As Jenty Mawan stood in line in the rain at the Halifax Costco to fill up her propane tank Friday morning, she ran through her mental to-do list, wondering whether she’d forgotten anything.
Like so many others across the region bracing for Hurricane Fiona – expected to make landfall in Nova Scotia on Saturday morning as a post-tropical storm – she’d stocked up on bread and canned fish, made sure her electronic devices were charged and was now queuing up to fill a propane tank so she could cook on her barbecue if the power went out. She knew she’d have to monitor road conditions over the weekend and have a full gas tank in case she was called in to work – she’s a nurse at Halifax’s Victoria General Hospital.
But Ms. Mawan’s children were not as mentally burdened. “They think that everybody’s overreacting,” she said, laughing.
When she went out to get groceries, her daughter had one request: a bag of Miss Vickie’s salt and vinegar chips.
Across the region, many others had the same idea, clearing grocery shelves of their favourite varieties of Covered Bridge, Doritos and Lays (since 2015, when Halifax writer and radio host Stephanie Domet coined the term “storm chips,” Maritimers have made a habit of picking up their favourite chips ahead of major weather events).
But on Thursday and Friday, Hurricane Fiona prep also carried an air of early pandemic panic-buying: Grocery store parking lots were rammed with shoppers pushing carts filled with flats of bottled water, sports drinks, toilet paper, bread and canned food.
While the post-tropical storm will bring heavy rain and wind across the Atlantic region, central and eastern Nova Scotia are expected to be hit hardest, with potential for 100 kilometre-an-hour winds and as much as 200 millimetres of rain in coastal areas. The weather was one thing – locals were most concerned about losing power.
Nova Scotia Power opened its emergency operations centre Friday morning with a crew of more than 800 people on standby to respond to the expected widespread power outages. Premier Tim Houston released a video Friday afternoon, urging residents to have enough food and water to last them 72 hours.
Jennifer Rideout was on a frenzied mission to do just that Friday afternoon without a list in hand. She returned to her home in Fall River, a suburb north of Halifax, on Thursday evening from Toronto and made a grocery store excursion on her lunch break, unsure of when else she’d have the time.
“I got in late and had no time to really look through the cupboards, so as I’m going through the Superstore here looking at all of their shelves, I’m just kind of grabbing anything I can really see that we don’t have to cook and that’s easy-peasy to make,” she said. For her, that meant ready-made salads, prepared trays of fruit, and one of the last trays of cooked chicken wings in stock. By noon, all the store’s rotisserie chickens were gone.
At home, Ms. Rideout and her husband strategized how to park their cars in the driveway to avoid being crushed by a fallen tree. They are on a well system so they filled the bathtub with water so they could still flush the toilet.
In local Facebook groups, mothers of young children traded recommendations for white noise machines that operated on batteries and tips for how to best heat up bottles of milk or formula without access to power (submerging the bottle in hot water that had been stored in a Thermos was a popular solution).
Teams of volunteers drove through rain showers on Friday to encampments to encourage people to seek shelter in the Sackville Area Warming Centre, a winter drop-in site that is open from Friday to Sunday to provide shelter and food to the unhoused.
Some have been reluctant to come, says Cheryl Newcombe, the chair of the board of Beacon House, which operates the warming centre, and she understands why it’s a difficult decision for many to make – they don’t want to abandon their possessions and are wary of congregate settings with people they don’t know. But she says one encampment she knows of is in a floodplain, and others are surrounded by trees that could injure or kill someone if they were to fall on a tent.
“We have to allow them to have their feelings and obviously all we can say is, ‘You know, we have a safe place, we promise we’ll put you back where we found you. And we’ll just keep you safe and feed you and keep you dry,’” she said.
Krista Armstrong, the owner-operator of Local Source Market, a Halifax business that sells produce, baked goods and cheeses, closed up her shop three hours early on Friday so she could safely store frozen items in a makeshift freezer outside powered by a recently procured generator – but also to give her employees enough time to complete their own storm preparations.
Her store had been busy for a few days – the bread and chips sold out first – but what’s surprised her most is that despite the anxious energy that has beset the city, customers have still lingered and chatted.
“People just want to talk about what’s happening,” she said. “I think we’re all a little bit scared, but I feel we’re leaning on each other for comfort more than I had expected.”