Atlantic Canada needs to be stronger against the storms

As Atlantic Canada works to clean up the devastation wrought by post-tropical storm Fiona, lessons learned from its brutal winds and waves should be used to protect the region from future storms, experts say.

While much has been learned from previous storms to help the region better prepare for onslaughts like Fiona’s, Kevin Quigley, professor of public policy and director of Dalhousie University’s MacEachen Institute, said more work had to be done.

“It’s hard to hold people to account in the midst of a crisis. The focus has to be on helping and rescuing people,” Quigley said. “But once that period is over, we need to have a deeper conversation about improving the response for next time.”

As one of the strongest storms on record on the East Coast, Fiona killed at least three as waves swept through homes in Newfoundland, gusty winds toppled trees and telephone poles and half a million people were left without electricity.

On Monday, the Army was deployed to Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, while a Navy ship was sent to carry out welfare checks in the remote communities in Newfoundland.

“We always compare ourselves to Juan,” Quigley said of the 2003 hurricane. “We’ve come a long way, but we have to commit to learning and improving for future storms.”

However, rather than simply comparing this storm response to previous ones, public authorities should anticipate future storms and the changing needs of the aging population, he said.

This is especially important because the storms will hit the Atlantic provinces harder than they have in the past, said Blair Greenan, a researcher with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Due to the local geology, he said, these provinces will face greater sea level rise than other parts of the country: while land in many coastal regions, such as the island of Vancouver, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Hudson Bay, rise, attenuating under the effect of the rise of the oceans, the lands of Nova Scotia and parts of New Brunswick and Terre- Neuve are sinking, making every millimeter of storm surge worse.

“It’s a unique situation in Canada,” Greenan said. “Atlantic Canada is one of the most at-risk regions in Canada for sea level rise. Infrastructure planning is most important here.

Average sea levels in Halifax Harbor have risen about 30cm over the past century, according to tide gauge data, and are expected to rise between 40 and 100cm by 2100.

This means that low and high tides are higher than they were before, which sets a higher baseline for storms.

“The same storm coming through would break (a levee) when it wouldn’t have done 100 years ago,” Greenan said. “And that will only increase in the future.”

He and his colleagues have developed a tool called the Canadian Extreme Water Level Adaptation Tool that connects global climate science with local decision-making. The online tool lists more than 1,000 small craft harbors in Canada and projects sea level rise for each, taking into account geography and local circumstances.

“We provide tools with local level information so people can incorporate it into their decision-making,” Greenan said.

Fiona took several people to sea on the east coast of Canada. The body of a 73-year-old woman was found Sunday after being swept up from Port Aux Basques, Newfoundland. a day earlier, when a massive wave hit his house, The Canadian Press reports.

One approach governments should implement more broadly to protect people in the future is “managed retirement,” said Kate Sherren, a professor of environmental social sciences at Dalhousie University. The policy is to move homes away from coastlines, where they are vulnerable to destruction by storm surges, she said, adding that it includes regulations on how close the coast is to new buildings, but also that it moves back the existing dwellings.

It’s a tough sell in places where people have built or are building their dream homes with sea views, Sherren said. “People don’t really perceive the risk to be serious enough that it’s time to do something as serious as go where they like.”

Retreat would not be a fixed distance. In some cases, it may mean moving a house further on a property; in others, it might involve the government exchanging one resident’s coastal property with another inland.

Regulations aren’t in place right now and people are still building homes too close to water, Sherren said, adding that she’s even seen homes with foundations sitting in water. Despite the unpopularity of the new rules, construction must be prevented in such dangerous places.

Usually people become more supportive of the idea after a major storm like Fiona, Sherren said, and that “political window” provides an opportunity to make progress on managed retirement.

“Emotional attachment to where people live – we all struggle to cope with significant change in places we cherish, and we all need to empathize with that,” she said. declared. “But we also have to make difficult decisions. It would be better if we could do them together.

Despite the destruction at the weekend, there were improvements in the response compared to previous years, according to Quigley.

He was quick to praise Atlantic provincial governments for their efforts to educate the public before the storm hit. Since last Wednesday, local radio and television have been inundated with warnings to stock up on food and water so residents can shelter in place for 72 hours after the storm, he said.

Health centers have been set up at area recreation facilities to provide people with a place to dry off and warm up. Power companies have also improved, he said, with hundreds of workers put on hold to reconnect downed lines and restore power to homes and businesses.

“Emergency management is getting better and much more sophisticated,” Quigley said. “But it could still be better.”

Cell phone service was available in large swathes of the Atlantic provinces, he said, and intermittent elsewhere. While few people owned cell phones 19 years ago during Hurricane Juan, today virtually everyone depends on them for news, information and contact with others.

With the new addiction comes problems.

“You’re asking people to shelter in their homes and now they can’t get any information and they start making bad decisions,” Quigley said, noting there were reports of people driving in search of a cellular signal before the roads are cleared. live power lines.

“People shouldn’t do that.”

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