East Coast braces for impact

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Weather experts warn another busy hurricane season lies ahead

HALIFAX - With the current balmy summer weather across Atlantic Canada, its easy to forget that nearly four years ago hurricane Juan ripped into the region, killing eight people, smashing buildings and boats like kindling and causing over $100 million in damages.

HALIFAX - With the current balmy summer weather across Atlantic Canada, its easy to forget that nearly four years ago hurricane Juan ripped into the region, killing eight people, smashing buildings and boats like kindling and causing over $100 million in damages.

But weather experts are warning that Eastern Canadians shouldnt let the warm days lull them: disaster could strike unexpectedly at any time. The region is slightly more than half-way through the annual hurricane season that lasts from the end of June to November and what could happen next is anyones guess.

Obviously this is something that is a threat for us, so we just want people to know it is hurricane season, says Peter Bowyer, program supervisor at the Canadian Hurricane Centre in Dartmouth.

Bowyer says its impossible to predict whether another Juan will smash into Atlantic Canada, but that forecasters are calling for another busy season. Even so, a prediction of above-average activity for the Atlantic as a whole doesnt necessarily mean Atlantic Canada will bear the brunt of the storms.

Bowyer says the sufficient level of skill does not exist among forecasters to predict with certainty where the storms will make landfall. Theres an old rule that says never make a forecast if you dont have to, Bowyer jokes.

Nonetheless, the storms arent something to be taken lightly. Chantal has already had her way with Newfoundland, dumping 150 millimetres of rain on the island, and the precipitation from Erin developed into a frontal system over Ontario, spilling large amounts of rain and causing damage there.

Sometimes the impacts can be a little less indirect, Bowyer says. But theyre real nonetheless and they do bring grief. Were just getting into the throes of the season now.

Kathy Bardswick, president and CEO of The Co-operators - a national insurance firm - says they watch out for the storms and keep their fingers crossed damage wont be too severe. Year upon year, insurance payouts for storm damage have been rising, costing insurers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Our Atlantic provinces are the most vulnerable to what is typically the hurricane zone, Bardswick says. I know were not out of danger yet. Were in the thick of hurricane season.

The insurer says she wishes she could say preparation has improved since Juan, but doesnt believe that is the case. Bardswick worries many municipalities are still disorganized when it comes to emergency planning and that a lack of infrastructure investment federally means such vital services as storm sewers have deteriorated and arent able to handle some of the sudden and heavy rain bursts of recent years.

Bowyer also notes the increase in insurance claims from hurricanes and attributes much of that to the increased demand for coastline residences. He points out the number of disaster-level weather events has not climbed proportionally to the amount of development along the coast.

Its all completely attributable to the building of the coastline.

Like Bowyer, Bardswick sees the impact of smaller storm events - many of those the remnants of hurricanes - but those add up, costing $20 million in one place, $40 million in another. No one storm is catching the headlines because its not Juan or Katrina, she says, but it is wrecking havoc. They are smaller in scope, but far more frequent.

Bardswick frets that while most cities say they have disaster response plans, she doesnt know how well theyre tested and would actually work in the event of a crisis.

But Barry Manuel, the emergency measures co-ordinator for the Halifax Regional Municipality, says the city is better prepared since Juan hit. Since the hurricane battered the coastal city, 500 more people have been trained in emergency response procedures.

Theyll likely be needed. Manuel warns everyone should be prepared because already in his lifetime theres been Juan.

Organizations: Canadian Hurricane Centre, The Co-operators, Halifax Regional Municipality

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, East Coast, Dartmouth Newfoundland Erin Ontario

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