PORT AUX BASQUES — Last Friday, Sept. 30, members of the Canadian Rangers were still guarding entrances to the most devastated areas of town. In East End, Bell Aliant crews were working on the lines and Canadian Armed Forces wandered along the shoreline, picking their way carefully through the rubble. In one yard alone, a half dozen troops dug through the splintered, sodden wood, looking for salvageable items such as personal effects.
They had a nice morning for it finally. Since post-tropical depression Fiona blew through town, the weather has remained unpleasant, a combination of fog, intermittent drizzle and chill that did little to prevent cleanup work from starting, and served only to make matters even more unpleasant.
On the first night they arrived, the Canadian Rangers spent hours standing in the rain, including a brief thunderstorm.
This is not the first time Canadian military have come to help Port aux Basques and the Southwest Coast. Following a storm last November that resulted in washouts along the
Trans Canada Highway, Federal Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair dispatched forces to help maintain critical supply chains and air support for evacuations.
On Wednesday, Sept. 28, Canadian Forces returned to assist the Southwest Coast once again.
Lieutenant Jordan Mitchell spoke on behalf of the Canadian Armed
Forces (CAF) currently in the area.
“Right now, we’ve got over 100 Canadian Armed Forces members who are here to assist in the disaster relief,” said Mitchell. “We’re doing wellness checks and we are assessing damage to critical infrastructure.”
Mitchell said the assessments haven’t been fully completed, so the extent of the damages cannot yet be fully ascertained.
“I think we’ve all seen the images, certainly. There is significant damage, but in terms of assessing the damages to critical infrastructure, that’s still ongoing. We’re here supporting the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. There are other emergency officials and members working here on the ground, and everything we are doing is in conjunction with them. It’s not just us doing it.”
The CAF aren't just helping in Port aux Basques.
“Today members of Joint Task Force Lentus Newfoundland and Labrador visited communities from Port aux Basques all the way to Burnt Islands,” confirmed Mitchell. "The details here were that we were able to help distribute water in conjunction with the Salvation Army and Emergency Measures Organizations.”
Mitchell shared his own personal observations on the situation.
“I can say that the Canadian Armed Forces, my Commander, we understand it’s been so tough, but I’ve seen resilience. I’ve seen people helping each other, and even having
the kindness to think about putting us up, getting us food. Through all of this, to offer things like that is amazing,” said Mitchell. “We see people who have been through a lot. It’s emotional. There are people who still have challenges they are facing, but that humanity – not just helping people from around here, but the sense of humanity and compassion is still there for everyone. It's really impressive.”
Mitchell said there is no set time frame for how long the CAF plans to remain in the area.
“We’re here as long as the assistance is required, in conjunction with the province. Right now there is a request for assistance, and we’ll be here as long as that continues. That’s something that is worked out by the province and the federal government, and we respond to that.”
The CAF aren’t the only military group who are assisting the region after Fiona. The Canadian Rangers are also doing their part.
The Canadian Rangers rolled into town a day before the CAF and have been keeping a close watch on the damaged sites. Warrant Officer Bradley McInnis said around 67
Rangers, the Five Unit Ranger Patrol (5CRPG) based out of Gander are lending a hand.
“Right now, we’re doing what is known as a ‘Reccy’ which is essentially going in to see what damage there is, what we can do and how many troops we can put to task.”
McInnis said it is apparent that the cleanup will take some time.
“There is quite a bit of damage and there’s a lot of work to be done. Just finding out where to start will be a hard challenge.”
Additional RCMP were observed around the region to help out in the immediate aftermath. On Tuesday, Sept. 27, RCMP media liaison Jolene Garland released the following.
"Channel-Port aux Basques RCMP has received a report of the theft of a smaller item by youth in the area. The item has since been recovered. An increased presence of our police officers, with support from Ground Search and Rescue teams, are in place to monitor the situation and patrol the area of the evacuated residences."
Channel-Port aux Basques Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jerry Musseau is grateful for the extra assistance. Until the arrival of the CAF and the Canadian Rangers, members of the fire brigade were helping to keep people out of the more dangerous areas.
“It’s great. All help is needed.”
By Rosalyn Roy – with files from Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wreckhouse Weekly News