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Maritimes prepare for remnants of Irene, now a tropical storm Add to ...

As the remnants of Hurricane Irene barrelled down on New Brunswick, Gordon Nason was crossing his fingers.

The pensioner is one of the few people left in a rural area west of Saint John that has flooded already in the last year. Many people have moved away and condemned houses sit empty, their swing-sets unused and trees dropping fruit on the ground.

But Mr. Nason, who moved in after the floods to a house that had collected a foot of water, was cautiously optimistic Sunday afternoon. Manipulation of the dam upstream had brought down the river level, he said, reducing the chances it would again burst its banks.

“I think we're going to be okay, I'm not sure but I'm hoping so,” he said. “I just watch the water. If it's rising I'll move out, I'll have to, until it goes down again.”

Others were taking aggressive measures to protect against Irene, which was downgraded to a tropical storm. A home farther downstream had heavy equipment and a boat at the ready.

But some in the province were blasé about the approaching storm.

A young man near Lepreau looked blank when asked if people were concerned about the weather system. “There's a storm coming?” he asked.

Although weather had been grim for much of the day, with heavy rain and gusty winds, a number of people pointed to the example of past hurricanes that had received great attention and then fizzled before arriving.

Officials across the Maritimes have been pleading with residents to take this seriously.

“Let's all give this storm the respect it deserves,” Ross Landry, Nova Scotia's Minister of Justice, said in a statement. “Irene will bring heavy rain and high winds and the hazards those conditions can create. Please err on the side of caution.”

Chris Fogarty, of the Canadian Hurricane Centre, told a late-morning briefing that “there's still the potential for hurricane-force winds.”

Parts of the Maritimes were expected to get wind gusts of up 120 km/hr. Irene could also bring up to 100 millimetres of rain.

News 88.9 reported late Sunday afternoon that the city of Saint John had warned residents to prepare for high winds and the possibility of coastal storm surges.

The potential for damage was evident in low-lying areas of southwestern New Brunswick, where the ground was sodden before the worst of the storm arrived. Near Musquash, water was running freely in the ditch and pooling nearly at highway level in the median.

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