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Swissair Tragedy

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Residents helping soldiers at Blandford encampment

Mark Roberts
Lighthouse staff

 BLANDFORD - Blandford's army of volunteers invaded the hearts of the Canadian military last week, as the search for debris from Swissair Flight 111 continues from a large base established here at the District #1 Community Centre.

 A little over 300 military personnel - the number fluctuates from day to day - are eating, showering and sleeping at the community hall. Portable toilet facilities, showers, numerous trucks, buses and other army vehicles and tents cover the grounds outside the facility, literally turning the busy community centre into an army encampment. Inside are living quarters set up in the same auditorium normally used for bingo and dances. Hundreds of cots are lined up in rows on the floor. For hygiene reasons, many of the troops and reservists are sleeping in tents outside the centre. Helicopters sit on the adjacent baseball field where children normally play.

 Blandford resident Marilyn Publicover is one of many helping co-ordinate a community effort to assist the force. She takes telephone calls from armed forces personnel in need of homemade baked goods. "They want cookies and homemade things because it makes them feel closer to home."

 Once an order is placed, she said, women from Hubbards, Blandford, Northwest Cove and Chester, to name just a few examples, march into the community centre, led by the fire department ladies' auxiliary. The Chester Royal Canadian Legion donated sandwiches to the troops. Local stores have donated food. Blandford firefighters are providing around-the-clock support for the troops.

 Mrs. Publicover said, "Everybody has been wonderful. The community has been wonderful. Everyone has been working together."

 Residents need to help, she added, although they don't expect to heal quickly. "As we walk the beaches and look out our windows, it's going to take a long time to get over this. Our hearts go out to them [victims and families]."

 Armed forces personnel have an on-site kitchen from which main meals are dished out to tired soldiers. They have been at the centre since September 5 and do not know when they are going home. The reservists left last weekend.

 Warrant Officer Etienne Degready, who organized the encampment, said many of the soldiers are accustomed to "hard rations" and need home-cooked food and local support for morale reasons. Despite the tragedy of what they are witnessing, his humour remains intact. "I think they're trying to fatten us up. They're bringing us lots of goodies." He added, more seriously, "We've had outstanding support from everybody we meet. People are very nice and very generous."

 Soldiers and reservists from CFB Gagetown, the P.E.I regiment, the PLF, Nova Scotia Highlanders I and II, the 45th Field Regiment, the West Novies Regiment, the Harbour Defence Unit and CFB Halifax helicopters and crews are stationed at the centre. Diving teams are working out of New Harbour. A counselling service is offered each night.

 Captain Rob Grant, from CFB Headquarters in Halifax, said the local effort offers soldiers a brief respite from the horrors they see daily on the water. "These ladies come in and it's like being close to home. They know someone is looking after them."


Hundreds of Canadian military and reserve personnel based out of the Blandford Community Centre are searching the coastline and ocean waters off the Aspotogan Peninsula for debris from the crashed jet. Shown are reservists from Sydney searching the shoreline along Deep Cove near East River.

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