By Eric Martyn and John Morris
HALIFAX, Nova Scotia -Powerful storm Fiona slammed into eastern Canada on Saturday with hurricane-force winds, blowing over trees and powerlines and leaving hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses without electricity.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the center of the storm, downgraded to Post-Tropical Cyclone Fiona, was now in the Gulf of St. Lawrence after racing through Nova Scotia. Reports of downed trees and power lines were widespread in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
“She was a wild ride last night, sounded like the whole roof was going to blow off,” said Gary Hatcher, a retiree who lives in Sydney, Nova Scotia, near where the storm made landfall. A maple tree was toppled in his back yard but did no damage to his house.
Fiona, which nearly a week ago battered Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean, made landfall between Canso and Guysborough, Nova Scotia, where the Canadian Hurricane Centre said it recorded what may have been the lowest barometric pressure of any storm to hit land in the country’s history.
“We were up all night,” said Dave DeBlois of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, who said there was no major damage to his home. “Was a bit scary at times,” he said. “You could feel the house sway.”
Some 79% of customers, or 414,000, were without power in Nova Scotia, and 95%, or 82,000, had lost power on Prince Edward Island, utility companies said. The region was also experiencing spotty mobile phone service. Police across the region reported multiple road closures.
The storm weakened somewhat as it traveled north. As of 8 a.m. (1200 GMT), it was over the Gulf of St. Lawrence about 200 miles (340 km) northeast of Halifax, carrying maximum winds of 85 miles per hour (140 kph) and barreling north at around 23 mph (37 kph), the NHC said.
Experts predicted high winds, storm surges and heavy rainfall from Fiona. The storm was forecast to gradually weaken but was expected to maintain hurricane-force winds until Saturday afternoon, the NHC said.
Designated a hurricane as it lashed Caribbean islands earlier in the week, Fiona killed at least eight people and knocked out power for virtually all of Puerto Rico’s 3.3 million people during a sweltering heat wave. Nearly a million people remained without power five days later.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delayed Saturday’s departure for Japan, where he was to attend the funeral of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to receive briefings and support the government’s emergency response, Press Secretary Cecely Roy said on Twitter.
A hurricane warning was in effect for much of central Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, home to more than 150,000 people, and parts of Newfoundland, the Miami-based NHC said.
Canadian authorities sent emergency alerts in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, warning of severe flooding along shorelines and extremely dangerous waves. People in coastal areas were advised to evacuate.
The storm could prove to be more ferocious than the benchmarks of Hurricane Juan in 2003 and Hurricane Dorian in 2019, Canadian Hurricane Centre meteorologist Bob Robichaud told a briefing on Friday.
The country’s two largest carriers, Air Canada and WestJet Airlines, suspended regional service starting Friday evening.