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Remembering the Groundhog Day Storm 42 years later

The Groundhog Day Storm of 1976.
The Groundhog Day Storm of 1976.

YARMOUTH, N.S. – As we hit the 42nd anniversary of the Groundhog Day storm, let’s have a look at some of what was going on in the world in 1976, from politics to popular culture.

• Pierre Trudeau was Canada’s prime minister. His oldest son, Justin, was four years old.

• Gerald Regan was premier of Nova Scotia.

• Gerald Ford was president of the United States.

• The number-one single on the Billboard pop chart was Love Roller Coaster by the Ohio Players. (Barry Manilow was next with I Write the Songs.)

• Had you been watching TV the night before the storm – that is, Sunday night, Feb. 1 – you might have seen The Waltons or the Sonny and Cher Show or maybe Kojak.

The Groundhog Day Storm of 1976.
The Groundhog Day Storm of 1976.

As for Monday, Feb. 2, the day of the storm, it may have started normally enough, but this would be no ordinary day.

The storm’s hurricane-force winds, coupled with high-water levels, caused damage the likes of which many people had never seen before.

When the Yarmouth Vanguard came out that week – a bit later than usual due to a storm-related power outage – the words at the top of the front page perhaps said it all: “Vicious storm cripples region.”

The following is how the paper led off its page-one story:

“One of the worst storms to ever hit the tri-county area has left a bleak picture throughout Yarmouth, Shelburne and Digby counties. The storm, packing winds over 100 m.p.h., caught everybody by surprise on Monday.”

The Groundhog Day Storm of 1976.
The Groundhog Day Storm of 1976.

Here are a few examples of the storm-related damage, as reported in the paper at the time:

• The Killam Brothers and Parker-Eakins wharves were virtually destroyed as high winds and flooding reduced them to piles of lumber afloat in Yarmouth harbour.

• There were several reports in Yarmouth County of mobile homes being blown apart, while over a dozen structures in a Shelburne mobile home park were damaged.

• The storm knocked down trees throughout the region, damaging property and utility poles.

• There were reports of damaged fishing vessels throughout the tri-counties.

• At the height of the storm, many areas lost their telephone service.

On Wednesday, two days after the storm, government officials toured the area to get a look at the damage. By this time, in the town of Yarmouth at least, things reportedly were getting back to normal, but elsewhere in the region a lot of people were still without power.

Those affected by the storm, of course, included students, who ended up getting some unscheduled time off from class. They later had a chance to express their storm-related thoughts in writing and many of them eventually contributed to a special publication called Tidal Wave.

One of them – David Switzer, a Grade 10 student at Digby Regional High School – perhaps captured as well as anybody the essence of Groundhog Day 1976, when he wrote, “The bus trip home was like a tour through a disaster area.”

After the water rose on Water Street this is how it looked. FILE PHOTO
After the water rose on Water Street this is how it looked. FILE PHOTO

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