Atlantic Canada’s economy likely to take big hit from post-tropical storm Fiona

HALIFAX — While the damage caused by post-tropical storm Fiona is still being assessed across Atlantic Canada, it has become clear that the economic fallout for some parts of the region will be significant.

Potato farmer Alex Docherty of Elmwood, PEI, estimates his farm suffered about $500,000 in losses after the weekend’s storm. In an interview Monday, Docherty said three of its storage buildings were destroyed by gale force winds, as were the barns of several nearby farmers.

“If a bomb goes off, I don’t know if it would do any more damage,” said Docherty, owner of Skyview Farms. “On my road, within a mile of me, is nine barns down – you could swear it’s a war zone.”

The storm made landfall as farmers prepared to harvest their potato crop, he said. The ongoing power outages in many parts of the province, he added, could cause storage problems as potatoes need to be kept cool.

The island’s agricultural industry is in for a “big” blow, Docherty said.

Premier Dennis King said that while it was too early to know the extent of Fiona’s economic fallout, it was expected to be significant given the damage to agriculture and fisheries and a number of businesses that have been forced to close will.

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“We’re going to be in the millions, I’m pretty sure about that,” King said in a briefing Monday.

The prime minister said some mussel and oyster farms had suffered significant damage and he was waiting to hear about the state of the lobster traps. In agriculture, “soybeans and corn have taken a hit and so has our apple farms,” ​​King said.

In Sydney, NS, Marlene Usher, chief executive of the municipal port, said she had to tell three cruise ships on Monday not to come this week. Usher said a total of 12 cruise ships canceled arrivals because of Fiona, causing a loss of well over $1 million for the port and various local businesses.

Standing at the port’s reception center, where power had just returned, she said that after several bad seasons due to COVID-19, it’s difficult, and even more so in the peak autumn season when ships come into the port with thousands of tourists losing customers.

“The Port of Sydney’s main source of income is the cruise ships… we were already in a serious situation in terms of port revenues and reserves. We manage our costs, but that puts us in a precarious position,” Usher said.

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Andrew Prossin, the owner of a 100-passenger small ship that cruises Sydney Harbour, said in an interview that his business has also taken a hit. “All the local tour operators are standing by and that in and of itself is difficult… keeping the engines idling. Losing the key business will have an impact at this time of year.”

Typically, the most profitable seasons for sea tourism are September and October, Prossin said, adding that between 60 and 70 percent of its revenues are generated during those months.

In a video news conference Monday, Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said the economic damage from Fiona is expected to be greater than previous storms. Houston also announced approximately $40 million in provincial aid for people directly affected by the storm.

“Disaster relief funding will be helpful for uninsured losses, but we know this may take time and gaps will arise,” the Prime Minister said.

Paul Kovacs, executive director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction at Western University, said the benchmark for devastation in the region was the $200 million worth of insurable damage caused by Hurricane Juan in 2003.

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Kovacs believes it’s time to have a conversation between governments about what can be done to better prepare for increasingly violent climate change-related storms. He said research has shown that building stronger, windproof homes, for example, can make a difference. Kovacs said the state of Florida changed its building code 15 years ago to enforce stricter building standards.

According to Kovacs, it can be relatively inexpensive to reinforce the connection of a roof to a wall or a foundation to a wall when building a new home. “Let’s start preventing the damage,” he said. “Let’s spend the money up front so we avoid the damage later.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 26, 2022.


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