Residents of coastal N.L. town sift through debris of their homes after Fiona

BURNT ISLANDS, N.L. — Paula Keeping pointed to the window that was once her son's bedroom.

It lay on top of the crumpled remains of her former house, a mess of wood siding and household items in the middle of a road. The debris was piled metres away from where the house stood last week before post-tropical storm Fiona blasted the southwestern Newfoundland community of Burnt Islands.

"I figure my kitchen is out where my porch is too," she said. "It's devastating. Just in disbelief."

Keeping said she is living day by day and still processing the loss of the house where she raised her family.

Her husband, who was away when the storm hit, and their grown children are on the way back to see the scene first-hand, but there's some urgency behind the cleanup process. Keeping's home and others along her street that faced the rocky coast were knocked into the path of a now washed-out road.

Officials in the community said three people living in one home behind the damaged street were still stranded as of Tuesday, with efforts underway to help them get out.

Earlier this week, provincial and federal responders were assessing the situation along Newfoundland's southwestern coast, where the town of Port aux Basques was also hit hard with property loss and one death as Fiona swept through with powerful waves and storm surges on a scale that lifelong residents said they had never witnessed before.

Similar scenes of devastation were visible 30 minutes down the road from Port aux Basques in the smaller community of Burnt Islands, where Keeping's neighbours were out in the streets in the rain on Tuesday helping pick up.

Local contractors brought in heavy machinery to aid the recovery, lifting large chunks of road and other debris. Other people used tools and their hands, while children rode bicycles and played outside amid the wreckage.

Jeremy Pope was using an excavator to sift through the remains of a damaged fishing stage by the town's harbour. Several of the structures were almost fully submerged and others appeared shattered, with their contents floating in the water.

It's an overwhelming job, the likes of which Pope said he hasn't tackled before. "We only are just getting started," he said during a short break from the work. "Do what we can do for now and try to get started, try to get a plan."

The side of town with the small craft harbour saw less severe damage overall, but some people were still sorting through their damaged homes amid the wind and wet weather on Tuesday.

Jamie King was wading with a neighbour through the pile of debris spilling from the torn-away wall of the house he grew up in, trying to salvage what he could and prevent more damage before bad weather hits again.

He became emotional standing in front of the destruction, running through questions about insurance coverage, future income and where he and his family would stay.

"I lost everything," he said. "I don't know what to do or where to go."

The weather and lack of cell service in the community have made recovery work more difficult, King said. While he'd like to be out helping in his capacity as a fire brigade member, his personal losses have taken up his time and energy.

Sharon King, his sister-in-law, was helping him out. Her own home was largely untouched, but seeing her town destroyed by the storm has been like a "nightmare" that's brought her to tears, she said.

"I'm out just doing what I can for everybody else ... whether it's a phone call, a hug, anything else," she said. "We're a small community, but we're all joined together as one."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2022.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press