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40 YEARS LATER Groundhog Day storm of 1976: 'It was devastating'


YARMOUTH – If you’re old enough to remember the Groundhog Day storm, chances are you can’t believe it has been 40 years since it happened.

If so, Arnold Muise can relate to you. A resident of Middle West Pubnico, Muise was working for the provincial fisheries department at the time of the 1976 storm. He remembers the day vividly.

“I was sitting at the Colony (restaurant in Yarmouth) having lunch when the power went off,” he said. “You could see the waves in the harbour. I got out of there and drove down to the wharf. At that time you didn’t have cellphones, so I had a CB set in my car.”

Seeing what was happening on the waterfront – boats getting loose due to the force of the wind – he sent out a call for help. Someone came right away.

“He was captain of one of the seiners, a small one,” Muise said.  “He jumped onboard, started the engine and put it in reverse so they could hold the fleet there, so they could get tied up.”

Recalling his drive home, Muise had to make a few detours because of water coming over the road.

It was a similar story for Alain Meuse, who at the time was editing the Vanguard newspaper. At around 11 o’clock that Monday morning Meuse got a call from someone saying he should go down to the waterfront.

“As soon as I opened the door, my God, it was windy,” Meuse said. “I walked to the waterfront and took some pictures. When I came back, there was stuff flying all over the place.”

When the Yarmouth Vanguard came out later that week, the words at the top of the front page pretty well said it all: “Vicious storm cripples region.”

With winds reportedly topping 100 miles per hour, the unexpected storm destroyed wharves, mobile homes and more. It took its toll on vessels, washed out roads, uprooted trees and left many people without power for days. Commercial and industrial enterprises suffered losses too.

“It was devastating,” Meuse said. “The next day, my God. (There were) boats in the trees … It was really something.”

In his capacity as a representative of the province’s fisheries department, Arnold Muise said a big task in the wake of the storm was assessing the damage to the fishery. At the time, he estimated that the storm’s impact on the fishing industry in southwestern Nova Scotia would be around $20 million. Recalling the storm four decades later, he said, “Twenty-million dollars in 1976 was a lot of money.”

He had seen some hurricanes before, but Groundhog Day was something else.

“What a mess,” he said. “It’s hard to believe it was 40 years ago. When I close my eyes, I can still see it.”


5 things to know about the Groundhog Day storm

1. It struck on Feb. 2, 1976. The storm packed winds of 160 km/h in southwestern N.S. In Grand Manan winds hit 202 km/h.

2. The fishing industry in southwestern Nova Scotia was heavily impacted, Boats were damaged or sunk. Wharfs were broken apart. And thousands of lobster traps went missing.

3. Although the Yarmouth hospital was equipped with an emergency generator, during the power outage unnecessary lights were kept off, an x-ray machine was shut down and laundry operations were restricted.

4. Many roofs on buildings were damaged.

5. Mobile home parks in southwestern N.S. saw severe damage. One woman and a child in Yarmouth were treated for cuts and bruises after the mobile home they were in rolled several times.

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