The military has been deploying weapons of mass reconstruction in Nova Scotia to fight the ravages of Dorian.
“We are out there now trying to clear the debris off the roads and other areas to try to get the power crews in to reconnect the grid,” Lt.-Cmdr. Brian Owens said of the 300 soldiers on the ground Monday from 4 Engineering Support Regiment based in CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick and from the 36 Brigade of local reserve soldiers.
“Working through Emergency Management Office of Nova Scotia, we get an idea of where the priorities are,” Owens said. “Certainly, critical infrastructure is top priority and it works its way down from there, so working collaboratively with all the partners we see a list of where we need to go.”
The soldiers started work in Halifax Regional Municipality upon arrival Sunday evening. They had teams in Dartmouth on Monday and were doing some aerial reconnaissance in the areas of Sydney, Port Hawkesbury, Yarmouth and Amherst. Teams will be headed to Liverpool, Lunenburg and Yarmouth on Tuesday.
The military might, including 50 additional reserve soldiers from 37 Brigade in Moncton expected to arrive Monday afternoon, have been showing up as self-sufficient units with equipment and military-grade vehicles like trucks and light-armoured vehicles to both transport troops around and to assist in the clearance.
“It’s not all manual labour,” said Owens, a CFB Halifax officer who serves with Joint Task Force Atlantic. “But a big chunk of that is the chainsaws and the axes.
“Using military vehicles to pull trees and debris off the road so that we can actually get traffic through. We’ll cut up the limbs and get them out of the way so that the power crews can get through and start reconnecting.”
Owens said the military jumped into the picture immediately when Dorian was first forecast to leave a swath of destruction across the region.
“We have a great working relationship with the province and with HRM and EMO,” he said. “We started early dialogue to figure out what is the potential threat and what the potential impact could be. We started looking around to see who was available, what capabilities would we need.”
Owens said the province is lucky that construction and combat engineers from Gagetown were available in their rotation of duties to lend their expertise to the cleanup effort. The military machine kicked into gear, he said, when the province, through the minister of public safety, asked for military assistance.
“Once that was signed off, we knew we were on the hook and then a great deal of work and effort came in to deploy the forces out of Gagetown and to look at other support mechanisms to make this happen quickly but safely.”
Owens said it’s not clear how long the military will be deployed on storm cleanup.
“We don’t know at this point,” he said. “Right now, it is focused on performing those tasks. Once the province’s EMO looks at the situation and decides that provincial resources are primary here and that they can now handle the remaining elements, they will give us the high five and say that we’re now clear from it. Our intent is to stay as long as we are needed.”
Despite the fact that more than 400,000 Nova Scotia Power customers were without electricity at the height of the outage, Owens said the military welcomes a fatality-free mission.
“No one wants a natural disaster to happen but certainly if one does happen, our men and women really want to contribute and be a part of the solution. We are an effects-driven organization and we want to get in there and get our hands dirty to clean up the issue. When these things happen, whether it’s the hurricane here or the floods in New Brunswick and Ontario or wildfires out west, we have (personnel) lining up, waiting to get out there and do the business. We take a lot of pride in helping our neighbours, our friends and family trying to dig out from these issues and hopefully to restore a sense of normalcy in short order.”