Haweater describes Newfoundland after recent state of emergency

Haweater Becky Olacke takes a break from shoveling snow on the walkway to her home in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

ST. JOHN’S NEWFOUNDLAND – While Haweater Becky Olacke and her husband were not at their home during  the worst of the state of emergency that hit St. John’s Newfoundland earlier this month, with over 75 centimetres of snow having fallen and extreme strong winds making it impossible to get around, she said it was still difficult to manage when they did get there.

Ms. Olacke and her husband J.P. Richard, were in Kingston when the worst of the storm hit. She is a pediatric dentist at Janeway Children’s Hospital in St. John’s and her partner runs the Smile Garden Pediatric Dentistry in Kingston.  

She said when they got back to St. John’s, “our neighbours were great and they had snow-blowed and cleared the sidewalk and walkway to our front door. We did spend the rest of (Wednesday of last week) clearing snow from around all the windows and out the back door to our shed where we keep the firewood for our woodstove. While digging out the back steps I felt like I was never going to find the ground. Eventually I did but the drift was over five feet, nine inches, as it was taller than I was once dug out and that was without snow being piled on top.”

Ms. Olacke is the daughter of Mark and Judy Olacke of Spring Bay. She explained, “we left St. John’s on the Wednesday before the blizzard so we were aware that it was going to take place. On the Friday, while (the blizzard) was occurring, I received numerous text messages from colleagues who work at the Janeway Children’s Hospital. My one colleague, Dr. Trang Nguyen, and one of our dental assistants was in the operating room working and finished her procedure around 1 pm, which was too late to leave the hospital due to the white-out conditions. So she and the dental assistant and many other employees had to spend the first 48 hours of the state of emergency at the hospital.”

Ms. Olacke and her husband have lived in St. John’s since July 2017 and she said the couple had no idea what they would find at the airport when they got back to St. John’s on their flight from Ontario. “We were on the first Westjet flight (a rescue flight added due to the numerous cancelled flights between Friday and Tuesday) into St. John’s on Wednesday morning. The drive from the (St. John’s) airport was not too bad as by then the main roads had been cleared to about one-and-a-half lanes. The snowbanks on either side of the road and at roundabouts did make seeing around corners, etc. difficult.”

She pointed out, “friends had sent an aerial photo of the grocery store (in St. John’s) with the long line-up to us on Tuesday when the stores opened form 10-6 for essentials. As we were still in Ontario at that time we did go grocery shopping for produce. We filled two checked bags with fruits and vegetables for ourselves and our neighbours that had helped clear our snow during the blizzard.”

This past Saturday, businesses and stores opened again in St. John’s. “People are very excited to be able to get out and about again,” Ms. Olacke told the Recorder. “Most people are wanting to support the local businesses. Many people in my running club were planning to go to yoga, out for lunch and then out for dinner in downtown St. John’s to help support the small businesses that were forced to close for one week due to the state of emergency (SOE). During the (SOE) a lot of people took advantage of the quiet streets and went on snow-shoe and cross country ski adventures with their families and pets.” 

“I had to attend an emergency at the hospital yesterday and ran to work,” said Ms. Olacke on Saturday. “Since the SOE was still on there were not very many vehicles on the road so although no sidewalks were clear it was a pleasant run. Now that the emergency is over and there are still limited sidewalks cleared pedestrians are definitely at a disadvantage.”

“I think most people are worried about future snow clearing as the banks are all at least six feet high and in some places probably close to 20 feet and it is only January,” continued Ms. Olacke. “There is still a lot of winter left in St. John’s and nowhere to put the snow.”  She also pointed out, “my husband helped clear some snow from another neighbours house yesterday from 8:30 am to 4 pm with two adult men working with snowblowers and shovels.”