As the province promises help, Port aux Basques residents hope to rebuild lives shattered by Fiona

Austin Taylor's home is still standing. But a basement flooded with water and fuel may mean the house is no longer habitable. (Yan Theoret/CBC News - image credit)
Austin Taylor's home is still standing. But a basement flooded with water and fuel may mean the house is no longer habitable. (Yan Theoret/CBC News - image credit)
Yan Theoret/CBC News
Yan Theoret/CBC News

On the outside, Austin Taylor's Port aux Basques home looks like it made it through post-tropical storm Fiona relatively unscathed.

Inside is a different story. The house reeks of oil.

"As soon as you open the door, we're in the fuel," Taylor said Wednesday.

Taylor's basement flooded during the storm, which destroyed more than 80 houses in the community on Newfoundland's southwest tip. But the flood in his basement isn't just seawater.

"Somebody's fuel tank … collapsed and it came in the basement with the water," he said.

Taylor said he has been able to remove possessions from the house but everything he takes smells like oil. Now he and his family of four are in limbo, staying in a hotel room together.

"Our house is intact, but where do I go from here?" he asked.

He said the family has filed an insurance claim, but hasn't heard back yet.

Taylor's 29-year-old-daughter has Pitt–Hopkins syndrome, a rare genetic condition that causes cognitive and physical impairment. She sometimes uses a wheelchair, and the home has a wheelchair ramp for accessibility.

"This was her world. She could go and come and do as she wanted," he said.

Because of the environmental risk posed by the fuel, Taylor can't pump the water out of his basement. He doesn't yet know if the home will be habitable again.

"I'm just waiting for answers [about] what they're going to do," he said.

Financial relief to be available as soon as Monday: Furey

Some of those answers may arrive soon. On Wednesday, the provincial government announced a $30-million financial relief package for communities most affected by post-tropical storm Fiona.

That package includes $1,000 per household for people who were temporarily evacuated from their primary residence during the storm and are able to return by Friday, and $10,000 per household for people who were displaced and are now unable to return. A sum of $25 million will go toward affected communities to begin rebuilding.

Mark Quinn/CBC
Mark Quinn/CBC

Meanwhile, groups like the Canadian Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the Lions Club are distributing essential supplies like food and clothing.

About 20 players for the under-13 Blaze Hockey team volunteered to help with relief supplies in Port aux Basques on Wednesday. Those volunteers include Bella Seaward, who lost her home in the storm.

"Even though I lost my house I'm still fortunate because I have my dad's house, and some people don't even have a house right now," she said.

Military could shift to cleanup in coming days

About 150 members of Canada's Armed Forces are also on the ground in southwestern Newfoundland, helping out where they can.

They've been tasked with doing wellness checks and helping the provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastructure assess things like buildings, bridges and roads.

Maj. Thomas St. Onge, commander of the mission in Newfoundland, said most of the members helping out are from the province. Some are even from Port aux Basques.

"They know a lot of the folks that they're helping or they have close ties to the communities where we're operating right now, and they get to work alongside other agencies that are trying to do the same thing," St. Onge said. "For the soldiers that are from Newfoundland and Labrador, this is absolutely a highlight for them and they are proud to be here."

St. Onge said they will stay as long as the provincial government needs them, and their task may shift in the days ahead, as efforts move toward cleaning up debris from the homes that were ripped apart during the storm.

Starting over — away from the water's edge

Tracy Spencer placed sandbags around her property and boarded up her windows before the storm Saturday morning, but in the end, her preparations were futile.

She had about an hour to take her cat and flee before the storm surge smashed into her basement apartment, destroying everything she owned.

"I was told if I had stayed there, I'd have drowned," she said Wednesday. "That's a lot to take."

Mark Quinn/CBC
Mark Quinn/CBC

Before she left, she grabbed some photos of her grandchildren, a family bible, and a memento from her mother.

Now she's trying to pick up the pieces. She said the relief promised by the provincial government is important — though she still hasn't processed what has happened to her.

"I'm hoping I can just rebuild my life with it," she said through tears.

She's been staying with her niece, and has received donations from Harbour Breton — her hometown. She got clothes at the Lions Club.

"I felt a little embarrassed having to go there, but do you know what? When you have nothing left, go. It's for you," she said.

Like other displaced residents who have spoken to CBC News since the storm, Spencer said she wants to start over — but not near the coast.

"I don't want to live by the water anymore."

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