« It was pretty impressive, » says the man who stood up to Fiona on Sable Island

A man who endured post-tropical storm Fiona on Sable Island says it was a night he will never forget.

“It was a very eye-opening experience and quite a story that I will probably share for the rest of my life,” said Jason Surette, director of operations for Sable Island National Park Reserve.

Surette volunteered to fill a staff opening on the island for three weeks – not knowing in advance, of course, that Fiona would soon be heading for the small sandbar. Sable Island is located in the Atlantic Ocean about 300 kilometers southeast of Halifax and is just over a kilometer across at its widest point.

Winds from the storm peaked in Nova Scotia at 179 km/h at Arisaig, near Antigonish. Final data for Sable Island has yet to be compiled, Surette said.

Friday afternoon, before the storm, it was « extremely calm, » with just a light breeze, but then the winds intensified rapidly around 11 p.m., Surette said.

The siding ripped off one of the buildings on Sable Island during post-tropical storm Fiona. (Jason Surette/Parks Canada)

At 3 a.m., “the house was literally shaking,” he says.

« The ground shook. … It was like someone was hitting the ground with a mallet, and it was just because of the wind, » he says.

« The house itself made a lot more creaks and groans and groans than I expected from a house. There were some big bangs and they almost sounded like bricks being thrown at the house.… It was pretty awesome, actually, the power of Mother Nature. »

Precious little sleep

Surette was one of four people to stay on Sable Island during Fiona, including two other Parks Canada staff and a researcher. They had a few ground rules before the storm: no one was allowed out until it was safe, and everyone was to stay away from windows.

He says everyone swapped stories the next morning, and they all had a similar story – they only got an hour or two of sleep.

« Just the noise – there’s no way even if you could cancel the noise, it’s just that the vibrations in the house were enough to keep you awake. »

Gray seals, big and small, lie on the sand of a beach.
Sable Island is home to a huge colony of gray seals. (Sarah Medill/Parks Canada)

Surette said the researcher, who has lived on the island for around 50 years, told her it was the biggest storm she had ever encountered.

Some of the buildings on Sable Island have lost their siding in the wind, and there will be minor repairs to the roof, but Surette said « overall we did well. »

« While we were definitely on the main trail of the storm, and certainly felt quite a strong shock, I feel sorry for the mainlanders because we didn’t see the storm surge and our structures here. are designed to handle this. »

Horses « very robust creatures »

As for the few hundred horses on the island, they likely survived relatively unscathed, he said. Parks Canada staff do not manage the population and rules are in place to prevent humans from interacting with or touching the horses.

Surette said horses normally find shelter in high dunes during storms, and at midday Saturday the horses were grazing « almost as if nothing had happened ».

Horses walk through the sand on Sable Island, with a large sand dune in the background.
The Sable Island horses likely sought shelter downwind of some higher dunes. (Sarah Medill/Parks Canada)

« The horses here in Sable are very hardy creatures. I have no reason to suspect they’ve suffered any injuries and from what I’ve been able to see bands trailing around [the] central station, they all looked happy and healthy the next day. »

It’s hard to say for sure how the huge colony of gray seals on Sable Island weathered the storm, but Surette says that in previous storms the seals « play in the waves almost like a surfer. »

« So I dare say they probably didn’t notice much. »

Surette says he would have gone to Sable even if he had known Fiona was coming.

« I think a lot of people in Atlantic Canada will remember Hurricane Fiona, and be able to sit down and say that not only did I survive it, but I survived it on Sable Island… definitely one for the books. »


Back to top button