WEYMOUTH, NS – It has been decades since the infamous Ground Hog Day Storm of 1976 ripped through southwestern Nova Scotia causing millions of dollars damage.
From Shelburne County right up around to Digby County, many towns, villages and communities felt the wrath of the storm and for people now 40 and older, it was a day they will no doubt remember for the rest of their lives.
The storm came without warning and caught people by surprise. Weather forecasts had called for a storm with winds of 50 kilometers per hour and gusts up to 100, but the Groundhog Day Storm blew gale force winds for over 18 hours.
What made the storm even worse was that the wind reached its peak when the tide was full, creating a destructive tidal surge.
Strong breeze but little concern
For most students, Feb. 2 began as a typical cold, cloudy, windy winter’s day. Carman Gaudet, who was then in grade 10 at Weymouth Consolidated High School, noted a strong breeze blowing but nothing to be concerned about.
Gloria Mullen, who was working in her husband’s store downtown, also commented that there was a rather strong wind blowing but no one was expecting anything unusual to happen.
During the morning, people in the business section of the village noticed the Sissiboo River looked quite rough and spray was flying unusually high. At the high school, students watched as trees outside the building were blown nearly flat on the ground. The power had failed and some thought there was a hurricane.
At lunchtime several students attempted to make their way downtown for lunch. Some didn’t make it because of the powerful winds that seemed to blow them away. Those who did get downtown came back with an awesome story.
Tide rising over the causeway
As the morning progressed, Gloria Mullen had kept a watch on the tide as it came up the river. She noticed it was rising higher than usual on the temporary causeway behind their store. She went upstairs to her apartment to get a better look and saw that the water had risen to the wheels on her car, which was parked out on the causeway.
Mullen hurried to get her coat and purse and switched off the power in the store. By the time she made it to the car, water was over her ankles. She managed to get the car out onto the street but she had to drive through a rushing current that was now up to her car’s bumper.
Morieen Mullen was working at Amirault’s Rite-Way next to Willis Mullen’s grocery store at the time. Morieen was working cash when she noticed the water getting higher as it came up around the Fina garage across the street. She went to the store office and when she returned, the water was coming across the street and she did not have time to get to the cash register to unplug it before the water was up past her ankles.
’Get upstairs for safety’
Larry Gaudet was working at the store, too, and yelled for fellow employees to get upstairs. Morieen and her boss, Desire Belliveau, his wife Odette, and Larry went upstairs to safety.
Morieen remembers the taxi stand sign floating out in the street, and turning around and around with the power lines keeping it from being carried away.
Edna Burton, Yvonne and Margaret Comeau were working at Margolian’s further up the street. Edna remembers watching the rising tide and as the water started to come into the store, she and the others left and made their way to Dr. Comeau’s office. Edna stopped at Weymouth Motors and suggested to her brother-in-law Richard Amirault that he better leave the garage and come up the hill, too. Dr. Erjavec came to the school to pick up his children but on the trip back across town they could not drive the car over the bridge. The tidal surge pushed water up as far as the rails of the bridge and created a dangerous current.
Erjavec’s oldest son, Matthew, and a friend held hands and walked across the bridge. Matthew said the water was up to the windows at the Rite-Way and goods from the flooded stores were floating down the river.
Israel Melanson and his wife had to be helped out of their apartment and taken to safety by rowboat. Greta Journeay’s ladies wear store was sitting in about five feet of water since it was one of the lowest buildings.
From the Goodwin Hotel
Pat Comeau was busy getting ready to serve her lunch guests and says she wasn’t paying a great deal of attention to what was happening across the bridge. She says that someone brought Greta Journeay across the bridge and she walked up to the hotel where she stood watching the flood from the dining room windows.
Pat added that once the power went off, she and the rest of her family spent their time in one of the smaller hotel rooms downstairs. Gloria Mullen said that the tidal surge came in so quickly that cars in the Weymouth Motors parking lot could not be moved.
All too quickly, cars, trucks and campers were floating around or flooded by the surging water. The gas pumps were filled with water and the showroom windows were broken by the wind.
Further down the river, people in Weymouth North were having their own difficulties. Marilyn Amero’s parents were returning from their trip to Digby when they witnessed the sides of Walter MacAlpine’s garage cave in. James Theriault’s boat was ‘parked’ on the road. The lighthouse on the sand bar in the river was destroyed and the road near the Riverside Baptist Church was undermined.
Along the bay
The storm was somewhat different but no less destructive for those along St. Mary's Bay.
Norman Theriault of Crown Upholstering remembers all too clearly how quickly the tide was coming in down at Belliveau’s Cove. He left his shop and walked to Major's Point to take pictures of the incoming tide.
Once there, he realized that the tide was coming in very quickly and he raced as fast as he could back to the shop with the tide right behind him. It didn't take long for his building to have two feet of seawater in it, with more on the way.
Everyone managed to get their cars to safety but two of his employees, Agnes Gaudet and Annette Martin were still in the upstairs part of the building. Norman went back to his building and then decided to go back outdoors to get more pictures. By this time the tide was nearly to his waist and at one point, he had to grab onto a hydro pole to keep from being knocked down by the wind.
Norman said it was a scary thing to witness and that he didn't seem to notice how cold the water was while he was in it. When the tide receded, the floor in his shop was damaged, along with much of his fabric and furniture.
He had been working on furniture for the Pines Hotel at the time and remembers seeing the furniture floating around.
The destructive storm was considered an ‘act of God’, so many people received little insurance coverage. Trees were uprooted, basements were flooded, fishing boats and wharves were destroyed and barns lost their roofs. Mobile homes were overturned and destroyed and shorelines were changed.
Power lines were down in every community and for many it meant cold nights, frozen and busted water pipes. For those who had wood stoves or heaters, candles and lanterns, it made the storm a bit more bearable to endure.
In the space of two hours, the tidal surge wrecked havoc that took months to repair or rebuild. Edna Burton remembers going back to the mess left at Margolian’s by the flood. Anything that had been on the floor was damaged or ruined. They cleaned up as best they could and, like other businesses in the village, had a sale where damaged goods such as blankets, footwear and clothing were sold for “half