Leslie belts Newfoundland, wreaking havoc on trees, trucks and roofs - Macleans.ca

Leslie belts Newfoundland, wreaking havoc on trees, trucks and roofs

While Igor seemed much worse, Leslie has done its share of damage


ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Post-tropical storm Leslie belted Newfoundland on Tuesday, unleashing hurricane-force winds on a large swath of the province’s east coast and drenching rains in the west.

Officials with the Canadian Hurricane Centre in Halifax said the centre of the storm made landfall at around 8:30 a.m. local time in Fortune, N.L., following its anticipated track to the Burin Peninsula.

Meteorologist Bob Robichaud said the potent storm buffeted areas around St. John’s with winds that gusted more than 130 km/h, causing damage to roofs, trees, roads and widespread outages.

“We’ve seen some fairly heavy, intense rainfall as the storm was approaching and one of the things we’re looking closely at are the winds,” he said in an interview.

The centre initially said Leslie was a tropical storm when it made landfall, but later said it was a post-tropical storm. The designation means the strongest winds and heaviest rain have spread out past the eye of the storm.

The St. John’s airport recorded hurricane-force gusts of up to 131 km/h, and a buoy in Placentia Bay recorded waves exceeding 12 metres.

Power was knocked out throughout St. John’s and communities along the southeastern coast of the Avalon, and flights at the airport were cancelled.

Striking airport workers who briefly picketed outside braved powerful wind gusts that picked up a port-a-potty tied down by a rope.

“This is my first time taking strike action and I guess the weather just makes it a little more interesting,” said Steve Piercey, a building maintenance worker originally from Fortune, N.L.

“We’re used to weather like this. At least a couple of times a year we get big storms. This is par for the course, being a Newfoundlander. We’re tough.”

Piercey was working at the airport almost two years ago when hurricane Igor hit on Sept. 21, 2010, unleashing stronger winds gusting about 150 km/h.

Igor seemed much worse, he said.

Inside the airport, stranded passengers gazed up at electronic boards red with cancellations before the power cut out and they went black.

“On the Trans-Canada (Highway) it’s windy. It’s almost like the wind’s going to push you off the road,” said Christopher Cumby, who drove into St. John’s from the Trinity Bay region. “It’s not really bad rain-wise but the wind is really bad.”

Cumby was trying to make his way back to Fort McMurray, Alta., for work, but his chartered flight was delayed.

“Nah,” he said when asked if the weather scares him. “I might get to stay home an extra day.”

The RCMP tweeted a photo of a truck blown over onto its side on the Trans-Canada Highway, west of St. John’s.

The City of St. John’s closed all municipal buildings, except City Hall, due to extensive power outages. Schools and some health clinics in the area were also shut down.

Sirens wailed in downtown St. John’s as emergency crews responded to exploding power transformers, downed electricity lines and increasing wind damage.

Tree branches blocked several roads and there were multiple reports of roofs being partially blown off.

Some residents faced the blustery weather to take pictures of trees uprooted in Bannerman Park.

“It’s pretty intense,” said Holly Walsh, who was out storm chasing after classes for her therapeutic recreation course were cancelled.

“I’ve never seen this before.”

Walsh said the force of the wind blew her down at nearby Cape Spear, the most easterly point of North America, as it ripped the doors off three cars.

In the central Newfoundland town of Badger, officials declared a state of emergency and kept close watch on a 24-metre high water tower that was condemned three weeks ago.

“If we get the high winds, the engineers have advised us that it could topple,” said Mayor Michael Patey.

People from 23 homes near the tower were evacuated and an elementary school was closed.

Chris Fogarty, a manager with the Canadian Hurricane Centre, said the region may have been spared the brunt of the storm.

“The storm, had it come a few hours earlier, would have been worse for the southern part of the province due to the storm surge and high tides, so fortunately it arrived at low tide,” he said. “But there are very, very high waves coming up to Placentia Bay in particular.”

On Newfoundland’s west coast, there were concerns about flooding as the storm’s heaviest rainfall — about 100 millimetres or more were forecast for some areas — drenched the region.

Central parts of the island were also soaked, said Fogarty.

He said the centre’s radar suggested between 100 to 150 mm fell in some areas.

The centre cautioned that tree damage, power outages and property damage would likely result from the strong winds.

Bands of rain were extending out ahead of Leslie, dousing some areas on the Burin and Avalon Peninsulas with 25 mm of rain an hour.

The fast-moving storm was expected to head out into the North Atlantic, leaving cool winds and some sunshine in its wake.

Much-smaller hurricane Michael is well to the east of Leslie and is expected to dissipate east of the Grand Banks over the next day or two.

Fogarty said forecasters were also keeping an eye on a still-unnamed storm brewing in the tropics, but he said it would likely remain out at sea.

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