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Fiona makes landfall in Nova Scotia, state of emergency declared in Cape Breton

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality has declared a state of emergency as post-tropical storm Fiona — one of the strongest storms to ever strike Canada's East Coast — continues to lash the island.

Fiona was churning out hurricane-force winds when it made landfall at around 4 am at the eastern edge of mainland Nova Scotia, near Canso.

The Canadian Hurricane Centre in Dartmouth, NS, says Fiona set a record for the lowest-ever barometric pressure for a tropical storm making landfall in Canada. The unofficial recorded pressure at Hart Island was 931.6 millibars, a measure of the storm's strength.

The centre says widespread gusts between 90 and 120 kilometres per hour have been reported over Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Iles-de-la-Madeleine and southwestern Newfoundland, with a peak gust reaching 161 km/h over Beaver Island, NS.

In Sydney, NS, the largest city in Cape Breton, the wind caused severe damage to some homes, forcing families to flee.

"We've had several structural failures," said Christina Lamey, a spokeswoman for the region. She confirmed that no one was hurt. She said it was unclear how many homes had been damaged, but there were reports of collapsed walls and missing roofs.

About 20 people have taken refuge at the Centre 200 sports and entertainment facility in Sydney, she said.

"The key message from that is for people to stay at home," Lamey said in an interview. "The first responders are really stretched right now. We want people to stay off the roads. Most of the roads have hazards on them, with power lines down and trees down as well."

The storm has knocked out power to more than 500,000 homes and businesses across the Maritimes.

As of 8:30 am local time, Nova Scotia Power was reporting 414,000 customers were in the dark — that's about 80% of the homes and businesses it serves.

On PEI, Maritime Electric was reporting 82,000 of its 86,000 customers were without electricity, and NB Power reported 47,000 New Brunswick residents without power, most of them in and around Moncton, Shediac and Sackville.

In Charlottetown, city officials are advising residents seeking shelter at local reception centres to remain where they are until it is safe to move through the city.

"From tonight until possibly Sunday, stay inside unless it is absolutely necessary," the city said in a statement. "Stay off the roads, and expect continuing power outages."

The city remains strewn with fallen trees and downed power lines, and several streets remain blocked.

"Our dispatch centre received over a hundred calls overnight regarding downed trees and power lines," the statement said. "Crews are doing what they can, but the majority of the cleanup work will begin once wind speeds decrease from the levels we are currently experiencing."

Parts of eastern mainland Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have recorded 75 to 125 millimetres of rainfall.

In coastal Cow Bay, NS, southeast of Halifax, Caralee McDaniel said the nearby Atlantic Ocean was "just wild."

"We're watching the wild waves crashing," she said in an interview from her friend's home, which lost power around 11:30 pm.

"We have candles and several devices fully charged ....We have buckets of water and some boiled water in a thermos so we can make coffee," she said.

"(Last night), you could see the windows flexing... There was a lot of creaking and howling winds ... At times, we were wondering if the wind was going to blow the windows in."

Storm surge warnings remain in effect for most of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, southwestern Newfoundland, eastern Nova Scotia and the East Coast of New Brunswick, with waves possibly surpassing 12 metres in eastern portions of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Cabot Strait.

Coastal flooding remains a threat for parts of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island including the Northumberland Strait, the Gulf of St. Lawrence region including Iles-de-la-Madeleine and eastern New Brunswick, southwest Newfoundland, the St. Lawrence Estuary and the Quebec Lower North Shore.

Hurricane and tropical storm warnings remain in effect for most areas.

The hurricane centre said conditions will improve over western Nova Scotia and eastern New Brunswick later in the day, but will persist elsewhere.

Thumbnail photo credit: Michael King Twitter

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