HMCS Cabot sailors help neighbours in storm-ravaged St. John’s

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Navy News / January 29, 2020

Sailors from HMCS Cabot, the Naval Reserve Division in St. John’s, Nfld, have been knee-deep in snow this past week, helping their neighbours dig out from the record-setting blizzard that hit the region on January 17.

The 18 Naval Reservists are part of Operation LENTUS, the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) response to natural disasters in Canada. As of January 21, nearly 425 CAF members have been deployed to the area.

The reservists were spread out across the city and removed snow to assist area residents, particularly seniors and those requiring medical or other critical services. Some have done around 30 calls over the past few days.

“The kindness of the people in the community has been absolutely incredible,” said Leading Seaman (LS) Megan Benoit. “People have been honking their horns to show their support. We have been given more hot drinks and cookies than we could ever eat. It’s a beautiful thing to see how receptive everyone has been and it makes me very proud to be a member of the Royal Canadian Navy.”

“One of my most memorable moments of helping people was a 94-year-old veteran from the Merchant Marine who was so grateful and lighted up once he realized I was part of the Naval Reserve,” said LS Lawrence Hammond. “He returned into his house to come back with his service photo of when he was serving.”

LS Benoit explained how the sailors helped a widow from Portugal Cove, located west of St. John’s, whose husband had died the year before. The woman had been stuck in her house since the storm hit on Friday. Her neighbours attempted to help, but due to the steepness of her driveway, were unable to get her cleared out.

“We came in with a snow blower and a bunch of shovels, freed her car, which was in a bank of ice, and salted her very slippery, very steep driveway,” said LS Benoit. “Her neighbour came with a quad with a plow mounted and helped us out. Through tears she explained that she didn’t have many people around to do things for her anymore. I explained that was exactly the point of this operation and we were happy to help.”

Given the amount of snow that fell on the region – 76 centimetres in less than 24 hours – the provincial government declared a state of emergency that was still in effect as of January 22. The dig-out has been challenging for everyone.  

“Our biggest challenge was from our time over on Bell Island where we were tasked with a wellness check,” said LS Hammond. “We found the address and at first sight we couldn’t find a driveway. A local contractor stopped and said that we would be there for days if we shovelled to the door. He asked us to move our vehicles and he cleared all the snow for us leaving us with a small path to finish.”

Both LS Hammond and LS Benoit hail from Bell Island, which is located just off the coast of Portugal Cove.

The sailors have found ways to help people in need, even when the residents are not on their official list of duties.

“While on Bell Island on Tuesday, an older woman, about 75, ran over to us and explained that her walkway was completely snowed in and that she couldn’t open her gate. She had to crawl through her neighbours’ fence in order to get out of her house,” said LS Benoit. “Though that tasking wasn’t on our list, we decided to split our crew and go over to her house and help her clear the massive snow drift out of her front door so she could walk out her driveway for the first time since the storm.”

LS Benoit noted that the team shovelled close to 30 driveways in three days, and how long it took depended on what was required.

“Some people needed access to their cars to get to medical appointments, some people just required foot paths to their doors or access to their fuel tanks,” she said. “The timings varied from 20 minutes to a couple of hours.”