A search is underway for a missing man who ventured out in a blizzard that battered eastern Newfoundland Friday, as residents of St. John’s struggled to tunnel out from homes buried by the largest snowfall ever recorded in the city.
The RCMP in Bay Roberts said search teams were looking for 26-year-old Joshua Wall, who remained missing after leaving his home in Roaches Line, a small community about 70 kilometres west of the capital, to walk to a friend’s home in nearby Marysvale.
Police say they believe that Wall is in a wooded area between the two communities, and his worried relatives posted images of the young man on social media.
“Please share this post as his family is worried sick and we are desperately trying to find him,” wrote his mother on her Facebook page.
The intense snowfall that brought St. John’s and many other communities to a standstill on Friday slowed overnight and ended in the capital Saturday morning.
But with more than 70 centimetres of new snow on the ground in some areas and strong winds piling up drifts and creating white out conditions, roads remained treacherous.
“The roads are impassable and that’s it, there’s nothing that can be done,” said Andrew Piercey, 37, a dispatcher with Jiffy Cabs in St. John’s, in an interview at noon local time.
He described an exhausting walk through snowdrifts to get to work, spending more than an hour to travel about one kilometre. And when he got to work, he realized there were no taxis to dispatch.
“I was hallucinating. I’ve done some stupid things, but that was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said.
There have also been widespread power outages. Overnight Newfoundland Power said its crews were working to restore electricity for about 21,000 customers.
The City of St. John’s and several nearby communities declared states of emergency late Friday morning that remain in effect, obliging businesses to close and all non-emergency vehicles to stay off the roads.
At the peak of the storm, which some described as being like a blizzard in a hurricane, even snowplows were pulled off roads due to near zero-visibility conditions. However, plowing operations in St. John’s resumed overnight.
Friends in St. John's, we need help. Snow has barred us in, front entrance has a storm door and we can't open it as it swings out. Back door is just as bad.
We're literally snowed in. pic.twitter.com/mTXldqH4gP
— Inovunga – I am an Inuk (@AndersenAngus) January 18, 2020
Rob Carroll, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said the city had experienced a new record one-day snowfall of 76.2 centimetres, breaking a previous record of 68.4 centimetres that fell on April 5, 1999.
Meanwhile, winds at the St. John’s International Airport were recorded at between 120 and 157 kilometres per hour at the height of the storm.
Air traffic in the region was also shut down Friday, and the airport issued a release that there would be no flights until at least 8:30 a.m. on Sunday.
St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen said he’s lived in the city most of his life and he’s never seen a storm of this magnitude.
“I’ve never seen the combination of the amount of snow, the rate of snowfall, and the wind speed that we’ve had here over the past couple of days,” he said in an interview Saturday.
Early in the morning when the snowplow came to clear his street, Breen said he could hear the vehicle but he couldn’t see it because there was so much snow.
He said he’s about 178 centimetres tall, and “right now … the snow in front of my front step is over my head. I can’t see either one of my cars in the driveway.”
Breen said the residents across St. John and the surrounding area have pretty much all woken up to the same scene.
— Frank Kennedy (@thefrankkennedy) January 18, 2020
St. John’s Fire Chief, Sherry Colford, said considering the amount of snow that fell and the intensity of the winds, damage to the city has been minimal.
“We lost a roof off a house as part of a structure fire,” she said in an interview. “With the extensive winds you will have some damage. Our challenge hasn’t necessarily been downed power lines, it’s been getting our trucks around.”
Late Friday, an avalanche sent snow rushing into one home in the city’s Battery district, but the residents were able to escape without injury.
Colford said a fair number of responses her team has had to do over the past few hours have been on foot: “We’ve actually had to park and walk for medical calls and to check on businesses.”
Breen couldn’t say when the state of emergency would be lifted. He said some of the main roads in the city are still down to one lane and it is hard to predict how long it will take to clear enough snow to reopen them.
The mayor tweeted that the city has received special permission from federal officials to allow it to dump the plowed snow into St. John’s harbour.
Breen said he has contacted neighbouring towns, the province and the federal government to see what equipment and other resources are available to help in the clean-up effort.
“We have enough equipment for a certain amount of snow clearing,” he said, “and this is beyond anything you would have resources to deal with.”
Authorities have also been urging residents to keep in contact with elderly neighbours and to continuously stay in touch with people if travelling in case of an emergency.
Digging out from the monster storm is likely to take several days, if not longer, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has tweeted that the federal government stands ready to help Newfoundland and Labrador ”if needed.”
Note to self.
Places in Canada not to relocate to:
✅ St John's, Newfoundland https://t.co/wYnysZXICz
— Fola Olatunji-David (@folasanwo) January 18, 2020
Michael Tutton and Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press