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Winds pick up, power outages mount as hurricane Lee heads for Atlantic Canada

Power outages blanket western Nova Scotia
A sign at the Yarmouth Waterfront Gallery indicates it will be closed in anticipation of Hurricane Lee in Yarmouth, N.S. on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Curry

Power outages blanketed western Nova Scotia on Saturday morning as post-tropical cyclone Lee barreled toward the Maritimes, with forecasters warning residents to brace for destructive winds, heavy rains, more outages and possible flooding.

Nova Scotia Power reported nearly 120,000 customers without power as of 9:45 a.m. local time, and the number was climbing quickly. In the capital, the arrivals and departures board at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport was a sea of red text indicating cancelled flights.

Heavy rains had already begun in Yarmouth, about 375 kilometres west of Halifax at the province’s southwestern tip. Lee was expected to make landfall there later in the day.

READ MORE: Hurricane watch extended as Lee looms large over Atlantic Canada

At the Rodd Grand Yarmouth hotel on Friday night, two men from western Canada were keeping a close eye on the changing sky.

“We’re from out West and we don’t get hurricanes,” said Jerry Osborn, who is from Calgary. He was travelling with his friend, Clay Carlson, who is from Campbell River, B.C. “We get plenty of forest fires and even the odd tornado in Alberta. But hurricanes? We don’t get those.”

Hurricane Lee transitioned into a powerful post-tropical storm on Friday as it made its way north across the Atlantic ocean toward New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. As of Saturday morning, Lee was about 150 kilometres south of Yarmouth, N.S., with the centre of the storm on track to arrive later in the afternoon, Environment Canada said in an update. Its affects were likely to be felt within a radius of several hundred kilometres.

The raging storm was travelling at about 41 kilometres an hour across the Atlantic ocean, whipping up sustained winds of around 130 kilometres an hour, the agency said.

More than 100 millimetres of rain are forecast in some areas, with Environment Canada warning of possible flooding in parts of southwestern Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, including Saint John and Moncton. Areas along Nova Scotia’s central Atlantic coast could see breaking waves of between four and six metres, and storm surge warnings were in effect from Shelburne County eastward to Guysborough County.

Wind gusts could reach 120 kilometres an hour, toppling trees and downing power lines.

Some structural damage to roofing materials and siding, exterior fixtures and fencing are expected,” the agency said.

A hurricane watch was in place for Grand Manan Island and coastal Charlotte County, N.B., and for most of Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast, stretching from Digby County through to Halifax County, while a tropical storm warning remains in effect for most of Nova Scotia and for New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy coast and parts of the province along the Northumberland Strait.

Nearly 30,000 people were without power in New Brunswick, with many in the cities of Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton.

Nicole Poirier, the vice president of operations at NB Power, said Friday that about 300 response crews had already fanned out across the province in anticipation of widespread outages.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau convened the federal incident response group on Friday to discuss Lee’s potential effects in Atlantic Canada and parts of eastern Quebec.

The group, which typically consists of cabinet ministers and senior officials, meets only to discuss events with major implications for Canada, such as the recent port strike in British Columbia or the wildfires in B.C. and the Northwest Territories.

— With files from Sarah Smellie in St. John’s, N.L., and Michael Tutton in Halifax, N.S.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press