Wednesday, July 28, 2010

For many years after bones washed up on shore; Newfoundland's Independence Hurricane

I'm filling in for Bill Rowe as host of VOCM's afternoon radio call-in show, Backtalk, for the month of July, followed by two weeks standing in for Randy Simms as host of Open Line. Each day I'll post the show's monologue, which I prepare in advance.


Good afternoon Newfoundland and Labrador and all the ships at sea.

Let’s begin with a hurricane.

This particular hurricane season has the potential to be a particularly nasty one.

While I'm at it, did you ever hear of Newfoundland’s Independence Hurricane of 1775?

It’s listed on one online site as the 8th deadliest storm of all time.

But I’ll get to Hurricane Independence in a moment.

Back to this coming hurricane season …

Diane Whalen, minister responsible for emergency preparedness, issued a release Tuesday (July 27th) urging Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to prepare for the peak of hurricane season.

On average, one or two storms impact Canada every year.

This season, the Canadian Hurricane Centre predicts an active season in the Atlantic region, with three to seven storms expected.

It’s important to prepare for those storms, to avoid the destruction that can be caused by heavy rains, high winds and power outages.

Diane Whalen warns people to remove dead tree branches, ensure sump pumps are working, remove debris from drains and clean out window and door wells.

Plus, you should have an emergency kit, batten down patio furniture and barbeques, charge cellpones and buy fresh batteries for portable radios.

Back to Hurricane Independence .

It hit in early September 1775, and it’s believed to have killed at least 4,000 people, one of the deadliest Atlantic hurricanes of all time.

Most of the 4,000 who died were sailors from Ireland and England who were reported to have drowned on the Grand Banks.

Hurricane Independence also caused incredible damage to Conception Bay, where vast numbers of fishing boats were in the bay as the squid catch was later that summer.

A total of 300 Newfoundlanders were lost in the storm. The sea rose 20 feet higher than normal.

I don’t want to frighten you, but reports say beaches were littered with corpses of dead sailors, and it was said that for many years after bones washed up on shore.

I’m sure that’s just local lore.

Point is, hurricanes can and have hit Newfoundland in the past.

Are you prepared?


If a bad storm hits anywhere near St. John’s the Lower Battery will be in trouble.

The Lower Battery is the area at the base of Signal Hill leading out to the Narrows where you see all those quaint fishing sheds, stages and wharfs.

It's a controversial place these days because it’s not in great shape — the infrastructure has been battered over the years.

Jack Wells, a resident of the Lower Battery, recently rebuilt his wharf.

Like you would.

Only the City of St. John’s says it’s illegal and unsafe and they plan to send a crew down today to tear it down.

Chris Brooks, chairman of the Outer Battery Neighbourhood Association, says that would be a mistake.

He doesn’t want to see the community lose its character.

There’s no appealing the city’s decision, because Jack Wells didn’t get an application to do the work on the wharf.

But then that’s the way things have been done in the Lower Battery for generations.

Many property owners in the Battery have been sent letters warning them that fishing structures have to be torn down, redesigned, or rebuilt.

Where’s that money going to come from — $15,000 or $20,000 for a marine engineer?

The people of the Lower Battery aren’t rolling in cash.

What — if anything — should the City of St. John’s do to help preserve the Lower Battery?

I walk Signal Hill every other day.

I run into more languages being spoken on the trail than you can shake a stick at. Tourists are maggoty.

Should the fishing culture of the Lower Battery be preserved?

Should we just let it wash away?

It’s one thing to stop development, like the proposed Fortis development on Water Street, but what about saving what we already have?

Real character.


One last note on killer storms, the storm of February 1982 brought down the oil rig Ocean Ranger, killing 84 men, most of them Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Well-known Newfoundland writer Lisa Moore has written a book called February, a book about a women who deals with the death of her husband on the Ocean Ranger.

She’s left with four children.

The book is one of 13 novels shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious English-language literary awards, worth $80,000.

The arts and culture scene in Newfoundland and Labrador is praised all over the world.

We’ve got to do all we can to grow and nourish it.

Maybe we could start with Jack Wells’ wharf.


Moving on to Marine Atlantic, Chris Hollett is the unofficial spokesperson for the local truckers who are so upset with Marine Atlantic’s new commercial reservation system.

Truckers used to board the ferry on a first-come, first-served basis.

Since March, they have had to book ahead — that’s the new commercial reservation system.

Local truckers say they can’t get on the ferry when they need to get on the ferry, and it’s costing them money.

Some of them say they’re close to bankruptcy.

Local truckers say they can’t get a reservation because bigger companies are block-booking ahead, and cancelling at the last minute.

One truck arrived in North Sydney from Ontario on Tuedsay (July 27th), but he couldn’t get on the ferry until Aug. 20.

That’s over three weeks.

Is it any wonder local truckers are in trouble?

Hollett has written a letter to Wayne Follett, president and CEO of Marine Atlantic.

Hollett isn’t happy with Follett’s threat to lower the hammer on local truckers if they stage a protest that in any way interferes with Marine Atlantic’s schedule.

They could be banned from the ferries, the RCMP could be called in.

Marine Atlantic is accused of failing to work with small business to make things better.

Hollett poses a number of questions to Marine Atlantic:

What measures have been put in place to better the situation for small carries and small business owners?

How do we develop a solution and get closure to this issue?

Hollett makes a point — interrupting the essential service offered by Marine Atlantic is a serious matter.

But interrupting the services and functionality of truckers, small business and family businesses is also a serious matter.

Do you think Marine Atlantic has handled all this controversy well?


I received more calls on Tuesday’s Backtalk regarding fire safety in some Newfoundland and Labrador Housing properties.

Remember the fire in the three-storey Housing unit in Buckmaster’s Circle where four people were forced to drop from a third-floor window?

All four suffered broken bones as a result of the 30-foot fall onto a set of concrete steps.

Imagine if the neighbours hadn’t put out a mattress to break their fall?

Since then, concern has been expressed that there are no fire escapes or ladders on three-storey Housing units.

According to the law, Newfoundland and Labrador Housing doesn’t have to install them on single dwelling units.

Housing tenants are advised to buy rope ladders.

But there are two issues: residents of Newfoundland and Labrador Housing units can’t afford to buy escape ladders; and, even if they can, there’s concern that the windows in some of the units are rotted.

So what do people do, not use the third floor?


I got this story from the national news, and we’ve had a fair bit of discussion about it locally.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is ready to help pay for clinical trials of the so-called liberation treatment for multiple sclerosis sufferers, despite a lack of scientific evidence that it might work.

The treatment is based on an unproven theory that blocked veins in the neck or spinal cord are to blame for MS.

But people say it works, and there’s political pressure in Canada to have the treatment provided here.

What do you think?


Let’s move on to the offshore oil industry, and more news on the national front.

There’s a story about how the oil slick from the Gulf of Mexico appears to be dissolving far more rapidly than anyone expected.

That’s good news.

But wait — while the immense patches of surface oil that covered thousands of square kilometres of the Gulf after the April 20 oil-rig explosion are largely gone, the impact on sea life of the large amounts of oil that dissolved below the surface is still a mystery.

I mention that because we have deepsea drilling ongoing on the Orphan Basin off Newfoundland, and if there’s a blowout the powers that be have no idea where the oil from a blowout would end up. Or how it would impact the environment.

Big mystery, big chance.

Oh, and I also saw updated numbers this morning on the cost to British Petroleum of the Gulf of Mexico spill.

BP has paid out $32 billion so far, and the company hasn’t gone bankrupt.

And Chevron and the consortium that’s drilling on the Orphan Basin can’t do a projection for a subsea blowout?


Finally, for now, did you see the story on the front page of The Telegram today about the spider the missus from Town found on her red grapes from California.

The spider wasn’t a tarantula, but a jumping spider.

And no, the spider didn’t come along and sit down beside her, scaring the Townie missus away.

The Jumping spider was, in fact, dead.

The Backtalk lines are open.

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