St. John’s mayor calls for patience after massive snowstorm slams Newfoundland

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A snowblower widens a road in St. John’s Sunday. The effort on Monday will focus snow-clearing on narrow streets in downtown neighbourhoods. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

All commercial flights are grounded for at least another night, as the state of emergency in St. John’s continued Monday for a fourth day.

The airport made the decision Monday afternoon to once again cancel all flights, as citizens are still not allowed on city streets unless it is essential.

Overnight blizzard conditions leading into Friday morning complicated efforts to deal with unprecedented weather.

Roughly 12 centimetres of snow fell in the metro area overnight, with heavier snowfalls in other parts of the island. That brings the total accumulation at St. John’s International Airport to about 90 centimetres. Mount Pearl and Paradise have about 100 centimetres.

On Monday afternoon, St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen said while crews are making progress, some roads have not been opened up yet by snowplows.

“You’re not being forgotten,” Breen told CBC News. 

He defended the ongoing state of emergency, saying that it’s ultimately short-term pain for long-term gain. 

“This is a very serious situation here … we don’t want any cars on the road,” Breen said.

“[People driving] is only delaying the process — we have to clean up the city.”

‘Drone video over St. John’s offers unique perspective on the massive snowfall that fell over parts of Newfoundland’ 0:59

The City of St. John’s announced that food stores within city limits would open Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in St. John’s. Bars, restaurants, fast food chains and outlets are not allowed to open.

“Residents please be prepared to purchase enough food for your family for 48 hours. Future opportunities to open food stores during this State of Emergency will be evaluated and communicated as conditions warrant,” said a media release issued just before 1 p.m. Monday.

Breen said usually snow is blown up onto lawns in residential areas. “But there’s no room on the lawns, so it’s going to have to be removed,” he said, a slower operation requiring dump trucks and loaders.

He addressed complaints that people trying to call the St. John’s city services hotline 311 to get help could not get through, saying call volume is high and recommending that people just keep trying.

WATCH: Mayor outlines plan to get city moving again after major storm

‘Food is becoming an issue that we have to address,’ says Mayor Danny Breen  5:33

The four hours of strong winds and snow set back some of this weekend’s efforts to clear streets.

That setback also applies to cleanup efforts on the highways on the Avalon, said Transportation Minister Steve Crocker. 

While the highways are open, except Witless Bay Line, “they are snow covered, slushy in places after last night’s snow.”

Crews continue to widen provincial highways Monday morning, including lanes near the Foxtrap Access Road pictured here, but the transportation minister says people should stay off the highways for now. (Department of Transportation and Works/Twitter)

Crocker said the message is straightforward: If you don’t need to be on the highways, don’t try it. Crews need space to widen the roads, as parts are seeing drifts again and one lane in each direction is the norm. 

He said people are going to need to adjust their highway driving for months to come, noting that any new snow or high winds could fill in areas that were previously cleared.

State of emergency continues in parts of Newfoundland as people struggle to clear unprecedented amounts of snow 0:30

He urged people to give highway crews extra space, as workers have said people are coming dangerously close to the heavy equipment as they widen the roads.

What’s on the military’s priority list?

Troops from CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick arrived in St. John’s Sunday, before the latest storm set in. Up to 300 troops from across Canada are being mobilized in a federal response that was authorized Saturday. 

Some of the top priorities for the troops are to clear roads, attend to elderly and sick residents and ensure that people who need medical care get to hospitals and clinics. 

They’re armed with shovels and snowblowers and have started digging people out, but the city says help is limited to vulnerable populations.

Radio-Canada reporter Patrick Butler reported on the troops as they set to work in St. John’s

Premier Dwight Ball confirmed there’s an extensive list of people needing to be freed.

Ball said the military will also help dig out fire hydrants and transport essential workers. The Canadian Red Cross will also be on hand to help, he said.

Troops will work out of an emergency operations centre headquartered at the MCP building on Major’s Path. That hub will co-ordinate what needs to be done based on calls made to various municipalities.

“We hear lots of examples of people right now are just not able to get out of their homes, and this creates another fear and stress on individuals given the fact that if they were in an emergency, someone would have to get there,” the premier told CBC Monday morning.

“So we need a place to co-ordinate and have this call centre set up.”

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces have set up a hub to coordinate their efforts to help people. (JTFA/Twitter)

Military troops are also helping first responders, who have struggled with snow-covered streets and two different bouts of blizzard conditions since Friday. 

“We as Newfoundlanders, we come together, we help each other out,” said Roger Hounsell, a deputy platoon chief with the St. John’s Regional Fire Department. 

“Everything is starting to get a little bit normal again, if that’s possible after such a large amount of snow.” 

State of emergency continues in St. John’s

The state of emergency in St. John’s, the first one called in almost 36 years, means businesses cannot open and cars are not allowed on the road. Some other municipalities also have similar orders in place, while others — Mount Pearl, Paradise, Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s and Torbay — have lifted restrictions. 

Gas stations are allowed to open in St. John’s for emergency fuel only. 

Just after noon on Monday, the City of St. John’s announced 11 pharmacies, almost all of them located in St. John’s, would be open from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. local time — after initially stating that all pharmacies would remain closed in the capital city.

The city said only people with an urgent need for medication, and those in need of essential baby supplies should go to the open businesses. 

Residents restless

On Monday morning, Breen said police will start enforcing the rules of the state of emergency — up to a $5,000 fine for people and stores who disobey it — if needed.

“We’re focused on getting the streets open and getting the residents back to their normal routines … not in penalizing people. That said, we can’t let it get out of control because we really need the streets to be open and available to the snow-clearing equipment and our operators.”

Crisp and clear weather Sunday led to many people getting outside for some fresh air, despite an ongoing state of emergency. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

After initially saying no fines had yet to be issued, James Cadigan, a spokesperson for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary said penalties had in fact been levied. He did not know how many tickets officers wrote, but said he would look into getting more information. 

Blue skies on Sunday called to St. John’s residents running low on supplies and eager for exercise. As snow removal progressed, pedestrians filled the streets, with many walking dogs and looking for convenience stores flouting the city’s order to remain closed.

Power has been restored to most of the more than 20,000 who lost electricity during the storm, however some customers in the Bonavista area are still without power. 

Numbers to note

Those needing information or assistance can call the following numbers:

  • 911 for emergencies requiring fire, police or ambulance response.
  • 1-888-709-3555 to speak to a registered nurse.
  • 1-888-737-4668 for mental health crises.
  • 709-777-3571 for non-emergency health inquiries, missed health appointments or emergency transportation to the hospital for dialysis.
  • 709-754-2489 or service@stjohns.ca for those requesting military assistance with snow removal.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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