Breakwater could not save homes, road and fish processing plant from storm in northern Cape Breton

Residents of northern Cape Breton are shocked by the strength of post-tropical storm Fiona, which devastated the small community of New Haven near Neil’s Harbour.

It destroyed a road and damaged the fish processing plant, houses and boats.

Roland Michaelis, operations manager for Victoria Co-op Fisheries, said the plant usually prepares for storms, but this time the high tide coincided with the storm surge and created waves of six to eight. meters.

The factory is behind a breakwater, but even that didn’t help.

« I didn’t expect…to miss a corner of the building and part of the first floor is missing, » Michaelis said. « It’s just devastation.

« The building just couldn’t take it. Even the concrete walls crumbled during the storm, which shows you the kind of strength it had. »

The Victoria Co-op Fisheries processing plant and New Haven Road, both inside the New Haven Cove breakwater, suffered severe damage from Saturday’s storm. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Victoria Co-op Fisheries is the largest company in the county, with up to 150 employees. It buys the catches of 120 fishing boats.

« People either work at this facility or are fishermen here, » Michaelis said.

The fishing season has been over for weeks and the processing just ended on Friday.

The plant has suffered millions of dollars in damage and another million dollars worth of frozen seafood is at risk of spoilage.

The factory has up to seven refrigeration units containing frozen seafood when the electricity went out.

« Some of them are quite waterproof and wouldn’t have any water penetration, » Michaelis said. « The others, once the water gets inside, this product is practically damaged and we couldn’t sell it. »

roland michaelis neils harbour
Roland Michaelis, operations manager at the Victoria Co-op Fisheries processing plant in Neil’s Harbour, Nova Scotia, says no one predicted a storm powerful enough to destroy a concrete wall. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

On Sunday, workers were busy moving pallets of frozen crabs and bait into the co-op’s freezer trucks, called reefers.

« We’re trying to get as much as we can into the reefers, but we’re not going to be able to get all the product into the reefers, » Michaelis said. « Where will we find the rest, we’re not sure, but we’re working on it. »

Two 12 meter long shipping containers filled with product were lifted from their platforms and moved 30 to 40 meters along the jetty.

About 30 temporary foreign workers from Mexico were due to leave after processing was completed, but were unable to get out on Sunday.

The cooperative is now trying to book new flights for them and find a bus to pick them up.

Michaelis said he hopes to get the plant back into operation when the fishing season opens in April, but that depends on the company’s ability to replace damaged processing equipment.

“I think we can put the building together and fix the exterior in a few months,” he said. « Equipment usually takes a long time to order and it’s more technical than before, so equipment usually has delivery times. »

new haven road bridge
Part of the wooden deck of a bridge on New Haven Road near Neil’s Harbour, Nova Scotia, ended up hundreds of yards across the cove after Saturday’s storm. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Michaelis is optimistic, however.

« I’ve been through this before. Usually you get back on your feet. It’s just a matter of time. »

Adele Hatcher lives on Stoney Lane, just behind New Haven Road, opposite Fish Factory Cove.

Several hundred meters of road were washed out and the ocean came closer than ever to his home.

« It was pretty scary, » Hatcher said. “Around 7 a.m. we had strong waves that hit the side of my house halfway up my dining room window, but no water entered our house.”

She managed to save the generator from the front porch before it was swept away and two large trees fell into the yard, but missed the house.

Hatcher said the trailer belonging to his neighbor, Dora Rogers, was blown off its foundation and moved about six meters. A fishing boat ended up where the trailer was and several sheds were also jostled.

“Around 7 a.m., we heard a big rumble and then a big wave came and took the boat and the trailer at the same time,” she says. « It was a huge wave that moved them. »

adele hatcher new haven
Adele Hatcher of New Haven Road near Neil’s Harbour, Nova Scotia, describes how the ocean moved her neighbour’s trailer about six meters and replaced it with a fishing boat. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Rogers, who is 84 and lives alone, was not in her trailer at the time.

« His house is completely destroyed, » Hatcher said. « They came in and everything from the waist down is covered in mud and completely destroyed, everything this poor woman has done to take care of her home. It’s such a shame. »

Danny Rogers said he always took his mother home when there was a storm and was glad he did this time too.

Her mother’s house was literally submerged by the ocean.

« It’s the first time it’s been this big, » Rogers said. « He’s crossed the road many times before, but this time he just took it all. I lifted him up and moved him. »

The sea took a boat with two sheds and moved them to the other side of the trailer.

The trailer is unsalvageable, but Rogers said he managed to remove some things from the walls, including photos from when his father was a lighthouse keeper on St. Paul Island.

Her mother went to see the trailer, but she was too emotional to talk to reporters.

« She was pretty shocked the first morning, » Rogers said. « I brought her here this morning to have her look and she was pretty upset again, but she’s fine now. She’s not too bad. »

new haven road aerial
Much of New Haven Road was swept away by Saturday’s storm, leaving four homes isolated and forcing people to take a long detour to reach nearby Neil’s Harbour. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Rogers works at the fish processing plant and will now have to drive 20 minutes in reverse and take the Cabot Trail to Neil’s Harbor as several hundred yards of New Haven Road are missing.

This left four homes without road access, but neighbors said the families were doing well.

Herbert Seymour, 93, lives alone on a property between the fish processing plant and leaching.

He’s been there for 70 years and slept through most of Friday night’s storm, but woke up with a loud bang.

« A wave was hitting the house here, » Seymour said. « I was afraid he would break the windows. »

He has had a ringside seat through many storms and has come through this one unscathed.

« I like watching them, but I don’t want to see any more like that. »



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