'Total devastation' as Port aux Basques declares state of emergency due to post-tropical storm Fiona

Multiple homes in Port aux Basques have been destroyed due to storm surge. (Rene Roy/Wreckhouse Press - image credit)
Multiple homes in Port aux Basques have been destroyed due to storm surge. (Rene Roy/Wreckhouse Press - image credit)

Communities in southwestern Newfoundland are grappling with significant damage, including lost homes, flooding and road washouts due to post-tropical storm Fiona.

Everything east of town hall in Port aux Basques is under an emergency evacuation order as the town is pounded by severe winds and storm surge.

"What's actually happening here is total devastation," said Mayor Brian Button.

On Friday, the town had recommended that some residents in homes near the coast evacuate. On Saturday morning, that recommendation became an order.

"We are going to force people out of their homes if we need to. They need to go," he said.

Power lines were down, the town hall was flooded and multiple roads were washed out.

"I'm telling you, it is a mess out there," he said.

Rene Roy/Wreckhouse Press
Rene Roy/Wreckhouse Press

Button said it's too early to say if anyone has been injured, but he said if people don't listen to the evacuation order they are in danger.

The town is also having problems with its water system, and is under a boil advisory.

"This has become bigger, and worse than we had imagined."

Other communities, like Burnt Islands and Burgeo, are dealing with similar situations.

RCMP Cpl. Jolene Garland said multiple residential areas are being evacuated — and in some cases, residents have resisted leaving their homes.

"That's causing a lot of issues and a lot of concern," she said.

Garland said police have received an unconfirmed report that a woman has been washed out to sea. She said first responders haven't been able to reach that location because of the storm surge.

She said police received another report that a woman was washed out to sea after her home collapsed, but she was rescued and brought to the hospital.

The sea began to retreat as tides shifted in the early afternoon, leaving behind a trail of flattened buildings, boulders and other debris. Tipped over sheds and fishing stages dotted the coastline.

One first responder told CBC News that the destruction in the off-limits downtown area was nothing compared to the higher elevations in town.

20 homes damaged or destroyed, nearly 200 people displaced

MHA Andrew Parsons is devastated by the damage Hurricane Fiona has caused to his hometown.

Parsons is the member for Burgeo - La Poile, and hails from Port Aux Basques. He said many of those affected are those closest to him.

"After speaking to the town manager, we're looking at about 200 people displaced," said Parsons.

"Over 20 homes damaged or destroyed. Again, some of these are extremely close friends, people I've known my entire life. Just a flick, just seconds, they lose something that they've worked at."

Button added that these are initial estimates, indicating they are sure to increase over the coming days.

"We know there's more," said Button. "But, we don't know how many, and can't even get out there to look."

The mayor said many of those displaced have been able to find room with family and friends, but the Red Cross and Salvation Army are coordinating and arranging shelter for about 30 people at the local elementary school.

'I took everything'

By mid-morning on Saturday, the storm was wreaking havoc on daily life. Residents, some in tears, rushed to pack vehicles and move away from areas devastated by flooding and storm surge.

Some roads have been washed out, cutting some parts of the community off entirely.

Phil Boyles was one resident forced to flee his home due to the storm surge.

"I took everything everything out that I could try to keep and now it don't look like I can even get back," he said.

Boyles said the community is used to bad weather, but not like this.

Kay Gail was on the way to her job as a personal care worker for a 96-year-old woman, but was forced to turn back near the Port aux Basques town hall because the roads were too dangerous.

Earlier this week, residents told CBC News they were preparing for the worst — but on Saturday, many said this is the worst storm they've ever seen.

'We can replace houses, not lost lives'

John Hogan, provincial minister of Justice and Public Safety, is urging people in the hardest hit areas to stay home and be safe, pointing to the advice of public officials.

"Over the next 24 to 72 hours as the storm continues to move through, the priority is public safety," said Hogan. "We'll look after [figuring] out how to clean up the mess once the storm passes through."

Hogan told CBC News that there had been discussions with federal officials in recent days, with federal Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair offering his full support to the province.

"I can only imagine how devastating it is to lose a family home and all of your belongings," said Hogan.

"It's a very traumatic event families might never get over. But, we can rebuild. We can repair [and] replace houses, but we can't replace lost lives."

In the meantime, Premier Andrew Furey is en route to the province from Turkey following a ceremony dedicating a memorial to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. He tweeted today that he has spoken to both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who offered their support to the people of the province.

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