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Military to help Newfoundland recover from hurricane

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gets a hug from a resident during his visit to Trouty, Newfoundland September 24, 2010, to view damages caused by Hurricane Igor when it struck the east coast of the province.

GREG LOCKE/Greg Locke/Reuters

It started with one small gesture. Kevin Jacobs, manager of the Clarenville Co-op store, asked a local boat owner to ferry milk and bread to Hickman's Harbour, one of the communities left isolated and without supplies since Hurricane Igor struck last Tuesday.

But by Friday at 5 p.m. - barely 24 hours later - Mr. Jacobs had received more than $30,000 in cash donations, as well as a donated truck and countless volunteer speedboat and longliner trips. Thanks to his efforts, several communities were stocked with fresh food and other desperately needed supplies.

Clarenville, about 180 kilometres north of St. John's, serves as a supply hub for Random Island and the Bonavista Peninsula, both areas hit particularly hard by Igor - and dotted by communities cut off by impassable roads, washed out bridges and fallen power lines.

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"I can't remember how many towns we've reached, you'll have to forgive me," Mr. Jacobs said, preparing to bring another delivery of food to the marina. "My mind is all over the place, there's that many people calling, and that many places I want to get to."

It looks like people like Mr. Jacobs are about to get even more help.

On Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the Canadian Forces would be deployed "within hours" to help distribute emergency supplies and repair infrastructure damage. Mr. Harper made the official announcement while on a helicopter tour of some of the hardest-hit areas.

Mr. Harper, accompanied by Premier Danny Williams, touched down briefly in Trouty and Britannia to meet with residents and community workers. "Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans affected by Hurricane Igor will face enormous challenges ahead," Mr. Harper said in a statement. "But they are facing the aftermath of the storm with their characteristic resilience and determination."

Long-time Trouty resident Gerald Spurrell, worried about potential medical emergencies and dwindling supplies, was glad to hear the military was on the way. Several homes in the tiny community were completely destroyed in the storm, as were the wharf, boats, and roads leading in and out.

"Where the road once was, on the north and south sides of the river, there's only a pile of rocks," Mr. Spurrell said, breaking from another meal of sandwiches and soup prepared over a propane stove. "There's a big hole where a culvert washed right away.

"There was people that was running short of food, but the boats from Clarenville started coming in with the grub today, with meat and vegetables and giving it out for free ... that's the way Newfoundlanders work anyway."

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According to the province's Department of Transportation, Trouty and other communities on the Bonavista Peninsula may not be connected to the Trans Canada Highway until Sunday or Monday. For those on the Burin Peninsula, that key connection may not be open until Tuesday.

Mr. Spurrell, on his fourth day without power, has taken in a neighbour whose home washed away and said he's grateful the only damage to his own house was a flooded basement. Though, with food on the table and the military arriving soon, he voiced another concern shared by many of Igor's victims.

"First, we're fortunate there wasn't more injuries or deaths," he said. "Houses can be replaced. But then we run into this: We've been paying insurance on our homes our whole lives and here we finally need it and it's no good to us, because this was a flood."

The federal government has offered emergency assistance to the province, which may provide some relief to residents. On Friday, the Canada Revenue Agency also announced its tax relief measures would be available to victims of the flood. The CRA relief could involve waiving penalties or interest fees on taxes owed for those who apply and are approved.

In Clarenville, Mr. Jacobs continued his delivery work into Friday evening. He remained overwhelmed by the support and the around-the-clock effort of his staff and the town.

"I don't know if you believe in God … but I'm sure there's something that's helping everything work out. There's good people in these communities, a lot of good coming out of this. People are helping people out. Forget about money, forget all of that.

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"This is beautiful."

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