Jordan: Everybody on Canada’s East Coast knew a storm was coming this weekend and that it was aimed at Halifax.
News Clips: Dorian, a Category four storm, now continues to strengthen. It is showing quite the intensity as it is going to continue to track across the north portions of the Bahamas here, at this point, let’s talk about what some of the key–
Jordan: They didn’t know how badly the storm would hit or when, but they knew the last place it had touched down was left devastated.
News Clips: A disastrous scenario is unfolding in the Bahamas, where Hurricane Dorian has reached catastrophic strength. In the Bahamas, there is still a desperate need for helm. The official death toll there from Hurricane Dorian is still 30 but hundreds, possibly thousands of people are still missing.
Jordan: The last time a full on Category two or higher hurricane hit land in Nova Scotia was in 2003 and Hurricane Juan left eight people dead. There was some hope that Hurricane Dorian wouldn’t be that strong when it passed by, but on Saturday night it arrived over the city as a Category Two, the same as Juan. And if you were there in Halifax and you were about to stare into the eye of the storm. And the rest of the world’s focus was on either the wreckage left behind where the storm did take lives or on things like whether or not the president of the United States had said the storm was headed for Alabama. Well, you might feel kind of alone. If you feel that way, you might have turned on the radio. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings and this is The Big Story. Sheldon MacLeod is a longtime journalist and radio host. He is currently host of the Sheldon MacLeod Show on News 95.7 in Halifax. Hi Sheldon.
Sheldon: Good day to you, Jordan.
Jordan: Were you on the air when Dorian hit?
Sheldon: I was calling in to do a special broadcast on Saturday afternoon. We were going live from one until we’d planned about six, so that ended up becoming an 11 hour broadcast.
Jordan: How was it?
Sheldon: Long, but it was very rewarding in many ways. We had a non opportunity to obviously give play by play. That’s how I described it to a meteorologist that I had join us, which was the idea that you had time to prepare didn’t exist anymore. We were at the point where the system was moving in and it went from. Here’s what you need to do to get ready to What are you seeing? What are you experiencing? I took the opportunity to reach out to the number of people I’ve met over the years. We had the mayor of a small town in southwestern Nova Scotia, Yarmouth joined us. We spoke with the mayor’s from Shelburne to Bridgewater to Lunenburg to Mahone Bay all the way up towards Cape Britton in order to try and see where the system wasn’t how it was affecting community. And as the winds intensified as the rain continued here in Halifax, it really was an opportunity that I wasn’t entirely sure it would be a good radio. But people were very interested in sharing with us what they were seeing and what they were experiencing.
Jordan: So tell me how quickly it came on because one of the reasons we’re calling you is I don’t think in the lead up to the weekend, many of us in Canada were expecting Dorian to hit these coast, let alone as badly as it did. So how quickly did it come compared to what was expected?
Sheldon: Well, the storm itself, Dorian had been obviously churning through the Bahamas and had caused devastation and destruction and had stalled earlier in the week. Meteorologists then said, You know, the best we know the best guess is that this track of this system will bring it ashore somewhere in Nova Scotia at some point on Saturday. Exactly was it wasn’t exactly an easy thing to predict. As they said, until it got to about two hours or so away from us, they wouldn’t know the exact path. So we knew something was coming. We knew something was going to happen. In fact, on the Friday night, I had reached up to meteorologist Richards Russky, who actually happens to be a councillor city councillor in Halifax. Ah, and I said, Is there a possibility that this will arrive at Category Two strength, which is exactly the same strength as the Hurricane Juan that we experienced back in 2003? He said once we get in within the two hour window, we’ll know better. We’ll have a better idea of when it’ll be, you know, where it’ll be making landfall on and it was headed directly towards Halifax and it was expected to move from Halifax in land and through towards Prince Edward Island. So at one o’clock when I started broadcasting, the rain was obviously falling quite heavily. The wind had started to intensify, not necessarily at hurricane strength, but throughout two o’clock, three o’clock, into four o’clock. It was, well, quite a quite a scene outside of our studio windows and we could see trees bending in the wind. We could obviously see the sheets of rain that were coming through, and oddly enough, strangely enough, people still out on the streets driving their cars, which is kind of hard to believe.
Jordan: Well, yeah, were people told to evacuate, did they evacuated? How do people prepare?
Sheldon: The voluntary evacuation order went out by the Halifax Regional Municipality on Friday afternoon and several of the coastal communities they had given a warning through Environment Canada through the hurricane centre, that waves could in fact hit peaks of 15 meters close to 50 foot waves on top of ah, storm surge. This happened not during high tide, but we had a high tide during the event on, there was some considerable concern that people in their homes along the shorelines might in fact become stranded or isolated or worse, from all accounts. When the Red Cross emergency centres were set up, people were first hold by municipal officials. They had people visiting their homes, calling them up, saying, You might want to move inland. You might want to move out of your home. We took calls from some listeners who spent the night in hotels. The emergency operation centres, the shelters. They weren’t vastly populated, but they were with people who had nowhere else to go. No friends, no family to go to.
Jordan: So what happened when the storm really hit on Saturday night?
Sheldon: As our station lost power, we were on our backup generator. Clearly, you know, that’s limited lighting. Our transmitter went down a few times. We were able through the work of our engineer to get it back to get us back on the air. It was well, it was a bit jarring in that as the winds intensified and the rain got heavier and it got darker out, and we were still a few hours from actual from sunset, it did take on quite an ominous tone. You quite the picture of you know this. What could be this potential for who knows what, And with windows shaking, the water leaking and around the window under the studio floor, the question was, are we going to be able to maintain our broadcasts? Are we gonna be able to continue on? And then it started to, well we started to see the I move over Halifax. And with that came a calm. It became, quite again, a stark contrast where you hear this eye of the storm that we we know this is, You know, that’s a colloquial saying, But there’s some truth to it, you know? Are we still infirm? Or at that point, we weren’t sure we were led to believe that there could, in fact, be as the system move past the winds shifting direction and intensifying again. So we were really left to wonder. You know, Is this the worst of it? And it actually did quite quickly after that, die down and lose much of its intensity.
Jordan: What kind of calls were you getting from listeners during the storm? Tell me a little bit about the role of a radio station broadcasting on a backup generator at a time like this?
Sheldon: When I started working in radio, it was records and it was overnight shows and it was before automation. And we obviously had a connection to listeners at that time. And, you know, we’re getting to a point now where people can get their media from just about anywhere but to have the ability to call someone up. And we did lose our phone lines for about an hour in the afternoon. We were able to get those back. We had no shortage of people who just wanted to connect. Just wanted to tell us what it was they were seeing what they were experiencing, what they were feeling, and many were just grateful that they had a live voice in the midst of all of this. And I was sharing with several of my co workers I had gone through. I had worked at another station, and I had a really wonderful boss who who was on the air at one point during a massive power outage, and I remember him speaking to this woman and she was just beside herself. She was alone. It was dark it was raining, and it was intense and he said, You’re not alone as long as you have the radio. I went into the whole process on Saturday. With that in mind, that is, as long as we were on the air, people were not by themselves, and people really were happy for that. Pleased by that, we’re grateful for an outlet, and we’re really interested in just just reaching out. As the system continued to diminish, as the intensity continued to perhaps lessen people that were than just wanting to connect. And we had one woman, one caller who rang us up and said, I’m in a building without electricity. I can’t get my car out of the parquet because the door won’t go up And she said, I’m on lifesaving medication. I’ve got $8000 worth of this medication that has to be refrigerated and she said, My like the ice is melting. I’m worried I might lose this medication and we had an amazing response. In fact, within 20 minutes a listener had connected with us, had connected with her and had driven over to her home again, not knowing whether the storm is going to intensify to make sure that she was safe, that her medicine was safe and that she’d be okay for the day after. It’s stories like that, that you’d never know how something might turn out. You can only hope for the best and in, you know, the spirit of community and spirit of, you know, just wanting to help each other out. People were willing, able and quite eager to do what they could for others.
Jordan: How did this storm compared to some of the ones that have hit Halifax before you mentioned Hurricane Juan, but that one, any others?
Sheldon: We’ve had I guess, I believe three years ago, a post Tropical Storm Arthur came through about the same time of year. That had a significant impact on the trees and the power lines and the electrical grid. But at one point through this system, 400,000 of the customers and of Nova Scotia Power almost perhaps even close to a half a million people were without electricity. Unprecedented, they said. I don’t know if we’ve ever seen an event like that, at least not in my recent memory that so many people were living with the same conditions at the same time. Juan was very much a narrow band and it hit with intensity, Category Two hurricane and caused a tremendous amount of damage, but only to a limited area. Whereas this system Dorian brought with it enough wind and rain that it affected the entire province of Nova Scotia. I don’t know if we can compare hurt anything we’ve had recently.
Jordan: So what’s it like on the ground there? Right now?
Sheldon: There are some neighbourhoods that have no issues whatsoever. There are some people who said their power stayed on and continues to be on today. Others who lost their electricity in the immediate fewer hours of the system moving ashore and coming close to us. And you know, there are many trees down large trees I happened to, as I was leaving to head back to my own home on Sunday morning, noticed a couple of power poles that were snapped in half. Crews have been driving, have been working through today and over the last number of hours, clearing the brush, clearing the trees off the roads. The streets, for the most part, have been cleared. Many of the intersections. They’re still no power to the traffic signals that’s causing with, well, that’s that’s creating its own problems with people, I guess forgetting the driver’s handbook. But the idea that life has returned to normal? Not quite yet. Schools are still closed. They’re expected to be closed tomorrow. Business is starting to reopen. But many people, I think, are just biding their time was still just checked. About 100 and 70,000 customers still without electricity. Many areas of Halifax are still without power and likely will be for well, some are hearing Uh, maybe tomorrow. It might be the day after that. It could be, who knows, next week?
Jordan: What about, Ah, injuries or deaths? I know there were some during Hurricane Juan.
Sheldon: That was the small consolation. That was the part of the story that we were very concerned by, but very relieved when officials on Saturday, late Saturday updated the media and others to say to their best of the best of their knowledge, there were zero serious injuries. Zero fatalities.
Sheldon: Obviously there are potential for dangers with trees down lines being re-energized as they get this system back get the group back up to it’s, you know, it’s full strength, but all I can say is it was a lucky, lucky thing and I don’t know whether was the preparation, whether people took it more seriously whether the experience of Hurricane Juan planted that seed in the back of our minds, that these things are not just weather events, that these things can be deadly weather events and and more than a few of our listeners have been very quick to say It was not a deadly event here in Halifax. But Dorian did claim lives before it arrived here.
Jordan: How much, if any, of the conversation during and after the storm turns to frequency of weather events like this and the discussion around climate change? Because I know that that happens in Toronto and other places when we see severe weather.
Sheldon: Weather and climate and that discussion about what’s impacted or influenced by humans, I don’t think there’s any question, although at one point over over the event we had someone who tried to offer that we’re not in an ice age now. But clearly Hurricane Juan happened in 2003. Before that, it was the Saxby Gale in the late 18th century. It had been many years since Halifax had experienced anything of the intensity of Juan. A century, more than a century. It’s only been 16 years since that event, and there is a possibility that we will see an increased number of events like this of similar intensity, perhaps even stronger. I don’t know that people are connecting the dots right now today because if you’ve got a freezer full of food and your power’s still out, that’s your number one concern.
Jordan: What is it like? As someone who talks on the radio for a living to do an 11 hour shift like that and try to keep things going? What’s going through your head while you’re trying to talk to other people?
Sheldon: Survival, Um, in many ways and I’m not trying to be glib, but the idea that we are an opportunity for people to stay connected, a voice in the in the darkness, a voice just the the connection to a human being, a live person who happens to be sitting in a room by themselves, talking into a microphone. It was an amazing opportunity, amazing experience for me, too, to see how responsive, how much hunger there is. And again, no disrespect to what a podcast is and what it’s capable off. But again, to be on the air in the in the moment, to have that immediate connection. And I don’t know if Jordan you ever called somebody at a radio station when you were a teenager to request a song or to hear a birthday wish for a friend.
Jordan: I sure did!
Sheldon: Those types of, what some people would say small town radio. But it’s still the power of human voice. And that’s what podcasts are doing right now. Keeping that going, there’s still a place for live radio, and I think the people who reached out to us in the in the hours during and since to say thank you you kept me from from being afraid of being alone by just simply talking to us.
Jordan: Thanks, Sheldon.
Sheldon: Thank you, Jordan.
Jordan: Sheldon MacLeod, host of the Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7 in Halifax weekday afternoons or whenever there is a devastating hurricane on the way. That was The Big Story. For more from us you can head to thebigstorypodcast.ca. You can find us on Twitter at @thebigstoryfpn. Or as you always can hit us up on your favourite podcast application, Google, Apple, Stitcher, Spotify wherever. Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow.
Back to top of page