Published September 16, 2023

Lee leaves flooded roads, downed trees and power outages in path through Maritimes

By Michael MacDonald and Hina Alam

A powerful cyclone brought flooded roadways, toppled trees and downed power lines to parts of the Maritimes Saturday as it swept past the western tip of Nova Scotia and headed toward New Brunswick.

But as post-tropical storm Lee left some coastal areas with a considerable cleanup, particularly in the region surrounding Nova Scotia's famed Peggy's Cove lighthouse, it left others virtually unscathed.

“I feel a whole lot better than I thought I would,” said Pam Mood, the mayor of Yarmouth, N.S., where forecasters previously anticipated Lee might have the strongest impact. But aside from a few fallen trees, the town had escaped significant damage as of late Saturday afternoon.

“We’ve gotten a lot less harm than we anticipated," Mood said in an interview. "I’m not sure what happened with the (storm’s) track.”

It was a similar story in St. Andrews, N.B., where mayor Brad Henderson said gusty conditions early in the day had largely subsided as the afternoon progressed. 

He said many trees had fallen in the community, and most residents were without power as of Saturday afternoon, but the storm ultimately left less of a mark than expected. 

"Considering earlier in the week we were projected to be the eye of the storm, we were braced for the worst," he said. "Although it's a significant storm, I guess you could say the damages are a little bit of a relief because we do know it could have been a lot worse."

Hurricane Lee had transitioned into a powerful post-tropical storm as it made its way north across the Atlantic ocean toward the two provinces on Saturday. The United States' National Hurricane Center said the storm made landfall about 215 kilometres west of Halifax, on Nova Scotia's Long Island, at roughly 5 p.m. local time.

It was en route to New Brunswick, through the Bay of Fundy, where it was expected to make a second landfall later on Saturday.

The storm had slowed its pace considerably from earlier in the day, travelling at roughly 20 km/h as opposed to the 41 km/h reported earlier, Environment Canada said. Its maximum sustained winds had abated to about 110 km/h, down from 130 late Friday.

Some rainfall alerts in Nova Scotia had ended, as most of the forecasted downpours in the province had already tapered off. But rainfall warnings remained in place for much of New Brunswick, with Environment Canada warning that some areas could see more than 100 millimetres fall.

Tropical storm warnings were in effect for much of the Maritimes and parts of Quebec. 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.

Over 146,000 people were without power in Nova Scotia as of 6 p.m. local time, as were more than 25,000 people in New Brunswick.

Jim Prime, an Environment Canada meteorologist, said winds would likely pick up on Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton and in parts of northern New Brunswick as Lee moved through the region, but they won't be as strong as the winds that battered coastal Nova Scotia on Saturday.

"I'm glad that the storm is weakening," Prime said. The storm should move into the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Sunday, and bring "typical fall storm" conditions to northern Quebec and Newfoundland, he said. 

On social media, people shared pictures of roads near Peggy's Cove that were submerged by surging sea water. Others shared links to the live webcam at the Peggy's Cove Lighthouse, which captured massive waves crashing against the shore. Videos from Mahone Bay showed the ocean had swelled up over the shoreline, covering lawns and nearly engulfing docks.

Pam Lovelace, a Halifax municipal councillor for an area that includes the famous Peggy's Cove lighthouse, rattled off a list of damage the storm had already wrought in the first half of the day. Some roads were underwater, some were blocked by fallen trees, and several boats along the harbour in St. Margarets Bay were flooded.

She was still concerned about what would happen when high tide returned again on Saturday evening. Anxiety was high and people in her district were worried, especially as they'd already contended with devastating forest fires and disastrous floods earlier this year.

"People are exhausted ... It's so much in such a small time period," Lovelace said. "From a mental health perspective, we're asking people to check in on their neighbours."

In downtown Halifax, Mayor Mike Savage was also worried about high tide. The rains had stopped, but winds of roughly 100 km/h were still expected through the evening, he said during a mid-afternoon storm briefing. 

“This is no time to go wave watching or to be out on the roads unnecessarily," Savage said.

Just north of Yarmouth at Cranberry Head, Tony Post and his wife Michelle were relieved the storm didn't bring the destruction many feared it would. They watched Lee roar through Saturday from their newly built home, which sits atop a 17-metre cliff facing south towards the open ocean.

“We were a little bit anxious in terms of what we might experience, given the forecasts on Thursday,” said Post, who moved there with his spouse from Ontario last year. “The wind conditions have been downgraded quite a bit since then. It’s been very noisy, but no damage.”

Post said the huge surf was spectacular to watch, especially when some seals showed up to dive between the breaking waves.

“I just had a walk around and everything is where it should be,” he said. “The worst is past us.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 16, 2023.

— With files from Sarah Smellie in St. John's, N.L. and Keith Doucette in Halifax

Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Curry

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