By RYAN KING
SOUTHWEST COAST — The Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Elvis Loveless, and Premier Andrew Furey stopped at St. Andrews on their way to Port aux Basques on Thursday afternoon, Nov. 25 to assess firsthand the damages caused by the heavy winds and rain that ravaged the Southwest coast. They were also joined by the MHA Scott Reid (St. George’s – Humber).
Now that the storm is over, Furey said the focus has turned to infrastructure repair and medical care.
“There are still many more assessments to be done, but the primary objective right now is to restore the Trans Canada Highway.”
Furey said that it is still too early to say if disaster relief funding will be needed, but he promised that the province will be there to help those impacted by the storm, and were reaching out to Ottawa.
“I talked to the Federal Department of National Defense, I’ve spoken with the Federal Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, and the Minister responsible for public safety. All of them are prepared, and at the ready to fulfill any request from the provincial government, all in solidarity with Newfoundlanders and Labradorians,” said Furey.
By the following evening, the Federal Liberals had announced they would be sending in troops to help out.
“Personnel will provide air support to facilitate evacuations and assist with the maintenance of supply chains across the province,” wrote MP Bill Blair, Minister of Emergency Preparedness.
Premier Furey described the damage to the highway that he has witnessed as significant.
“We were just here talking to the Volunteer Fire Chief who’s out moving around, Mr. (Brian) Osmond, doing an assessment of the road, so that can be fed back into the system, and it truly is a testament to how creative and solid Newfoundlanders are in times of crisis,” said Furey.
Furey also explained that there have been no calls from municipalities to declare a state of emergency, and the government will continue to assess the situation. Meanwhile air service was put in place to ensure medical care would not fall by the wayside.
“Western Health right now is doing a full assessment, and working with emergency services personnel to ensure that people are triaged appropriately, and we will be working very closely with the Regional Health authority to ensure that people are prioritized appropriately,” said Furey.
Loveless added that he had been in contact with MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo – La Poile), to set up an emergency number to call for airlift services to necessary medical appointments and tests.
“Obviously that is first and foremost in terms of any medical needs required from his constituents. Scott Reid says the same thing. There’s a real focus on that. We’re ensuring that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are taken care of,” said Loveless.
Local contractors, including those in Port aux Basques, were already engaged to tackle the issues of the washouts before the storm ever began.
“Corresponding with contractors is evident here this morning even, and the second site that we were at, two excavators are moving, doing work, and that’s a good sign that we’ll have things back and operational on our highways,” said Loveless.
Bypassing the washouts is a part of the planning process, but nothing is confirmed at this point, and due to the nature of the work, getting bypasses in place will be a challenge.
“The third area where there is a washout is a partial washout, so you could pass, but due to safety there wouldn’t be any traffic being able to pass there because of the nature of the work that is ongoing there,” explained Loveless.
The crews completing repairs on the highway are working 24 hour shifts.
“We know that the day is not as long now in terms of daylight, but whatever needs to happen, lights hooked up, the contractors are prepared to do that, and that’s part of the communication and planning that we did and that’s still ongoing,” said Loveless.
Reid was glad to see everyone pulling together so quickly.
“I’m really impressed with the work being done by volunteers in all communities, especially in the Codroy Valley, my home district. I know the fire department has been very engaged in some of the local service districts as well. So, I’m very pleased with the level of activity there, and I’m also pleased that the Minister and the Premier have taken time out of their schedules to come out here and give this situation the attention it deserves. We had a chance to talk to volunteers, and talk to people on the ground here, and see some of the situation firsthand. So I’m very pleased to have that support in this type of situation as well,” said Reid.
By Saturday, Nov. 27, MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo – La Poile) announced that the washout at Overfalls had been completed enough for equipment to get through to help out down at the weigh scale washout. On social media, Parsons cautioned that the access was restricted to repair crews only.
“Do not attempt to drive there,” stated Parsons. ” People have mentioned a side road at Weight Scales. This is not in place. They will work with emergency vehicles but I do not anticipate (from what I hear) that we will see this open to passenger vehicles yet nor today.”
The Non-Medical Air Request toll free number is 1-833-885-0385, and hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Anyone who requires air services (non-medical) will have to call and provide information for their request. Availability will be prioritized. Residents are asked to keep in mind that this service is dependent on weather and helicopter availability and residents should plan accordingly.