By Jaymie White
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
– with files from René J. Roy
PORT AUX BASQUES — Even before post-tropical depression Fiona made landfall in Port aux Basques, provincial news crews headed to the Southwest coast to cover the storm. They had been here less than a year before when the region had been cut off from the province due to multiple washouts on the Trans Canada Highway, and all projections were that Fiona would be worse.
Those projections unfortunately proved accurate, and media from across the country soon flocked to the area to report on Fiona's devastation. One of those to cover the aftermath of the storm was Ross Lord, Senior Digital Broadcast Journalist and Global National's Atlantic correspondent based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Reporting on Fiona sent Lord to Port aux Basques for the first time, and the town has left a lasting impression.
“I would say in the last roughly 30 years I've been to Newfoundland a lot of times. St. John’s disproportionately, but Corner Brook, Gander, Grand Falls-Windsor, Badger, Bonavista, Trout River, St. Anthony, and Marystown two or three times, but never been to Port aux Basques. I always wanted to go to Port aux Basques, thought it might, and still think it will be – a retirement trip for my wife and I, which is hopefully not too far from now, because she loves this province. She knows more about Newfoundland and Labrador than I do even though I’ve been here way more than her. She’s an amateur historian,” said Lord. “My first impression of the town was it is a beautiful town. My second impression was what the hell happened? The closer you get to the devastation and the debris fields, and then you go to different neighborhoods and realize, ‘oh, there’s another one.’ I’ve never been to an aftermath like this that was so devastating on people’s properties in such a large cluster in a small town, more than one town at that.”
Lord said that being present and walking among those who have lost so much is a completely different experience than watching it unfold on television.
“It’s just being close to it and thinking about the impact and knowing – coming from a small town, living in a small town now – knowing the impact is not really measured in numbers, it’s measured by degrees of separation and everything, because when something happens to someone, everybody knows about it and most people know that person or know someone well who knows that person.”
Lord said it can be hard at times, when reporting on these types of situations, to be able to find the right words to describe it.
“Pretty much every time we go there and talk to people, look at the damage and the devastation, we’re the ones who are supposed to find the right words to describe it, and there’s times – and today was another one of those days where I’m almost stunned, and you know you have to get out of it because you have a deadline – and you’re just kind of stunned. It’s like the words aren’t coming today and I’m just in this moment that I’m not really allowed to be in.”
The true impact of what he is seeing has caused the veteran journalist to think back to other situations he's covered throughout his career.
“Certain images or people or moments come back into my mind a lot from things we’ve covered over the decades,” said Lord. “We can go into a neighbourhood and talk to people about something so awful and tragic and feel nothing but warmth from those people, which is increasingly rare. I don’t know if Newfoundlanders are tired of that cliché, being doted over for their niceness. It's just real, it’s natural, and it’s so warm and lovely to feel that, especially now, because some of the things we cover now are the total opposite,” said Lord. “Not that this is exclusive to Newfoundland and Labrador, but I was struck by the woman we interviewed in Burnt Islands, one of the women there, Paula Keeping, as we stood beside her house, which was totally destroyed, about how resilient I could tell she was. I wasn’t asking her, ‘Are you ever going to be able to overcome this.’ She just voluntarily said, ‘You know what? It’s going to change and I’m going to move and I’m not moving backwards. I’m moving forward.’ She was so emphatic and sure of that. I thought that was really impressive. There was no wallowing in self-pity. There was just, you know what, I’m going to get beyond, and we are going to move forward.’”
When Lord began the initial preparations began to go to Newfoundland and Labrador, the true impact of Fiona didn’t seem to be as devastating as what it actually was revealed to be.
“I’m struck by pretty much every image we’ve encountered,” said Lord. “The numbers sounded like three or four. We knew because one of the Facebook videos was out fairly early, but then the number kept growing. I remember talking to people on the Sunday, the first responders, saying it was going to be way more than 20."
Lord hopes that the help coming from the province and the charitable fundraisers for those individuals affected will come swiftly.
“I’m struck a lot of times by how the loveliest communities are sometimes the hardest hit by these storms and this extreme weather, the nicest people, and it doesn't seem fair, but of course there is no fairness. I do get struck by that and all through the years of covering these, it’s often the small coastal communities that really get hit and we generally find those are very natural, dignified, and gracious people, the last people I would wish it upon,” said Lord. “I hope Port aux Basques comes through. I hope the governments who are promising to help people come through in good time, in fast times, and make that happen for people, so they don’t have to navigate bureaucracies on top of the anguish and things they are already putting up with.”
Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wreckhouse Weekly News