Only the Beginning: Reflecting on Hurricane Fiona and the Federal Government’s Response

Written by Elizabeth Clarke – Edited by Natalie Cowan

Bracing for Impact

At 5:00 a.m., September 23, 2022, CBC meteorologist Ryan Snoddon outlined his predictions for how post-tropical storm Fiona would hit Atlantic Canada. Expecting sustained winds of 60 km/h across Nova Scotia, PEI, and New Brunswick, with gusts likely to surpass 100 km/h, Snodden warned that “power outages are very likely” “power outages are very likely”. A cold front preceding Fiona promised 100-150 mm of heavy rain even before the storm made landfall, adding a strong possibility for flash flooding and washouts. As warned by the Canadian Hurricane Centre, flooding was of particular concern for coastal communities in eastern Nova Scotia, southeastern New Brunswick, PEI, and southwestern Newfoundland, as the storm was to coincide with high tide on Saturday morning. Residents of Atlantic Canada were advised to “batten down the hatches” on Friday evening in preparation for what could be a “record-breaking” storm.

She was indeed. Fiona made a historic landfall on the morning of Saturday, September 24, 2022.

Fiona Makes Landfall 

Nova Scotia

Hurricane Fiona made landfall between Canso and Guysborough at 4 a.m. By 7 p.m. Saturday, over 335,000 residents in Nova Scotia were without power. Powerful winds (peaking at 179 km/h in Arisaig, north of Antigonish) uprooted large trees, which crashed into power lines and left live wires open in residential areas. Furthermore – as seen in all regions of Atlantic Canada hit by the storm – trees and debris made streets dangerously inaccessible to emergency vehicles. Municipalities of Cape Breton and Victoria County declared a state of emergency which lasted until October 1, during which residents were strongly advised to remain at home, while other areas were temporarily evacuated. In addition to the loss of power, cellular networks (including Bell Aliant and Rogers) were partially or completely lost across Nova Scotia and PEI on Saturday. In many cases, worried families did not hear from their loved ones in these regions for over 24 hours. 

A Halifax fire crew was also reportedly inside their firetruck when a tree crashed into the vehicle. Fortunately, all individuals were safely recovered according to Assistant Chief Erica Fleck.

Prince Edward Island

According to MP Sean Casey, the nature of Fiona in PEI was primarily a “wind event”, toppling power cables across the island. In a tweet, Charlottetown police reported that “conditions [were] like nothing we’ve ever seen”.

90 percent of utility customers on the island— around 82,000 people—lost power, according to Maritime Electric. Electric crews worked tirelessly to restore power as soon as possible to the gone-dark island. Still, just under 200 customers remained without power 20 days after September 24. 

Notably, PEI also lost an iconic landmark in Teacup Rock at Thunder Cove Beach.

Newfoundland and Labrador

As predicted, Newfoundland’s southwestern coast shouldered the province’s share of the storm. The severity of her impact, however, shattered expectations. In the town of Port-aux-Basques, several homes and structures were washed away, littering the flooded community with debris and remnants of personal belongings. Pictures and videos of the damages sustained in Port-aux-Basque fronted National and International coverage of Fiona’s impact; it made headlines on major news channels such as CBC, CNN, and BBC. Residents in this region were ordered to evacuate on short notice, with only hours to prepare before some homes were claimed by the Atlantic. The town of Port-aux-Basques declared a state of emergency on September 24, with approximately 6,000 residents of the town and surrounding area still without power for several days following. 

20 homes, including every belonging and every treasured memory inside of them, were lost. One woman was rescued and safely brought to hospital after being washed out to sea following the collapse of her home. A 73-year-old woman was also washed out to sea on Saturday, with first responders initially unable to reach her location due to the ongoing storm surge. Her body was recovered just before 4 p.m. on Sunday, marking one of 2 total fatalities in Atlantic Canada (the other in PEI).

The Aftermath

 Boots on the Ground

With emergency responders overwhelmed by Fiona’s impact, the provincial governments of Nova Scotia, PEI, and Newfoundland and Labrador all requested support from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) on Sunday, September 25. Around 100 CAF personnel from three platoons were initially dispatched in each province. They arrived shortly after the active storm let up, to “clear the way from debris and make the job easier to restore power”, said Rear Admiral Brian Santarpia in a news conference on Monday, September 26. In total, over 700 CAF members helped initiate the post-Fiona clean-up effort.

PM Trudeau Arrives in Atlantic Canada

In the week following Fiona, Prime Minister Trudeau appeared in affected regions of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Several photo opportunities were captured and posted on social media. Nonetheless, the PM’s promise to support Atlantic Canadians “every step of the way” following the devastation seems to have come from the heart.

Financial Support from Ottawa

For 30 days following Hurricane Fiona, the federal government matched all private donations to the Canadian Red Cross, reaching some $32 million as of October 27. The Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA) were also activated. 

On October 4, PM Trudeau announced the creation of the Hurricane Fiona Recovery Fund, to cover expenses beyond support from the DFAA. The new fund promises to provide up to $300 million over the next two years to rebuild Atlantic Canada’s economy, as well as the destroyed homes and infrastructure. “This new Fund… will help people and local communities move forward on the path to recovery,” said PM Trudeau.

Looking to the Future: What Does Fiona Foreshadow?

In recent years, the Climate Crisis has seen forest fires, flash flooding, snowstorms— and hurricanes—surpass historical records. Fiona may be the first of her kind in Atlantic Canada, but she will not be the last

Arguably, the most important question to be considered here is: was the federal government’s response to Fiona a sustainable solution for future natural disasters? Surely, the PM will not create new $300 million funds for every future storm. And surely, as storms become more frequent and intense, we cannot call for mass CAF support each time. According to Maj-Gen Paul Prévost, CAF recruitment is already struggling to match the country’s need. Between 2017 and 2021, an annual average of four provincial requests for CAF assistance were made following natural disasters. In 2021 alone, there were seven requests.

A possible solution, might be to implement a Climate Change Task Force: a new division of CAF personnel devoted to natural disaster response. This idea has recently been circulating among Members of Parliament, and Fiona has made its necessity all the more clear.

Was the federal government’s response to Hurricane Fiona a sustainable solution for future natural disasters? No. Ottawa and the CAF must restrategize for future disasters.

Fiona was only the beginning.

Works Cited


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