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Teams of soldiers began moving through the tree-littered streets of Halifax late Monday as the cleanup began from the fiercest hurricane to hit Canada in years.

"I've been around 54 years and I've never seen anything like this," John O'Brien of the Halifax Emergency Measures Organization told CBC Newsworld. "This not what we usually get in this part of the world.

"I think mother nature has a way of keeping us humble and believe me, after what happened last night, we're humble," Mr. O'Brien said.

Defence Minister John McCallum said at least 600 troops could be deployed in the Nova Scotia capital to clear the thousands of shattered trees downed by hurricane Juan. About 140,000 Nova Scotians were still without power late in the day, primarily in and arond Halifax, and officials warned that it would be at least Wednesday before it could be completely restored.

Although it will be a matter of weeks before Halifax has completely recovered, the city's immediate priority is to restore power to 9-1-1 centres, hospitals, pumping stations, sewage treatment plants, and traffic signals, Mr. O'Brien said.

Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm said the province was well prepared for Juan.

"I'm happy with the weather forecasting, it was very accurate," Mr. Hamm told CBC-TV. "I'm happy with what emergencey measures did for us in the hours and minutes leading up to the storm.

"Obviously, there was nothing we could do to prevent the storm, but we were ready for it and the response was very, very good."

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In many neighbourhoods, the scene was more like a jungle than a modern urban setting as felled branches blocked roads and large trees wrenched from the ground leaned against houses. Everywhere, wet leaves plastered cars and buildings like splattered paint.

Along Halifax's touristy waterfront, people walked along damaged boardwalks and wharfs littered with crumbled Styrofoam, shards of wood and starfish hurled from the harbour by the force of the hurricane. In a city that routinely witnesses the Atlantic's ferocity in a series of seasonal storms, most had never seen anything like it.

"It's bad," said Jim Terrio of the Halifax Waterfront Development Corp. as he stood in driving rain on Halifax's waterfront. "I've never seen nothing like this and I grew up on the water. This one caught us with our pants down - we got it really bad here."

At least two people were killed in the storm, which hit land shortly after midnight and roared over the Nova Scotia capital with gusts reaching 140 kilometres an hour. John Rossiter, a 31-year-old paramedic, died when a tree fell on an ambulance in Halifax. A second unidentified man from Enfield, N.S., was killed when a tree crushed his car.

Two fishermen from Caraquet, N.B., went missing when a boat carrying a load of wood was swamped off Quebec's Anticosti Island. The boat's captain was able to get to shore safely but there was no sign of the others.

In downtown Halifax, boulders the size of garbage cans were hurled from the water's edge like pebbles. Sections of paved parking lots were buckled and sections of wharf were thrown from the pitching waters and smashed on the ground. Dead or dying seagulls littered the ground and the decks of battered boats.

"We got away lightly, but a lot of businesses have total devastation," said Jim Archibald, owner of Captain's Catch, while checking the damage to his small fish-and-chips stand.

"We were very, very lucky but one of the business ships broke loose, one is sinking and another was beached. Wharfs are blown up on top of other wharfs. It's just amazing."

The category 1 hurricane - the weakest rating on the Saffir-Simpson scale - was downgraded to a tropical storm shortly after making landfall in the Halifax area. Still, its ferocity impressed Haligonians, who weathered a less-severe hurricane Hortense in 1996 and normally regard the usual series of fall storms with almost jaded contempt.

"It's horrible," said Calvin Cheng as workers removed shattered glass from his Japanese restaurant, which had the front blown out by falling debris. "The two buildings' rooftops came down and hit us."

The city remained under a state of emergency as morning arrived with an eerie calm that quickly changed to heavy rain and some thunder. Damage was widespread and more than 100,000 people in Nova Scotia were without power. "We are encouraging non-essential personnel to stay home and let us deal with cleaning up," Mayor Peter Kelly said.

Fifty-one patients had to be evacuated from one building in the sprawling Victoria General Hospital complex in Halifax after the wind ripped off sections of roof. "All the patients are safe and secure and receiving appropriate care," said Geoff Wilson, a spokesman for the Capital Health Authority.

Mr. Wilson said the damage actually exposed some rooms inside the building. "There was water pouring down the stairwells and in through walls," he said.

Bus and ferry services were suspended and schools were closed. One of the bridges linking Halifax and Dartmouth was closed to traffic, mainly because the toll booths were heavily damaged.

"There is a real danger posed by downed power lines," said Margaret Murphy, a spokeswoman for Nova Scotia Power. "It's going to take time to reach the homes and businesses affected."

Hundreds of residents were evacuated from low-lying areas in the Halifax area as torrential rain lashed the region.

In nearby Dartmouth, fierce winds tore up an apartment building's roof and collapsed a firewall in a hallway, briefly trapping three people inside. Police had to dig through the rubble to reach the people but reported no injuries.

Even before the storm officially arrived, tree limbs were cartwheeling through city streets as massive oak trees snapped like twigs. Juan later moved north through Truro, N.S., where more trees were uprooted, and over Prince Edward Island, where winds downed more trees and power lines in the province's capital. At least 10 boats at a Charlottetown yacht club were sunk. Still, P.E.I. officials said Monday's provincial election would go ahead.

Island Premier Pat Binns voted near his home in Murray River in a polling station lit by a single bulb powered by a generator. "It will be a challenge to get the vote out," he said. "People will take care of their homes first."

A ketch, the Larinda, sank in Halifax harbour despite the efforts of a half dozen men who desperately used a pump to keep her afloat. "The wind was pounding her against the wharf," said David Evans, who watched as the Cape Cod-based vessel went under. Afterwards, the ketch's two masts poked from the shallow water as orange life preservers bobbed nearby.

The wind was so strong, street signs were pulled from the ground and billboards stripped clean. Many streets were impassable as downed trees entwined in power lines made driving difficult. At Halifax International Airport, the peak wind gust was pegged at 143 km/h at 1 a.m. - about an hour after Juan made landfall. At one point, a power outage hit the Halifax Regional emergency centre.

During Question Period in Ottawa Monday, Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper asked Defence Minister John McCallum whether Halifax would receive federal disaster assistance funding in the wake of the hurricane.

John McCallum told the Commons that he had spoken with his provincial counterparts in Nova Scotia and PEI. He said they agreed that the top priority now is the physical cleanup, rather than financial aid.

While Mr. McCallum agreed that there is "no doubt" that an event such as a hurricane would qualify Halifax for federal funding, "today is not the day to talk about money," he said. "The money will be forthcoming."