NEWS

'I've never seen winds like that ever': Iqaluit mayor

01/08/2014 07:06 EST | Updated 03/10/2014 05:59 EDT
The mayor of Iqaluit says last night’s storm was the worst he has seen in almost four decades on Baffin Island. 

"I'm coming up on 39 years in Iqaluit," said John Graham this morning, "and I've never seen winds like that ever."

Graham was invited to the CBC studio for an interview at 7 a.m., but couldn’t get to the station right away.

“I couldn’t leave the house with half the roof flapping on one side and pipes frozen,” he says.

Graham says a large piece of his roof came off and wrapped itself around an electrical pole.

“I thought the whole thing was gonna go, to be honest with you,” Graham says. “You’re kind of helpless and lots of people in this city last night were in that situation.”

Graham also sustained damage to his truck after the wind ripped the door it off the hinges. He tied it with a scarf Wednesday morning to make it to the CBC.

City officials say the fire department got one call of a house filled with carbon monoxide. Two people were taken to hospital but are OK.

Graham says communication was a real challenge.

“When your cellphone goes and you’ve got no communications, you’ve got a real problem,” he says.

“Thank goodness for Twitter. I”m gonna learn how to use that, because for most of the evening, after the cel phone actually died, that was the only information that I was able to receive.”

Graham says the last message his wife sent out was a note letting people know they could go to Nanook School in Apex, a small satellite community of Iqaluit. The school was opened as a warming centre after power went out around 3 p.m.

Power wasn’t restored in Apex until this morning. That could mean many people with frozen pipes and other damage to homes.

“Goodness knows what the expense really is when it’s all tabulated at the end of the day,” Graham says.

Roads open, but please stay home

Fortunately, people in the small community are looking after each other.

After closing up the school this morning, school principal Mat Knickelbein made a list of people to check on during the day, inviting others online to call and add names.

City staff say the roads are open, but they’re encouraging people to stay home until the winds die down.

Schools and offices are also closed in the city.

The CBC is broadcasting today on 1230 AM, but the FM station has been knocked out.

The station closed Tuesday afternoon to wait out the storm. It was the first time CBC Iqaluit has closed due to weather in recent memory.

Terror in the howling wind

For many in the capital, the winds were terrifying, with gusts reaching 141 km/h.

“I thought the windows and patio doors were going to cave in,” says the CBC’s Patricia Bell, who felt her way from her car to her front door with a baby in tow.

Flying garbage bins, sheds, roofing and construction materials were also flying around the town. Some debris smashed the back window of a parked CBC truck.

Several people trying to get home yesterday found they were standing still, or being blown in the wrong direction by the wind. Good samaritans offered rides, but several vehicles also wound up in the ditch.

Many homes and apartment buildings in the city are built on stilts — long metal pilings drilled deep into the permafrost. People in those homes felt shaking throughout the night, with one resident, whose home overlooks Frobisher Bay, describing the experience of his living room sofa turning into an amusement park ride.

“Sitting on my couch right now is highly reminiscent of those coin-op kiddie rides you find in a mall… except this is free… it's not stopping… and there is no button to make laser noises,” wrote Tony Rose on Facebook. “Hang tight Iqalummiut, this is part of why we live here!

On Twitter, another Iqaluit resident reported that his brother’s living room window shattered. Fortunately, nobody was near it at the time.

“Truck’s covered in snow, garage is almost covered to the top! Thought the roofing and siding was going to blow away!” wrote Johnny Issaluk on Facebook.

Some tweeting died down during the night as cellphone service was temporarily lost.

Storm still blowing

Wednesday morning, Environment Canada is calling for blowing snow with near zero visibility and winds gusting to 90 km/h. The winds should die down around noon, but the temperature will fall to –17 C, feeling more like –27 with the wind chill.

The violence of the storm took even veteran weather watchers aback.

Sustained winds of 111 km/h were approaching category 1 hurricane strength, said CBC North meteorologist Christy Climenhaga. A category one hurricane requires sustained winds of 120 km/h.

Schools in Iqaluit, Clyde River, Rankin Inlet, Igloolik and Cape Dorset are all closed Wednesday morning as the winds continue to blow.

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