SHIPPAGAN, N.B. – The military is sending 200 troops to New Brunswick to back up ongoing relief efforts in the areas that have been hardest hit by last week’s ice storm.
New Brunswick’s premier told a news conference in Shippagan Sunday that the military will help thousands of residents in the province’s northeast who have been without power for days following the ice storm that walloped the province last Wednesday.
“We should see quite a presence (Monday) in the region,” Brian Gallant said. “Everybody is in a mode in which we understand that every minute counts, every hour counts and every day counts, and we’re all focused on one thing.”
A military official said in an interview Sunday that troops from the army’s base in Gagetown were set to deploy overnight in two waves. The team includes engineers and a headquarters group, said Lt.-Cmdr. Jordan Holder, and go door-to-door to check in on residents, clear roadways and distribute basic necessities.
The military sent a recon team Saturday to see how to best direct their efforts in response to the premier’s request for federal help.
Gallant said discussions of cost have been put aside until after the crisis because “you can’t put a price on people’s safety.”
New Brunswick Power reported that more than 25,000 customers were affected by the outages Sunday, the bulk of them on the Acadian peninsula, where the impact of Wednesday’s storm has been most severe.
Gallant welcomed the military back-up, acknowledging there are several days of work ahead to get the entire province back on the electrical grid.
Around 350 crews worked under strenuous conditions Sunday that have stalled restoration efforts, Gallant said, such as thick layers of ice building up over gear and infrastructure.
In some areas, workers face fallen debris, high winds and extreme ice loading that has weighed down power lines, causing new outages on the Acadian Peninsula. The extent of the damage to electrical equipment at some sites has been more severe than expected, he said.
Gallant said 31 people were being treated Sunday for what is believed to be carbon monoxide poisoning. Two deaths last week were also believed to be caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Volunteers have knocked on about 15,000 doors at households to make sure people are safe and informed or to offer transportation to any of the 46 warming centres across the province, where people can eat, sleep and charge their electronic devices.
NB Power estimates that between 350 and 400 poles must be replaced in the worst-hit areas. Gaetan Thomas, president of NB Power, said he can’t predict how long it will take to get power back up and running across the province.
The utility fell short of its goal to bring back electricity to 80 per cent of the Acadian peninsula by the end of Saturday, revising its restoration target to a more modest 60 per cent by the end of Monday evening.
Crews have made more progress in other parts of the province — nearly all customers affected by outages in Shediac, Sackville, Sussex and the Moncton area have been reconnected and power is steadily returning to Miramichi.
Baie-Sainte-Anne resident Dayna Benoit said she “pretty much fell to her knees and prayed to the light” after her power was finally restored late Sunday afternoon.
She said she and her partner are “exhausted and drained” after four-and-a-half days of trying to keep themselves and their pets warm.
“People offered us places to stay, and warm food,” said Benoit, 20. “We ended up going to different houses, trying to eat once or twice a day at least.”
Now, after two nights of going to bed wearing multiple winter jackets, a hat and mittens, she’s looking forward to a good night’s rest.
Across New Brunswick, stories are emerging of communities pulling together to help their neighbours in a time of emergency.
In Rogersville, Jocelyne Bourque said many volunteers showed up at City Hall with water and food for their neighbours despite having no power at their own homes.
“It’s incredible, as soon as there’s a situation that happens people show up saying what can we do,” said Bourque, a member of the village’s emergency committee.