People wave-watching during Lee 'disheartening,' Halifax councillor says

WATCH: Even in the midst of the heavy winds and rain during post-tropical storm Lee, some residents in the hardest hit areas were determined to go sightseeing. As Vanessa Wright reports, orders from officials to stay away from the coastline didn’t stop them.

Pam Lovelace understands that it may be exciting to go wave-watching during an extreme weather event — like the recent post-tropical storm Lee, which swept through the Maritimes over the weekend — but says people don’t always understand the danger.

“It’s not safe. People need to understand that they have to stay away from the coastline,” said Lovelace, a Halifax-area councillor whose district includes the coastal area of Peggy’s Cove.

During the storm Saturday, wave-watchers came out in full force in coastal areas and on waterfronts, despite being urged not to by municipal officials.

“It’s very disheartening to know how many people ignored the very good advice that was given, to stay away from the coastline during this storm,” she said.

“We need community members to listen to the advice of our professional service management personnel.”

Lovelace said during the storm, vehicles were seen driving in the Queensland area as rocks and debris were being thrown into the road by the powerful storm surge.

Peggy’s Cove, a popular tourist attraction, had to be shut down Saturday morning and a security guard was tasked with deterring the dozens of people from flocking to the area to gawk at the sea.

“I think the message isn’t getting out to people: that they have to stay away and that it’s extremely dangerous,” Lovelace said.

“We need to work harder to get that message out so that people understand the severe dangers.”

The councillor added that people who risk their lives storm-watching are also risking the lives of the emergency personnel who may have to rescue them.

“We were very fortunate not to have any fatalities from this storm, but that hasn’t been the case in the past,” she said.

Pam Lovelace said emergency fines should be considered in situations where people put themselves in danger during storms.

Pam Lovelace said emergency fines should be considered in situations where people put themselves in danger during storms.

Vanessa Wright/Global News

Lovelace said more education needs to be put in place to keep people away from coastlines and waterfront during storms.

She said the municipality and the province should consider implementing emergency fines for people who ignore emergency personnel for future storms, but also questioned how effective that may be.

“So far we have seen that speeding fines don’t deter people, so I’m not sure that emergency management fines will deter people,” she acknowledged, “but I think that we need to have the conversation about how dangerous it is.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the provincial Emergency Management Office said Nova Scotians are encouraged to follow advice from officials to keep themselves safe.

“It’s disappointing when people ignore those messages,” the statement said. “It places themselves and others at risk.”

In terms of tickets and fines, the statement said provisions exist within the Emergency Management Act for further action, should a state of emergency be declared.

People gathered on the Halifax waterfront as post-tropical storm Lee lashed the coast despite warnings from officials.

People gathered on the Halifax waterfront as post-tropical storm Lee lashed the coast despite warnings from officials.

Philip Croucher/Global News

Dozens of people also flocked to the waterfronts in Halifax and Dartmouth over the weekend to take in the waves. One man even decided to take it another step further by doing a flip into the harbour in a full-body swimsuit.

In a statement, Build Nova Scotia, which oversees development on the Halifax waterfront, said it worked closely with HRM emergency management before and during the storm to help ensure public safety.

“As the storm progressed, action was taken increase the number of security agents available to provide surveillance and HRM provided increased police presence,” said spokesperson Kelly Rose. “We also increased the number of barriers that were established.”

However, Rose said closing the waterfront altogether during an extreme weather event would be tricky.

“There are numerous landowners along the Halifax waterfront, and continuous points of access. Closing the entire area would likely require the declaration of a localized state of emergency as a result,” she said.

“After every event, we review the events of the past weekend to determine if there is anything more that can be done, any additional precautions that could be taken prior to any event and to ensure compliance when limited closures are required.”

Halifax Regional Police spokesperson John MacLeod said in a statement that officers were patrolling the waterfront area during the storm, but were not aware of any incidents.

RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Guillaume Tremblay said it is not an offence to be close to water during a storm, so none were handed out during Lee.

But he said it’s a “common occurrence” for officers to remind people to stay away from coastlines and waterfronts during storms.

“Waves can come up and wash a person away in an instant, and the water’s very unpredictable,” he said. “It’s a very dangerous place to be whenever we’re experiencing big storms.

“The best place to be is at home, inside your house, and away from any waterways.”

— with files from Vanessa Wright

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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