HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (AP) – Fiona knocked out power to more than 500,000 customers in Atlantic Canada on Saturday, damaging homes with strong winds and rain as it made landfall as a large, powerful post-tropical cyclone.
Fiona was downgraded from a hurricane to a post-tropical storm on Friday afternoon, but forecasters warned it could still pack hurricane-force winds and bring heavy rain and huge waves.
More than 415,000 Nova Scotia Power customers, about 80 per cent of the province of nearly 1 million, were affected by outages Saturday morning. More than 82,000 customers in the province of Prince Edward Island were also without power, while NB Power in New Brunswick reported 44,329 were without power.
Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Nova Scotia before dawn on Saturday, downgraded to the Category 4 strength it had earlier Friday as it passed Bermuda, though officials reported no serious damage .
The Canadian Hurricane Center tweeted early Saturday that Fiona has the lowest pressure ever recorded for a storm making landfall in Canada. Meteorologists had warned that it could be one of the most powerful storms to hit the country.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Newfoundland said the Newfoundland town of Port aux Basques is under a state of emergency as authorities deal with multiple electrical fires and residential flooding. The mayor of Port aux Basques, Brian Button, said some houses had been washed away by strong winds and rising seas.
The mayor and council of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality have declared a local state of emergency amid widespread power outages, road closures and damage to homes.
“There are homes that have been badly damaged by fallen trees, big old trees that fall and have caused significant damage. We are also seeing houses with their roofs completely ripped off, windows broken. There’s a lot of debris on the roads,” Amanda McDougall, mayor of Cape Breton Regional Municipality, told The Associated Press.
“There’s a lot of damage to property and structures, but no injuries to people as of this point. Again, we’re still in the middle of this,” he said. “It’s still terrifying. I’m sitting here in my living room and it feels like the patio doors are going to come in with these big gusts. It’s loud and it’s shocking.”
McDougall said the shelter they opened was full overnight and they will look to open more.
The federal Ministry of Public Security advised against all non-essential travel by car.
A hurricane watch was issued for coastal areas of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decided to postpone his trip to Japan for the funeral of slain former prime minister Shinzo Abe.
“Of course, we hope it won’t be very necessary, but we think it probably will be,” Trudeau said. “Listen to the instructions of the local authorities and wait there for the next 24 hours.”
The U.S. Hurricane Center said Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 90 mph (150 km/h) on Saturday. It was moving around eastern Canada.
Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 175 miles (280 kilometers) from the center, and tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 405 miles (650 kilometers).
Hurricanes in Canada are somewhat rare, in part because once storms reach colder waters, they lose their main source of energy. But post-tropical cyclones can still have hurricane-force winds, even though they have a cold core and no visible eye. They also often lose their symmetrical shape and look more like a comma.
“Just an incredibly strong storm when it made landfall. And even though it’s moving away, it’s still going to affect the region for several more hours today,” Ian Hubbard, a meteorologist at the Canadian Hurricane Center in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, said Saturday morning.
Hubbard said he lost power at his home and had to drive the long way to work because the bridges have been closed. He said there are downed trees and signs in the Halifax area, but other areas of the province have it worse.
In Sydney, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton’s largest city, about 20 people have taken shelter at Sydney’s Center 200 sports and entertainment facility, regional spokeswoman Christina Lamey said.
“The key message from this is for people to stay home,” he said. “First responders are really stretched right now. We want people to stay off the roads. Most of the roads have hazards, with power lines down and trees as well.”
Bob Robichaud, warning preparedness meteorologist with the Canadian Hurricane Centre, said Fiona was shaping up to be a bigger storm system than Hurricane Juan, which caused extensive damage to the Halifax area in 2003.
He added that Fiona is about the same size as post-tropical storm Dorian in 2019. “But it is stronger than Dorian,” he said. “It will certainly be a historic and extreme event for Eastern Canada.”
Authorities in Nova Scotia also sent an emergency alert to phones warning of Fiona’s arrival and asking people to stay indoors, avoid the coast, charge devices and have enough supplies for at least 72 hours.
So far, Fiona has been charged in at least five deaths: two in Puerto Rico, two in the Dominican Republic and one on the French island of Guadeloupe.
Meanwhile, the National Hurricane Center said newly formed Tropical Storm Ian in the Caribbean was expected to continue strengthening and hit Cuba early Tuesday as a hurricane and then hit South Florida early Wednesday .
It was centered about 315 miles (519 kilometers) southeast of Kingston, Jamaica. It had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 km/h) and was moving west-northwest at 14 mph (22 km/h). A hurricane watch was issued for the Cayman Islands.
Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.