HALIFAX — Canadian soldiers armed with chainsaws fanned out across the Halifax area on Monday to help clean up the tangled mess of fallen trees and power lines left behind by post-tropical storm Dorian.
Their high-profile deployment — carried out under bright sunshine — was part of a wider effort to deal with power outages that have left much of the Maritimes in the dark for two days.
Utility companies in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and P.E.I. are facing a massive task in restoring electricity to hundreds of thousands of customers.
In Nova Scotia, the province that sustained the most damage from Dorian’s hurricane-force winds, almost 200,000 homes and businesses were still without electricity on Monday afternoon.
Earlier in the day, three of the Canadian Army’s light armoured vehicles were dispatched to a neighbourhood on the east side of Halifax harbour, where Lt. Gabriel Picard was tasked with removing a large maple tree blocking a residential street.
“We are here to support the local authorities and to help things return to normal after the passage of hurricane Dorian,” said Picard, troop commander with 4 Engineer Support Regiment, based at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick.
“Our main priority is to clear the roads and to make sure that people without power are safe.”
However, Picard and his squad couldn’t start cutting up the uprooted tree because its top branches were still tangled in utility wires on the far side of the street. Without an electrician to ensure the site was safe, the soldiers put away their chainsaw and left to take a break.
As their green armoured vehicles rumbled through Dartmouth, the soldiers were greeted with waves and shouts of encouragement from children on the sidewalk, enjoying a day off from school.
Dartmouth resident Sherri MacDonald said she and her neighbours were grateful for the army’s assistance.
“When I drove up here a few minutes ago, it was a little shocking,” she said as onlookers gathered along the sun-drenched sidewalk.
“But I’m also really thankful that we have all of these folks out cleaning up our city and helping us get things back to normal.”
MacDonald said the storm temporarily cut power to her home on Richards Drive, but her property was not damaged.
“I do know that it wreaked havoc all over the city,” she said. “People can’t get to work. The power is out. Lines are down. Trees are blocking the way. I know that lots of folks had damage to their cars and their houses .... I think it was a pretty significant impact.”
About 300 soldiers from Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in central New Brunswick were brought in to help with the cleanup and another 400 “immediate reaction forces” were on standby.
On Sunday, Nova Scotia Power CEO Karen Hutt said the privately owned utility was facing a “worst case scenario” after Dorian roared over the middle of the province.
She said that even with the help of utility crews from Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, Florida and Maine, it would likely be Wednesday before the lights are back on in all areas of the province.
Many schools across Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island were closed Monday, and emergency officials have been urging people to stay home _ both for their own safety and to give cleanup crews the room they need to work.
In New Brunswick, more than 80,000 homes and businesses were without electricity at the peak of the storm on Saturday.
NB Power spokesman Marc Belliveau said that number had been reduced to about 10,000 by midday Monday, and he expected most of those would be reconnected by Monday night.
“The damage is widespread, so you might have one area where there are several hundred people that can be re-energized with one repair,” he said.
“But in another area that’s going to take you just as long to cut trees and do repairs, there might be one or two houses. That’s going to be the ongoing challenge in the next couple of days.”
On Prince Edward Island, Maritime Electric said efforts to restore power were slow-going.
“Due to the nature of the work, some customers may be without power until the end of the week,” the utility wrote on its Twitter feed.
Meanwhile, many marinas around the Maritimes were left battered by Dorian’s storm surges.
Boat owners at the Shediac Bay Yacht Club in New Brunswick were assessing damage Monday after strong winds and waves tossed boats around like toys.
“This is the worst we have ever seen,” said Gilles Brine, a member of the club’s executive.
“There are three boats that are on the rocks from the marina side, and on the slip side, there are about 20 boats that are on top of each other.”
At the height of the storm, waves were crashing over the marina’s breakwater, he said.
On Monday, crews were removing boats and damaged sections of the wharf.
In Nova Scotia, residents were being warned to be careful when using generators.
The Canadian Red Cross says a fire sparked by a generator damaged a historic general store in Petit Riviere, which is along Nova Scotia’s southwestern shore.
— With files from Kevin Bissett in Fredericton.