The three branches of the Canadian Forces, along with Fire and Emergency Services—Newfoundland and Labrador— and locals joined forces to battle the aftermath of Hurricane Igor.
The hurricane hit the coast on Sept. 21, sweeping away roads, bridges and houses, leaving some 50,000 households without power.
Operation Lama, a joint task force (JTF) mission, was created and housed in a computer training room at Canadian Forces Station St. John’s.
Station Commander Larry Jones said the operation went smoothly. “It was an incredibly busy time for our station, but it went very well. Certainly my folks, military and civilian alike, were very proud to be able to contribute to the overall effort,” he said. “It took essentially everybody in the station putting in a lot longer hours…and working straight through from the time they heard the hurricane hit, cleaning up our own station and getting our power back, until the Forces stood down on the sixth of October.”
More than 1,000 regular and reserve personnel from the army, navy and air force participated in the 14-day mission.
Brigadier-General Tony Stack was designated as the commander for JTF Newfoundland and was in charge of organizing the three services.
“I flew over the Trouty area [on the Bonavista Peninsula] and, for example, there were a number of ponds and lakes at various elevations that surround that community and it looked like they were giant bowls elevated above that area,” he said. “The town of Trouty is down in the bottom and, as these ponds filled up with water, it all came cascading down at once into the rivers. It was a force of water that’s impossible to imagine and, even days after, there was still a raging river going through there.”
Structures that have stood for 60 years or more were pushed around like matchsticks, vehicles were tossed around like toy cars. He said it’s unfortunate that one man died when he was swept out to sea. However, they were lucky there weren’t more deaths.
On land the CF members helped rebuild bridges and roads to reconnect communities.
Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Goodman was the Land Component Commander for Op Lama and commanding officer of 4 Engineer Support Regiment from Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick. “We did everything. We ended up putting in two Acrow bridges, we built a medium guarder bridge [over a 70-metre gap], which is combat bridging, we did some work on a footbridge for the town of Trouty and we also then did route reconnaissance and assessments. We did construction of some signs for Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Transportation and Works [and] we helped out with some humanitarian assistance by helping package and transport goods.
“There was a lot more damage than I thought there would be. It seemed anywhere you went there was probably a bridge down blocking your way or there had to be a bypass to get there,” he added.
The land force focused on the Burin and Bonavista peninsulas, as many connecting roads were out of service.
Goodman also noted the amazing support from the locals, who every day would deliver homemade food to the troops. “I have a whole new respect for the people of Newfoundland because they started solving their own problems first,” he said. “They did everything including cutting tracks for their ATVs so they could get around and get food and water to their families, friends and the other local communities that were cut off.”
By air, 423 Maritime Helicopter Squadron provided three Sea King helicopters from 12 Wing Shearwater and a CC-177 Globemaster III came from 429 Bison Transport Squadron at 8 Wing, Tenton, Ont.
Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Garriock was the air component commander in charge of the helicopters. He explained a big part of their task was to fly over isolated areas and get a sense of damage and an Aurora from CFB Greenwood, N.S., was used to take imagery of the Burin and Bonavista peninsulas.
The CF maritime assets, Her Majesty’s Canadian ships Fredericton, St. John’s and Montreal, spent time in each of the affected bays: Bonavista Bay, Trinity Bay, Placentia Bay and Fortune Bay.
Commander R.J. Clark, commanding officer for HMCS St. John’s, explained the damage he saw. “I’ve been through a few hurricanes myself, both in Canada and down in the Caribbean, and I was expecting to see a lot of wind damage, but by and large there wasn’t too much,” he said. “I think some of that has to do with the way Newfoundlanders build. They are used to strong winds, so most of the roofs stayed on. The damage that really happened was with the extraordinary amount of rain that came down in a short period of time. There were some places on the Burin Peninsula that got some 250 millimetres of rain in about eight hours.”
As a result, this caused localized flooding as culverts, which were designed to take up to 10 feet of water, were suddenly taking 20 feet of water.
Commander Real Brisson, commanding officer of HMCS Montreal, explained the ships’ job was to provide a landing station for the Sea Kings, supply provisions and primary goods for isolated communities and perform needs assessments of isolated towns, and send information gathered to headquarters.
For the needs assessments the crew was split into small groups. These groups used the smaller boats and travelled to shore where they talked with the local officials about their requirements, both supply and emergency. Returning to the ship, they sent the information to the emergency measures association which created a priority list.
Garriock said the troops enjoyed helping fellow Canadians. “The military traditionally are deployed outside of Canada, supporting other folks and since the Canada First Defence Strategy came in, there’s been an emphasis on domestic defence, assistance, domestic issues.
I think Canadians are so self-reliant, particularly Newfoundlanders. So it was nice to go in there and provide them with some assistance.”