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Hurricane Bill knocks out power as it marches through Atlantic Canada

HALIFAX, N.S. - Hurricane Bill brought a steady downpour and fierce winds to Nova Scotia, knocking out power, cancelling flights and drawing curious onlookers hoping to catch a glimpse of crashing waves as it marched through Atlantic Canada on Sunday.

HALIFAX, N.S. - Hurricane Bill brought a steady downpour and fierce winds to Nova Scotia, knocking out power, cancelling flights and drawing curious onlookers hoping to catch a glimpse of crashing waves as it marched through Atlantic Canada on Sunday.

Despite repeated warnings, people gathered in Peggy's Cove, N.S., and along the boardwalk in downtown Halifax as swells grew steadily in strength and size.

"So far, it's pretty wild," said Heather Wright, who was walking along the Halifax harbour.

"We're not going right to the edges or nothing. And we're here mainly to sightsee a bit and go back home and ride it out."

Peter Bowyer, the Canadian Hurricane Centre's program supervisor, warned people to resist venturing along coastlines.

"We just want to emphasize the danger of the kind of waves that are coming into the coastline," Bowyer told a news conference.

"If you want to enjoy them, enjoy them from a distance. Do not enjoy them up-close-and-personal because your enjoyment can end very quickly."

The Category 1 storm weakened somewhat during the day, but still forced the cancellation of dozens of flights throughout the Atlantic region, including airports in Halifax and Moncton, N.B.

As of 3 p.m. Atlantic time on Sunday, the eye of the storm was 75 kilometres east southeast of Halifax, carrying maximum sustained winds of 120 kilometres per hour, the centre said. The storm was moving northeast at 56 km/h.

Power outages were reported throughout Nova Scotia, affecting more than 32,000 customers, according to Nova Scotia Power. Some roadways in the province, including one to Peggy's Cove, were closed.

In addition to flight cancellations, Marine Atlantic cancelled its ferry runs between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland for the day, and public beaches throughout Nova Scotia were closed.

In the town of Lunenburg in southern Nova Scotia, maximum winds reaching 80 km/h were reported.

At one point, a weather buoy about 200 km southeast of Yarmouth, N.S., reported a wave height peaking at 26.4 metres.

Southern Nova Scotia had experienced up to 60 millimetres of rain, while southern New Brunswick reported 20 to 40 mm.

Craig MacLaughlan, CEO of Nova Scotia's Emergency Management Office, said though no major damage was reported, there were cases of localized flooding along the south shore and in the Lawrencetown area east of Halifax.

"I think we can be blessed that it has moved off a bit and that we're not getting some of the damage that we thought (we would)," MacLaughlan said.

But he was quick to point out that Bill wasn't yet finished with Nova Scotia.

"There's still a long ways to go, and we haven't seen the effects of any of the storm surges, we haven't seen the effects of this heavy rain yet," he said.

"We're going to continue to prepare for the worst until we're comfortable that it's off our shores."

Ramona Jennex, the province's minister of emergency management, said it appeared most Nova Scotians were taking the appropriate precautions.

"Nova Scotians are extremely resilient and very well-experienced with storms," she said. "They're making sure that their families are safe and ... are keeping an eye on their neighbours to make sure that they're safe, too."

Jennex said hurricane Juan - which tore through parts of the Maritimes in September 2003 - has taught hardy Nova Scotians not to simply shrug off weather warnings.

"Many lessons were learned through that storm system," said Jennex, who prepared for Bill with a crank radio, flashlights and canned food.

Seven deaths were linked to Juan, which was a Category 2 storm packing winds greater than 152 km/h when it made landfall directly over Halifax.

It knocked down tens of thousands of trees, caused $100 million in property damage and cut power to thousands of homes for up to a week.

Some trees in Halifax lost branches, while water, rocks and debris littered one road, the City of Halifax reported.

The centre warned there was the potential for strong winds to down trees and utility lines, while ripping loose cladding from buildings, before the storm was finished.

Heavy surf with waves of five to eight metres hit the coasts of Nova Scotia. Similar waves were expected for Newfoundland, raising the possibility of shoreline erosion and wharf damage, the centre said.

Even as Bill rolled into the region, Bowyer was unable to say whether wind or rain presented the biggest threat to Atlantic Canadians.

"The biggest impact is completely depending on the location and the vulnerability," he said.

"All we can say is, in general, what the weather conditions and the oceanic conditions will be. Those impacts will play out differently everywhere."

The storm is expected to make landfall in Newfoundland on Monday.

The Canadian Red Cross said it has crews on standby throughout the Atlantic region to deal with the aftermath of the storm.

The organization said municipalities typica lly request help in managing comfort centres if flooding or other damage forces residents from their homes.

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