Skip to content

Health among many services disrupted in Nova Scotia snowstorm aftermath

Coast guard cadets called in to help as Cape Breton digs out from record snowfall
Nova Scotia Health says non-emergency services in its Eastern zone will continue to be reduced following a weekend snowstorm. A truck is abandoned on a snow-covered street after a winter storm in Sydney, N.S. on Monday, Feb.5, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Shane Wilkie

The mayor of Cape Breton’s largest municipality says she wept Tuesday night when a huge snowplow rumbled down her street in Sydney, N.S., where she had been trapped with her family since a weekend storm dumped 150 centimetres of snow on the community.

“My three-year-old … was so excited,” Amanda McDougall said in an interview Wednesday, recalling the arrival of the plow. “It was palpable in the air how happy we all were.”

McDougall said her top priority as mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality is bringing that sense of relief to residents who remain stuck behind massive snowdrifts that have buried cars, blocked sidewalks and clogged paths and doorways.

For the third consecutive day, schools and most government offices were closed across Cape Breton. City hall in Sydney was closed and transit service was suspended. As well, non-emergency health services were reduced across the island and in the eastern counties of Antigonish and Guysborough on the Nova Scotia mainland.

The provincial government continued to urge Cape Breton residents, including the Eskasoni First Nation, to avoid unnecessary travel.

Meanwhile, there is so much snow covering Sydney that regular snow-clearing equipment is breaking down, which is partly why the area has remained under a local state of emergency since Sunday.

“Our machines are great for a typical snowfall, but they were … struggling so hard through that heavy snow,” McDougall said. “Having these big machines come in from the federal government, Parks Canada and the (provincial) Transportation Department, that’s the only way we’re going to dig out … You can hear the hum of big machinery.”

A 2020 blizzard that brought St. John’s, N.L., to a standstill became known as Snowmageddon, but some Nova Scotians have dubbed this storm Slowmageddon because the low-pressure system parked itself off Nova Scotia’s east coast for almost four days and barely moved as the snow piled up.

In Sydney’s north end, an SPCA shelter was evacuated Wednesday after staff noticed the building’s ceiling beams were sagging under the weight of snow on the roof.

“We currently have 45 animals in the shelter and staff are taking care of them,” provincial CEO Elizabeth Murphy said in a statement. “Our shelter is showing the signs of age and wear. We cannot take this risk.”

Murphy said staff from an SPCA office in the Halifax area would pick up the 19 dogs, 25 cats and one rabbit and place them in other shelters across the province.

On another front, McDougall said there’s plenty of evidence Cape Bretoners are pulling together, though a proper cleanup is days away. As an example she pointed to a gaggle of young players with the Glace Bay Minor Hockey Association, who showed up on her street wearing their jerseys and toting shovels.

“I looked out my window and I see these smiling, wonderful faces,” the mayor said, recalling how they provided a welcome break from a video conference with municipal officials. “They were waving to me through the window.”

Earlier in the day, shovels were also handed to officer cadets at the nearby Canadian Coast Guard College.

The cadets started shovelling near the college in the Westmount area on Monday, but 100 of them were expected to board school buses Wednesday to help vulnerable residents in other neighbourhoods.

Harvey Vardy, the coast guard’s regional director of response programs, said provincial emergency officials would decide where to send them.

On Monday, federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan said three coast guard helicopters would be made available to help with potential evacuations or to shuttle essential supplies, including fuel.

Vardy said the helicopters are stationed at the Sydney airport, but they have yet to be put to use. “There has been no formal request for the coast guard helicopters,” Vardy said.

The provincial government has said more than 1,000 people are working around the clock using about 400 pieces of equipment to clear snow across Nova Scotia.

Despite the transportation problems in Cape Breton, McDougall said food and fuel supplies were in good shape, mainly because the Canso Causeway, which connects the island with the mainland, has remained clear.

Though good weather was in the forecast, McDougall said the temperature was dropping on Wednesday, which meant the previously heavy, wet snow was turning to solid ice. “It’s hard shovelling,” she said.

READ ALSO: Days of work, outside help needed as Nova Scotia digs out of metre-deep snow