Military units work together in PEI recovery effort
By Joanie Veitch,
Naval Reservists at HMCS Queen Charlotte were quick to spring into action as Canadian Armed Forces troops from 5th Canadian Division moved in to help with the recovery effort across Prince Edward Island after post-tropical storm Fiona hit the region with a wallop in the early morning hours of Saturday, September 24.
Acting as an “operational and support base” for the more than 60 members of 5 Cdn Div being housed at the NAVRES unit, the drill deck and various rooms at HMCS Queen Charlotte were turned into living and sleeping quarters for the soldiers, while the stone frigate’s galley served up hundreds of meals, explained Acting Sub-Lieutenant Scott Ferris, Public Affairs Officer with HMCS Queen Charlotte.
As with many parts of Atlantic Canada, heavy rain and winds over 170 km/h from post-tropical storm Fiona caused widespread damage across PEI.
The clean-up effort is a “massive undertaking”, said A/SLt Ferris, as PEI dealt with “literally tens of thousands of trees down across the Island, damage to roads, bridges, wharves and harbours.”
Sailor Third Class Chad Dunsford is a reservist with HMCS Queen Charlotte who works at the cruise ship terminal in Charlottetown for his day job. With all cruises cancelled after the storm, S3 Dunsford said he was able to help out right away, providing general security and assistance to the 5 Cdn Div members.
“As soon as they moved into the unit, we started providing 24-hour duty watch. There are a group of us doing rounds and watching. We’re working in shifts, usually in teams of two… just to help out with whatever they need and provide help in any way we can,” he said.
As with most Islanders, S3 Dunsford had some damage and lost power at his property as Fiona hit, only getting power back on Day 10 after the storm.
“Like most people here, when I’m not at the unit I’m cutting up trees. My property wasn’t too badly hit but everybody has trees down so we’re all just helping each other. It’s been non-stop ever since the storm” he said.
It was tiring, but he found a lot of satisfaction in being part of the recovery effort.
“Helping out domestically in efforts such as this was one of the big motivators for me in joining the military,” he said. “It has been amazing to watch how quickly everything came together, within hours of the request for military help. It’s been really inspiring in a difficult time.”
S3 Katlyn Berkelaar is a student at the University of Prince Edward Island and a reservist at HMCS Queen Charlotte. With classes called off after the storm, she too was able to help out at the unit.
“I’m glad to be able to do something to help. There was such a lot of damage, the clean up is a tough job. The soldiers here are working really hard,” she said.
It’s not the first time S3 Berkelaar has seen military support in action after a natural disaster. In her hometown of Williams Lake, BC, CAF members helped out after massive forest fires swept through the area back in 2017.
“After something big happens and people are feeling scared, it’s calming for them when they see the military arrive to help. Just knowing that support is there means a lot. I’m glad to be able to be a part of it and do my bit to help out,” she said. “It’s better than just sitting at home.”
Hundreds of CAF members have been assisting in post-storm relief efforts after requests for military help came in from PEI, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
“Our Canadian Armed Forces are doing whatever it takes to help Canadians and support provincial and local authorities,” said Minister of National Defence Anita Anand in a released statement. “We have activated resources and personnel to provide immediate support to local authorities, helping re-establish electricity, remove debris, and conduct wellness checks. Today, tomorrow, and every day, CAF members stand ready to support Canadians in times of need.”