Hurricane Bill Drenches Eastern Canada; Two Die in U.S.

August 24, 2009

Hurricane Bill brought rain and heavy winds to eastern Canada Sunday after pounding the U.S. East Coast with heavy seas that killed two people.

A seven-year-old girl died in a hospital after she was pulled unresponsive from the sea by the Coast Guard after a group of people were swept away by a huge wave along the coast of Maine, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

The group had been watching the rough seas and heavy surf from Maine’s Acadia National Park, Coast Guard Petty Officer Third Class James Rhodes said.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said the Category 1 storm was racing toward Newfoundland at 35 mph and would weaken over the next 24 hours to an extra tropical storm.

Large and dangerous swells generated by the hurricane will continue to impact Atlantic Canada on Sunday night, it said.

Atlantic Canada is an energy-producing region, exporting oil, natural gas and refined products to the U.S. Northeast and elsewhere.

The storm had caused little serious damage as it moved northeast toward the region’s offshore oil and gas facilities.

Still, “this is not a pussycat of a storm at all,” Peter Bowyer, program supervisor at the Canadian Hurricane Center, told CBC News.

Cape Breton, one of Nova Scotia’s main tourist areas, was expected to be hardest hit by the storm. Forecasters expect the region to see winds of more than 85 mph. Flights were canceled there and ferry service was suspended.

The storm knocked out power to more than 23,000 homes and businesses in southern Nova Scotia and felled trees but did little serious damage to the provincial capital of Halifax. No deaths or injuries have been reported in Canada.

“We’re not seeing any severe damage,” said Michelle Perry, a spokeswoman for Nova Scotia’s Emergency Management Office. “We are seeing things like washed out roads and power outages … but we haven’t seen the worst yet and are watching it carefully as it makes its way up the province.”

Bill, the first hurricane of the 2009 season, dumped rain on Bermuda and pushed powerful surf onto the shores of the 20-square-mile British territory, a center for the global insurance industry.

It also brought heavy surf, swells and rain to the U.S. Atlantic seaboard, including the island of Martha’s Vineyard, where President Barack Obama and his family were to start a summer vacation. Their departure was delayed four hours by the hurricane.

In Central Florida, Volusia County Beach Patrol officials blamed waves generated by Bill for the drowning on Saturday of a 54-year-old Orlando man near New Smyrna Beach, local media said on Sunday. The man washed ashore unconscious after swimming out to bodysurf in rough waves.

The Sable Offshore Gas Project, off Nova Scotia, evacuated staff, but the operator of the massive 98,200 barrel per day Hibernia platform said it would continue to operate normally.

Both Sable and Hibernia, a platform built to withstand the icebergs that are common in the region, are operated by Exxon Mobil Corp. An iceberg sank the Titanic off the coast of Nova Scotia and some 150 of the ship’s victims are buried in Halifax.

Other oil projects in the Jeanne d’Arc basin about 185 miles southeast of St. John’s, Newfoundland, plan to weather the storm and have not moved employees to land. “We’re keeping an eye on the storm, but it’s business as usual,” said Brad Bellows, a spokesman for Suncor Energy Inc, which operates the Terra Nova oil project.

A Category 1 storm is the mildest on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, but it is still potentially threatening. Canadian officials said they were particularly worried about heavy rain and the fact that high tides would exacerbate the storm surges that hurricanes bring.

(Writing by Janet Guttsman, additional reporting by Scott Malone in Boston, Pascal Fletcher in Miami and Anthony Boadle in Washington; editing by Todd Eastham)

By Laura MacInnis
HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (Reuters

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