search and rescue organization have been dispatched to help vulnerable people with snow removal in Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

Debbie Crane, 61, said Tuesday morning she hadn’t left her home in Whitney Pier, a Sydney neighbourhood, since Friday night, when blowing snow created drifts that blocked both entrances and buried her car.

She had already missed one kidney dialysis appointment by then, before her brother arrived in the afternoon and dug a narrow path through a snowdrift that was blocking an entrance, and her sister helped with shovelling a path to the street. Crane said a Good Samaritan driving a snowplow also assisted.

But the days and hours before her rescue were stressful, as her anxiety about getting in for the vital treatment grew. Crane described having to limit her intake of fluids to reduce the strain on her kidneys as she waited for a ride to the hospital.

“I’ve been chewing gum to keep moisture in my mouth, and I just use a little bit of water to take my medications,” she said.

Christina Lamey, a spokeswoman for the municipality, said people who need to get to a hospital should call 911, which starts the co-ordination of ambulance transport with snowplow backup.

“Plows are supporting emergency calls as much as possible, but this is very challenging,” Lamey said in an email. “We are asking people to clear their doorways and walkways to the street to facilitate emergency access.”

Paul French, a spokesman for the Search and Rescue Volunteer Association of Canada, said ground search and rescue volunteers have been sent to offer their help within the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and the Halifax region.

In Cape Breton, SARVAC crews are helping with snow removal, particularly at the homes of vulnerable people or those who require medical attention, he said. In Halifax, they are completing wellness checks among the homeless population.

French said some of the other 21 SARVAC organizations in Nova Scotia will likely be called to help in other municipalities still buried in snow.

Meanwhile, the provincial government is asking people in Cape Breton to stay off the roads as more snow-clearing equipment is brought into the area. As well, Nova Scotia has requested help from neighbouring provinces and Ottawa.

Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan has said Parks Canada will send snow removal equipment to clear the roads, and the Canadian Coast Guard will dispatch helicopters to deliver critical supplies and evacuate people in need. Organizations such as the Red Cross will help with humanitarian work, he said.

John Lohr, Nova Scotia’s minister responsible for emergency management, said the province needs federal help to maintain public safety.

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality declared a local state of emergency on Sunday, which may remain in place for the rest of the week.

On Tuesday morning, schools across Cape Breton were closed, as were schools in parts of the province’s northern and eastern regions. Nova Scotia Health said some non-emergency services may be reduced because of heavy snow and poor road conditions.

Meanwhile in Prince Edward Island, one of the many people working to dig the province out from this weekend’s dump of snow helped reunite a Vernon River, P.E.I., woman with her horses that had been stuck for days in a pasture behind large snow drifts.

Erin Redmond, who runs a heavy equipment rental and snow removal business in Lake Verde, P.E.I., brought his tractor, snowblower and dog sidekick Sport to the farm at 6 a.m. on Tuesday, and carved out a trail to get the horses back inside after almost three days.

“Helping or rescuing horses, now that’s a new one for the resume,” Redmond said in an interview.

The pair of horses ran toward the back of the farm during the storm and became stranded by a wall of snow, he said, adding that he used a snowmobile to bring blankets, water and food to the horses. It took less than an hour to clear a path and get the horses back to the warm barn, Redmond said.

“I used my tractor and snowblower, and I got my trusty dog with me. We went and we do what we do … You don’t want to see somebody struggling. You try and help people out, I mean that’s just what we do here.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2024.

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