There were hugs, tears and sighs of relief as people arrived on flights at St. John’s International Airport Wednesday morning for the first time in six days.
“Oh my God, it’s so good to be home,” said Joe Pike of Marystown, having disembarked from WestJet Flight 3426 and descended the escalator to pick up his luggage.
“I work in Fort Nelson, Alberta, and I’m on a turnaround, but I’ve been stuck in Halifax for four days waiting it out. I didn’t think I’d ever make it, with all the snow.”
People arriving at St. John’s International Airport (WestJet 3426 from Halifax) for the first time since the storm hit the city four days ago. pic.twitter.com/HNoS7GxOFn— Rosie Mullaley (@TelyRosie) January 22, 2020
It was the first time the airport was open for commercial flights since a massive blizzard hit eastern Newfoundland last Friday. With winds up to 160 km/h and a record-breaking snowfall of more than 90 centimetres in some areas, a state of emergency was issued for the St. John’s metro area, bringing things to a standstill.
But as snowclearing efforts continue, with the help of the Canadian military, things are slowly improving. The state of emergency was still in effect for its sixth day in St. John’s Wednesday, but people were permitted to go to and from the airport.
A Provincial Airlines (PAL) plane was the first to make it out Wednesday morning, followed by the arrival of a WestJet flight and an Air Canada flight, both from Halifax.
St. John’s Airport CEO Peter Avery told reporters a few thousand passengers were expected to come through the airport Wednesday, because extra flights had been added.
He said it was an unprecedented closure and the biggest challenge was keeping ahead of the snow to allow flights to land and take off.
“Our crews have worked very hard all throughout the event to try and keep the airfield open, all the roadways and parking lots open, to be ready when the state of emergency would be lifted,” said Avery, adding it took a concerted effort to allow army personnel to arrive Sunday.
“Things are going fairly well here today. People are a little tired, but happy to be back and happy to be back in operation.”
Perhaps no one was happier about the airport reopening than Deloris Matterface of Fortune, who arrived with her young grandson, Aubrey Jordan (A.J.) Matterface, to be greeted by relatives holding a poster that read, “Welcome home, A.J.! Our warrior.”
The four-year-old had travelled to IWK Health Centre in Halifax a few weeks ago for open-heart surgery to repair two holes in his heart, one in the wall dividing the upper two chambers and another in the wall dividing the lower two.
To the family’s relief, the surgery was a success.
“He did so good. My dear, he’s a warrior. He’s a real trooper,” Deloris said, adding they were delayed only a few days getting home due to the storm.
“Oh my God, you can’t imagine what it’s like to be home. It’s just so wonderful. We’re anxious to get home (to Fortune) now. We’re so thankful for everything and to everyone.”
One traveller arriving Wednesday morning from Halifax was of the four-legged variety.
Piper, a collie-Labrador mix, is a rescue dog from Texas. One of her new owners, Shannah Rastin, who lives in Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, went to St. Stephen, N.B., to pick her up to bring her back to live with her and Tristan Cleveland Thompson.
“She never saw snow. … It was 80 degrees in Texas when she left,” Rastin said, smiling at the pooch, who was calm as she sat atop her kennel for a photo.
“It was just supposed to be a quick drop-in to get her and come back, but we ended up staying a few days longer. … But it’ll be good to get her home and get her adjusted to everything.”
Brook Nolan and Barb Nolan of Vancouver, who are in St. John’s on a family matter, saw more snow than they’ve ever seen before.
“This is a whole new experience for us,” Brook said.
Gail Dick O’Keefe and Margo Connors had been stranded in Montreal for several days, but were following the storm coverage closely.
Another flight, Air Canada 8990 from Halifax, just arrived at #YYT, five days after a storm hit eastern Newfoundland, shutting down operations at the airport. People were relieved to get back. pic.twitter.com/83VjYVqIRx— Rosie Mullaley (@TelyRosie) January 22, 2020
“The restaurants in Montreal are wonderful. We were well fed and well wined,” O’Keefe said, with a chuckle.
Andrea Woodland of Mount Pearl went to Halifax for work meetings last Friday, but ended up staying longer than expected.
“I kept trying to rebook and rebook, but couldn’t with all the cancellations,” she said.
“But glad to have her home now,” added her husband, Todd Woodland.
Adam Smith of Halifax was delayed four days getting to his job on an OceanEx vessel.
“All this snow, it’s wild,” he said. “I can’t wait to see it when I get in the cab.”
But many people are glad to be leaving the vast mounds of snow behind.
On the other side of the terminal, in departures, some people were lined up at airline desks to head out of town.
Angie Lewis of Carbonear was excited to be finally getting out of the province to enjoy a vacation in Florida. She was supposed to leave last Saturday for two weeks.
“We were delayed four days, but I’m just thankful to be getting out today,” she said. “I’m looking forward to some sunshine. I don’t mind leaving the snow behind one bit.”
Nadine Callan, originally from Bellevue Beach and now living in Victoria, was at the automatic check-in terminal. She was looking forward to getting to Missouri to see a new friend she met in a YouTube chat group.
“He kept seeing me in these chats and he finally messaged me,” she said. “He’s been here twice since then and loves it, but this is my first time going there to meet his family. I’m excited.”
Seeing a flight landing now at St. John’s International Airport, the first one since Thursday, WestJet 3428 from Halifax. pic.twitter.com/ZF1aERhOQI— Rosie Mullaley (@TelyRosie) January 22, 2020
Grant Parker of Calgary was in St. John’s on business and was supposed to fly back last Saturday, but ended up having to spend most of his time at the Delta Hotel.
He had nothing but good things to say about his experience.
“I got a bit of cabin fever, but I have to say, people were so nice and did the best they could do for everyone under the circumstances. They were very professional and made sure all their guests were comfortable,” he said.
“I’m just amazed at how well Newfoundlanders persevere, what a sense of humanity they have to their fellow man, taking care of each other … and visitors.”