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Islanders rally to help community rocked by disappearance of teens at sea

Last Updated Sep 18, 2020 at 4:38 pm EDT

ALBERTON, P.E.I. — People from across Prince Edward Island were doing what they could to support volunteers desperately searching for two 17-year-old boys missing after their small boat capsized Wednesday night off the coast of Prince Edward Island.

At a makeshift headquarters at a community centre in Northport, near the spot where the boys went missing, Wendy McNeill said she’s been overwhelmed and amazed by the support.

It has ranged from people in Charlottetown sending money to the local bakery to pay for food to be sent to the community centre to politicians from all over the Island calling, or in one case stopping by with a lemon loaf.

“People are coming here, they’re sitting for a little while, they’re having a cup of tea … they just want to feel a sense of being near. If they can’t walk the shore, then they want to be here to help the search or just give moral support,” she said.

The parking lot at the wharf is consistently full of young people who’ve shown up to help, watch or just be together as they wait for word about their two friends, she said.

McNeill said it’s obvious the boys are well loved.

Three people were in the boat when it capsized near Northport, on the western end of Prince Edward Island, according to the Maritime Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax. One boy made it safely back to shore, and a massive search involving military aircraft and coast guard vessels began for the other two.

After about 20 hours, the Maritime Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre suspended its search and said the matter would be turned over to the RCMP as a missing persons case.

But at the command centre in Northport, McNeill said searchers maintained hope. She was there Friday morning, handing out breakfast sandwiches to anyone heading out to keep looking.

The community centre windows look out on the water, and she said there’d been fishing vessels heading out all day to help look for the boys. Local RCMP said in a release they were on scene helping with the search.

In O’Leary, where the boys are known as accomplished hockey players, the minor hockey association announced Thursday night that it was postponing its registration night. Andrew Avery, the town’s recreation director, said a women’s recreational league softball tournament had also been put on hold.

In a small, sports-focused town like O’Leary, pretty much any team will have players who are family members, close friends or involved in the ongoing search for the boys, Avery said.

“There’s just more important things than ball right now,” he said.

He said everyone in the town was doing whatever they could to help, setting up warming stations for searchers and bringing food to the community centre in Northport.

He’s worried about the weather: meteorologists are warning Islanders to prepare for Hurricane Teddy as it barrels toward the region.

“That could put everybody back to square one, depending if it hits and how hard it hits,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2020.

— By Sarah Smellie in St. John’s, N.L.

The Canadian Press