Prime Minister Justin Trudeau toured scenes of devastation in Newfoundland and Labrador Wednesday caused by powerful post-tropical storm Fiona, and said the federal government wants to help hundreds of people left homeless get into permanent housing before winter.
But frustration is mounting among residents of Channel-Port aux Basques, where the storm swept houses into the sea and smashed others into piles of debris on Sept. 24. Many residents here have moved into hotels or squeezed in with neighbours or other family, and they’re angry at the lack of answers on just how they are to begin rebuilding homes damaged by an ocean storm surge their insurance refuses to cover. Much of the damage from seawater is uninsurable.
“They want to see some action, they want to see things cleaned up,” said Lisa Brown, who lives near some of the worst-hit areas by the water. “We’re fed up with waiting for politicians.”
The Newfoundland provincial government, meanwhile, announced $30-million in aid Wednesday that would provide “immediate financial support” to those most affected. The Hurricane Fiona Financial Assistance Program would give $10,000 to each household that has been displaced and unable to return by Sept. 30, Premier Andrew Furey said.
It’s estimated more than 90 houses in Port aux Basques and neighbouring fishing communities were left “uninhabitable” after the historic storm, which sent waves roaring into people’s homes and killed a 73-year-old woman. Dozens of other homes have yet to be assessed and may also be condemned because of structural damage from sea water, which means the assistance program will likely need to grow.
“If we waited for perfection, no one would get money for months,” Mr. Furey said, adding that people will need to register with the Canadian Red Cross to apply for the financial assistance. “We know it’s not going to be a perfect estimate.”
Newfoundland will compensate residents through the federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA) program. Under the DFAA, provinces pay affected businesses and individuals directly and are reimbursed by Ottawa, and are allowed to determine how the relief money will be doled out.
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Mr. Trudeau, after touring a donation centre and the wreckage of destroyed homes in Port aux Basques, said Ottawa understands the growing desperation in southwestern Newfoundland, but it was unclear how soon people could expect to see money.
“We know with winter coming, they’re going to need permanent solutions, that’s why the federal government will be there,” he told reporters, after touring a Salvation Army hall that was cooking hot meals for people who had been left homeless.
“The damage here is worse than any pictures could do credit. We know there’s more to do, and people will continue to work hard to get their lives back together. And governments will be there.”
The federal government, Mr. Trudeau said, has also committed to matching $10-million in donations raised by the Canadian Red Cross, which has been paying for temporary accommodations and providing people with groceries and household goods.
Some residents said their concerns are longer-term than spoiled food in freezers or cleaning up their yards – they’re worried about mortgage payments for homes that were wiped away by the storm, and how they will afford rent for replacement housing.
“People need a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Charlene Kettle, a local elementary school teacher who has been delivering food and water to families who, in many cases, had to flee their homes with little more than the clothes they were wearing.
“They paid insurance for years, only to be told their properties were too high-risk. What did they pay insurance for? They’ve been emotionally destroyed by this.”
In Nova Scotia, meanwhile, where thousands remain without power, Premier Tim Houston issued a stinging rebuke to the telecommunications companies that serve the province, saying too many residents are still without cellphone service four days after Fiona roared across Atlantic Canada.
It’s unacceptable that there are Nova Scotians who still can’t call 911 or connect with loved ones, he said.
“Nova Scotians have questions about when their service will be restored, how widespread the outages are and what the companies plan to do to ensure this never happens again,” he said. “There is no question we need our telecommunications companies to step up and be more transparent.”
The Premier said the government had asked Bell Aliant, Eastlink, Rogers and Telus to send representatives to the province’s emergency co-ordination centre before Fiona’s arrival, but he said none of the companies was initially willing to co-operate.
Mr. Houston said he has asked federal Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne to hold the telecommunications companies accountable for providing information about service outages.
“Other service providers have come together in an effort to make sure Nova Scotians have the information they need, yet the telecommunications companies are consistently missing from the table,” he said.
“We are calling on the federal government, as the regulator, to ensure that telecommunications are accountable for their performance in emergencies and transparent with customers.”
As of Wednesday morning, more than 104,000 homes and businesses in Nova Scotia were still without electricity, which represents 20 per cent of Nova Scotia Power’s customers. The outages, which started early Saturday, have had an impact on cellphone service because the backup batteries in cellphone towers are dying.
In Ottawa, Infrastructure Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the federal government has been working with industry to build redundancy into Canada’s telecommunications services.
“The more common-sense things like backup generators that would provide towers or other essential parts of the telecommunications infrastructure, that redundancy, the better we’re all going to be,” Mr. LeBlanc told a ministers briefing.
“So the government of Canada accepts that we have a responsibility with that telecommunication sector to ensure that we’re doing more, and we’re doing it quickly.”
Defence Minister Anita Anand reported the Canadian Armed Forces now has about 600 troops on the ground in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland to help with cleanup efforts.
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With a report from The Canadian Press