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Mi'kmaw communities on Cape Breton Island dig out from massive snowfall

Oonig Paul-Ward helps community members to clear snow from entrances and roofs in Membertou First Nation on Cape Breton Island.  (submitted by Jeff Ward  - image credit)
Oonig Paul-Ward helps community members to clear snow from entrances and roofs in Membertou First Nation on Cape Breton Island. (submitted by Jeff Ward - image credit)

Some Mi'kmaw communities on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia are still digging themselves out after a multi-day storm blanketed the area in nearly a metre and a half of snow in some places.

On Monday, Clark Paul from Eskasoni First Nation said he had been snowed in since Saturday but that he and his wife were well prepared and had all their essentials. He said the storm was shocking because it had been a mild winter until now.

"It seems like it all fell in one weekend," said Paul, 77.

Environment Canada reported downtown Sydney, N.S., about 40 kilometres to the east of Eskasoni, got nearly 150 centimetres of snow.

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality declared a local state of emergency on Sunday and cautioned residents to stay off the roads and shelter in place.

On Monday, Cheryl Knockwood and her wife were doing just that in their Sydney home.

A house in Eskasoni First Nation buried by the snow fall from the storm this weekend
A house in Eskasoni First Nation buried by the snow fall from the storm this weekend

A home in Eskasoni First Nation buried by snowfall from the storm this past weekend. (submitted by Michael R. Denny)

She said they had left only once to get some storm chips, and the snow is hard to clear because it's heavy and dense.

"It's just a big challenge to try to get out of the way," said Knockwood, who is Mi'kmaw from Indian Island First Nation in New Brunswick.

"Like we're still snowed in. I don't even know if we'll be able to get out today without help," she said.

Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny said his biggest concern is ensuring residents have access to the health care services they may need.

Denny said they were working on digging out houses on a priorities list, those having emergencies at the top of the list, then assisting residents trying to get to medical appointments like dialysis.

Cheryl Knockwood said its alot of work to clear the driveway and walkway at their home in Sydney, N.S.
Cheryl Knockwood said its alot of work to clear the driveway and walkway at their home in Sydney, N.S.

Cheryl Knockwood says the snow is heavy and dense and takes a lot of work to clear from driveways and walkways at their home in Sydney, N.S. (submitted by Cheryl Knockwood)

"We have a lot of elders we want to tend to and we're trying to get to them and we're just having challenges," said Denny.

On Monday, Denny said community members had pitched in to shovel out elders and community plow contractors were working around the clock to help, but they were overwhelmed.

"We thought we were prepared but we weren't," said Denny.

He said he made a request to the province and they will be sending front-end loaders and plows to help with snow removal. 

Jeff Ward, a committee member with the emergency management office in Membertou First Nation near Sydney, said he had worked 14 hours a day plowing snow between Friday and Monday, trying to keep streets clear.

Ward said they were following the directions issued by the regional municipality.

Jeff Ward, an EMO committee member, said he's been working 14 hours a day the past three days to help clear the streets in Membertou First Nation.
Jeff Ward, an EMO committee member, said he's been working 14 hours a day the past three days to help clear the streets in Membertou First Nation.

Jeff Ward and his son Oonig Paul-Ward have been helping clear homes in Membertou First Nation. (submitted by Jeff Ward)

He thinks the local state of emergency may need to be extended past Feb.10.

"We're going to need like the army assistance to shovel people out because there's no way that everybody would be able to shovel out their own driveway," said Ward, 50.

He said where to put all the snow being cleared may be the next problem to tackle.