Hurricane Bill stays offshore, nasty but not that mean to Atlantic Canada

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. - Hurricane Bill was on Dan Stewart's tail as he drove his tractor trailer from Halifax to Cape Breton on Sunday, but the seasoned driver from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley said the big storm wasn't a big deal.

"We missed the brunt of it," Stewart said with a shrug before getting a coffee at the Tim Hortons in Port Hawkesbury, a few minutes' drive north of the Canso Causeway, the gateway to Cape Breton.

"I don't think we got the full hit. Thank goodness."

All along Nova Scotia's Atlantic coast, the Category 1 hurricane delivered steady downpours and fierce winds, knocking out power, forcing cancellations of flights and events, and drawing onlookers hoping to catch a glimpse of crashing waves.

Bill ripped the branches from trees in Halifax and elsewhere, and there was some localized flooding.

But the storm did not appear to cause much damage as its eye remained south of the coastline before heading for the south coast of Newfoundland in a weakened state.

Stewart, a driver for Ayr Motor Express in Woodstock, N.B., said Bill was nasty, but not that mean.

"It reminds me of some of the winter storms I've seen," he said. "I'm glad it's not snow. It's certainly some big wind."

Meteorologists had warned that the eastern mainland of Nova Scotia and southern Cape Breton would bear the brunt of the storm.

But Shirley Matheson, a resident of Port Hawkesbury, said the storm let her down.

"It's kind of disappointing," she said as the wind howled through the swirling curtains of rain lashing a busy parking lot. "We're glad no one is getting hurt or anything, but we're used to this."

As the storm swept past Halifax, its eye coming within 75 kilometres of the port city, Bill was churning out sustained winds over the ocean clocked at 120 kilometres per hour - the minimum for a full-fledged hurricane.

The sustained winds on shore were much slower.

It seems the biggest problem with hurricane Bill was that so many people wanted to get a close-up view of the swirling tropical menace.

Despite repeated warnings to keep away from the turbulent ocean, people gathered on the bald rocks at Peggy's Cove, N.S., and along the boardwalk in downtown Halifax as swells grew steadily in strength and size.

"So far, it's pretty wild," said Heather Wright, who was walking along the edge of Halifax harbour.

"We're not going right to the edges or nothing. And we're here mainly to sightsee a bit and go back home and ride it out."

Peter Bowyer, program supervisor at the Canadian Hurricane Centre, said he had repeatedly warned people to stay away from the water, but some just weren't listening.

"If you want to enjoy them, enjoy them from a distance," he said of the huge ocean swells. "Do not enjoy them up-close-and-personal because your enjoyment can end very quickly."

Bill's quick advance forced the cancellation of dozens of flights throughout the Atlantic region, including airports in Halifax and Moncton, N.B.

Power outages were reported throughout Nova Scotia, affecting more than 40,000 customers at one point, according to Nova Scotia Power. But power was gradually restored to many customers throughout the day.

Some roads, including the one to Peggy's Cove, were temporarily closed.

Bill heaved some rocks onto a few other coastal roads, but they were soon cleaned up.

As the storm moved north, Marine Atlantic cancelled its ferry runs between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and public beaches and parks throughout Nova Scotia were closed.

At one point in Halifax, winds peaked at 87 km/h.

Farther offshore, it was much rougher. At one point, a weather buoy about 200 km southeast of Yarmouth, N.S., recorded a wave peaking at 26.4 metres.

Parts of southern Nova Scotia were drenched under 60 millimetres of rain, while southern New Brunswick reported 20 mm to 40 mm.

Craig MacLaughlan, CEO of Nova Scotia's Emergency Management Office, said though no major damage was reported, there were cases of localized flooding along the south shore and in the Lawrencetown area east of Halifax.

"I think we can be blessed that it has moved off a bit and that we're not getting some of the damage that we thought (we would)," MacLaughlan said.

Ramona Jennex, the province's minister of emergency management, said it appeared most Nova Scotians were taking the appropriate precautions.

"Nova Scotians are extremely resilient and very well-experienced with storms," she said. "They're making sure that their families are safe and ... are keeping an eye on their neighbours to make sure that they're safe, too."

Jennex said hurricane Juan, which tore through the Maritimes in September 2003, has taught hardy Nova Scotians not to shrug off weather warnings.

"Many lessons were learned through that storm system," said Jennex, who was prepared for Bill with a crank radio, flashlights and canned food.

Seven deaths were linked to Juan, which was a Category 2 storm packing winds greater than 152 km/h when it made landfall directly over Halifax.

It knocked down tens of thousands of trees, caused $100 million in property damage and cut power to thousands of homes for up to a week.

As for Bill, the first hurricane of the 2009 season to hit Atlantic Canada, it still managed to leave its mark.

"I would given it a seven, on an eight," said Robert Green as he prepared to make the 90-minute drive from Port Hawkesbury to his home in Glace Bay.

"I've seen winter storms with higher winds and a lot of snow, not rain. I think those are worse than a hurricane."

Asked if he was concerned about driving through the worst of what Bill had to offer, Green cracked a crooked smile and said: "Gotta heavy duty four-by-four. Go anywhere, bud."

The storm was expected to make landfall over southeastern Newfoundland on Sunday night as a strong tropical storm, with winds of at least 70 km/h.

Organizations: Tim Hortons, Ayr Motor Express, Canadian Hurricane Centre Nova Scotia Power Marine Atlantic Emergency Management Office

Geographic location: Halifax, Nova Scotia, PORT HAWKESBURY Atlantic Canada Cape Breton Newfoundland Annapolis Valley Woodstock Moncton Yarmouth Southern Nova Scotia New Brunswick Lawrencetown Glace Bay

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