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Updated: Sun, 06 Jul 2014 06:19:57 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Arthur hits Maritimes: Post-tropical storm causes widespread blackouts



A tree blocks the Woodstock Road in Fredericton near The Cabin restaurant. Courtesy J. Lynn Stapleton/Twitter

A tree blocks the Woodstock Road in Fredericton near The Cabin restaurant. Courtesy J. Lynn Stapleton/Twitter

Post-tropical storm Arthur battered the Maritimes today, at one point knocking out power to more than 290,000 homes and businesses.

With the number of outages climbing steadily throughout the day, officials with the Canadian Hurricane Centre said conditions of heavy rain and strong winds were likely to persist into Saturday evening.

The storm was downgraded from hurricane status with sustained winds of about 110 km/h as it approached landfall in the Yarmouth area of Nova Scotia at about 7:30 a.m. AT.

In New Brunswick, the number of NB Power customers who lost service was more than 140,000, including more than 52,000 in the Fredericton area, at 10:30 p.m.

NB Power spokesman Bob Scott said high winds forced restoration operations in Fredericton to stop for the night Saturday.

“Right now, the winds will not allow us to put buckets in the air because they’ll just blow all over the place. There are still trees coming down here in the city and I can’t speak to the rest of the places, but there’s still a lot of trees coming down here,” he said.

"I’m looking out my window, which looks across the St. John River from the south side to the north side on the ninth floor of the NB Power building and there’s absolutely nothing on over on the other side of the river except for car lights.”

In Nova Scotia, as the storm moved northeast, power crews were able to make some headway on the number of people in the dark. At 10:30 p.m. AT, there were still more than 120,000 without power, down from about 144,000 customers at its peak.

RCMP issued a warning about falling trees, debris and downed power lines. In Onslow, N.S., firefighters had to cut apart a tree limb to rescue a man who was trapped underneath.

On P.E.I., Maritime Electric reported about 1,500 customers were in the dark at 10:30 p.m. AT.

"The front-line workers are facing some big issues out there, most of all, the windy conditions that they have to work in this time of year with the foliage on the trees. There's a lot of tree branches and trees coming in the lines which are causing most of the outages," said Kristopher Jackson, a spokesman for the Island power company.

The majority of outages are on the eastern end of the Island.

Jackson said 10 crews were out trying to restore power, and they're not in a position to estimate when the power will return.

Flooding a big concern for parts of N.B.

In Hoyt, a town in the southwest part of New Brunswick, Adam Larlee and his two young children could not leave because the road near his house is impassable. 

“Well I'm pretty concerned. The road washed out a little bit back in April, but I just found out from the Department of Transportation that they will no longer be maintaining this road after 20 years of service because now they’ve discovered a map that it’s a ‘public non-designated’ road — which means I can't fix it and they won’t. So we could be stranded here for quite some time."

Larlee says his family has several days worth of water and food, but he hopes he won't have to hike out to get help.

“The road is out right now. It’s impassable with the water. Our horse shelter has been thrown over, our barn has shifted, my driveway is washed out — there’s all kinds of things. I’m at the end of a road, I’m the last house, and we’re essentially stranded here right now."

Elsewhere in New Brunswick, the southwestern community of St. Stephen had already received 142 millimetres of rain by Saturday, and officials with the Canadian Hurricane Centre in Dartmouth said the rain in the area would persist for several more hours.

Chris Fogarty, of the hurricane centre, said it is "not out of the question" for St.Stephen to receive 170 millimetres of rain before the storm clears the area.

It marks the third time in four years that bad flooding has inundated St. Stephen. King Street, the main route into the town from the north, was impassable Saturday evening. 

Fredericton and Saint John area also under what Fogarty described as a "pivoting area of rainfall" that is almost stationary.

Among the worst outages in recent history

CBC meteorologist Kalin Mitchell said Arthur had completed its transition to an extratropical system by mid-afternoon. The centre of the storm was moving up the Bay of Fundy toward Cape Chignecto at a speed of about 30 km/h. Mitchell advised people to be alert for powerful winds associated with the low-pressure system.

When NB Power was hit with major outages due to a series of winter storms over the Christmas period last year, the number of customers without power at any one time peaked at 54,000. Over the course of those 11 days, 88,000 NB Power customers were affected.

NB Power said people in New Brunswick should be prepared to be without power for 48 to 72 hours.

"That doesn't necessarily mean they will be, but they should be prepared to be just in case they are," said Scott.

​It took 11 days for some people to have power restored during the December outage, but Scott is confident that won't be the case this time.

"I'm 100 per certain that won't happen in this particular case because that was a question of freezing rain on the lines," said Scott.

"But this is the largest number that we've had out in a long, long, long time — particularly in a non-winter month."

Nova Scotia Power said most power should be restored by Sunday evening at the latest.

Because of high winds and dangerous conditions, NB Power crews are addressing only high priority customers such as hospitals, nursing homes and safety issues. Crews will focus on the rest of the outages once the storm passes, the utility said.

Serious impact Saturday evening

Arthur started to make its presence known in Prince Edward Island in early afternoon, with scattered power outages reported across the Island.

Many sailboat owners could be found at the Charlottetown Yacht Club on Saturday trying to get their boats out of the water in advance of Arthur's arrival. However,at least one sailboat ended up at the bottom of Charlottetown harbour, while another broke free of its moorings Saturday evening and was tossed in the waves. 

The peak wind gust recorded in the region Saturday morning was 106 km/h in Fredericton.Nova Scotia saw a peak gust of 123 km/h in Brier Island. Prince Edward Island's peak wind gust, registered at the Charlottetown Airport, was 102 km/h.

City officials in Fredericton were urging people to stay off streets and roads because of the number of trees down.

"If at all possible, residents are being asked to stay off the roads. If you have to be out on the roads, please use extreme caution," said a notice from city officials. "Trees are blocking roads; traffic lights are out in many areas of the city."

A wind warning issued by Environment Canada on Saturday said strong winds were expected through the overnight period. Winds gusting to 90 km/h were forecast for eastern and southern New Brunswick with gusts reaching 120 km/h over Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy on Saturday afternoon. The winds are forecast to diminish by Sunday morning.

"Damage to buildings, such as to roof shingles, may occur. Loose objects may be tossed by the wind and cause injury or damage," states Environment Canada in its warning. "Wind warnings are issued when there is a significant risk of damaging winds."

All of New Brunswick is expected to receive heavy rainfall, with total amounts near 100 millimetres forecast for much of the province,exceptthe extreme northwest and southeast.

Aside from the 115 millimetres of rain recorded in St. Stephen on Saturday, rainfall totals in New Brunswick included 82 millimetres on Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy, 53 mm in Fredericton and 65 mm in Miramichi.

"The rainfall rates are of particular concern since they could exceed 15 millimetres per hour during a period of several hours," stated the Canadian Hurricane Centre in a tropical cyclone information statement issued at 2:45 a.m. "These conditions could lead to local flooding of small rivers and creeks and possible road washouts."

In Saint John, flooding forced the closure of several streets: Fairville Boulevard, McAllister Drive at Majors Brook, New North Road, Polaris Court, University Avenue, east and westbound near Arlington Crescent, Simpson Drive and Glen Road.

The University of New Brunswick in Fredericton closed Saturday as the entire campus was without power.

Coade said the area of New Brunswick from St. Stephen to Bathurst in the northeast could see 100 to 150 millimetres of rain.

"Generally you can take a swath of rain in New Brunswick, let's say from the southwest down in St. Stephen, Charlotte County up toward the Bathurst area where you're going to see about 100 to 140, or maybe 150 millimetres of rain before this all moves out," said Coade.

"Most of it is during the daylight hours of today — 80 to 110 day in the daylight hours — and then possibly another 20 to 30 in the overnight hours before it comes to an end before daybreak."

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