Town and residents changed forever by Fiona

By Jaymie White

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

– with files from René J. Roy

Editor's note: Some of these interviews were collected by René J. Roy on behalf of CBC Radio's The Current and with CBC's consent, have also been reproduced here.

PORT AUX BASQUES — It’s been more than six weeks since post-tropical depression Fiona made landfall on the Southwest Coast, and families who are displaced, families who have lost significant pieces of their lives, are doing their best to cope and move forward.

When Fiona hit, Brian Osmond woke up about 6:50 that morning, and something about the height of the water told him he should move his truck that he always kept parked in front of his house.

“I put it up to Stu’s house, my brother, and as I was going in through his door, the wave took me. It took the bridge. The bridge was on top of me,” said Osmond. “Stu thought I was gone, but when I finally got it off me and got out of the water, he came and grabbed me and took me in his house. When he took me in the house, I took all the wet clothes off. He gave me dry clothes, and by the time I got the dry clothes on my house was gone, the apartment building. Everything was gone.”

Osmond said it only took 10 minutes for that destruction to occur.

“It wasn’t very long because I took the clothes off as soon as I walked in the house, the water was running right down me, and in 10 or 15 minutes at the most, everything was gone. Everything I had.”

Osmond said things are going pretty well, under the circumstances, but he will avail of more help.

“Trying to keep it out of my mind. I went over to see the social worker yesterday. She is going to try to help me.”

Currently Osmond is in an apartment located a few blocks from where his home once stood, and he is unsure of whether he will stay there or buy a new house once everything is figured out. He is appreciative of the assistance he received from the Red Cross, but there is one aspect that bothers him.

“The only thing I can't understand is that people who are in a hotel, they’re paying for it, but they won’t help me to pay for my rent in the apartment,” said Osmond. “I asked them and they said they don’t pay rent. They will pay for a hotel, B&B’s and that, but they won’t pay rent, and if you’re living with your sister, they won’t give anything either. I was talking to a lady who said they might be working on something for later on, but other than that, everything is pretty good.”

Lori Dicks is another resident who was displaced, and her home is being demolished because of the damage sustained during the storm.

“I’m doing okay, but it’s been rough,” said Dicks. “It’s (life) changed dramatically. Mentally it’s very hard.”

Dicks said her experiences with the Red Cross have been amazing, but so much has changed within the community.

“Everybody is just so down. It’s really brought the town down, but the support around town has been terrific. Everybody here is just so caring, so compassionate, and letting us feel our pain too.”

Dicks owns a hair salon, which was once located in her home, and she has since moved to another location to get some normalcy back.

“I’ve got a home-based business and no home to put it in. This isn’t how I wanted things to be. It would’ve been a year on November 1st that I was open.”

Shawna Baker shared that her parents lost their home during Fiona, a home they lived in for about 60 years.

“You can’t go back in the house anymore. There’s a lot of damage, structural damage and, of course, there was a lot of water inside, so the contents are destroyed too.”

Baker's parents are currently being put up at Hotel Port aux Basques courtesy of the Red Cross.

“It’s a huge adjustment. They don’t have any of their things around them. All their pictures have been destroyed, family pictures, the rocking chair they would sit in. That’s not there,” said Baker “My Dad is dealing with an illness. He is hanging in there. My Mom is a strong woman. She is doing well. She is adjusting.”

Baker said the future for her parents remains uncertain.

“We talk about it, what the future looks like or where they are going to live in the future, but they really don’t know at this time what’s going to happen,” said Baker. “The unknown is very stressful, not knowing if they’re going to have a home again, if they’re going to be living in a senior complex. They really don’t know what the future looks like.”

Gertie Kane said the emotional toll Fiona has taken is difficult to describe.

“It’s hard to explain to be honest. I’m sitting here now, looking through the window at my daughter’s house, looking down to where my house used to be, and knowing you can’t go back there again, there's nothing left to go back to. It’s all been demolished.”

Since losing her home in the storm, Kane's life has changed unexpectedly.

“We don’t know where the future is going to take us, and at our age right now, to even think about taking on a mortgage – our home was free and clear. We didn’t have a mortgage or anything on it. To start over like that would be very hard and there’s no housing around here. It’s a crisis. There’s nowhere you can go to rent.”

Kane said the community support has been amazing.

“We have had a lot of support. The Salvation Army has been excellent, the Lions Club, town council and Mr. Button. We can’t ask for any better. They’re doing everything they can, but there’s a lot of us in the same boat.”

Kane's primary concern is one that has been echoed by many of the displaced families.

“I need a place to live. We lost everything. The only thing we saved was a little bit of clothes and a few small appliances on the countertop in our kitchen. Everything else was ruined,” said Kane. “What wasn't ruined with the sea water and sludge was ruined with furnace oil that came from an oil tank that went in through our basement. We don’t have anything. We have to start right from the forks up.”

Denise Pike Anderson said that she is lucky that she is able to stay in an apartment her mother-in-law has available, but going from a four-bedroom home to a one-bedroom apartment is a difficult adjustment. Like other displaced homeowners, Anderson remains frustrated with the lack of answers.

“We know our home is being demolished, but we know nothing else,” said Anderson. “It’s not the point of communication. It’s the point that nobody seems to have answers for us. Are they giving me the worth of my house with town taxes, or town assessments? Are they doing square footage? We’re not supposed to remove anything from our home. I took stuff I’m not going to claim because if I didn’t it is going to be ruined. We've only been in our home three-and-a-half years so everything is new, and now we’re starting to question whether we should’ve done that because they’re saying we shouldn’t have done that. It’s just a lot of questions and not a lot of answers, and that’s not on the fault of the Town itself, the office, because they’re just as in the dark as we are, going through this process with the government relief program.”

Another disappointing realization was that Anderson's shed and the contents will not be part of the appraisal and monetary compensation package.

“No matter what I lost in my shed, I’m out that,” said Anderson. “I was told that yesterday (Monday, Oct. 31) when I was talking to the government officials.”

Anderson was told there may be another program in the future that will include it, but currently only the home and the contents are part of that relief package. She also lost almost everything in her basement, which was a complete write off, but she managed to find some mementos that were upstairs.

She goes down to her home every day to open the windows and let air circulate, in an attempt to salvage everything she possibly can.

“I’m more fortunate than others because some people didn’t get anything out of their homes, and I wasn’t about to let the stuff I could save turn into unsavable. Because the dampness is in my home, the mold has already started, and if I kept waiting, nothing would be savable.”

Some of the funding available doesn’t really make sense either.

“I found out this morning that a new program came out through the Red Cross, up to $2,500, which is wonderful, but it was from Sept. 24 to Oct. 31, so you have to save your receipts, and we all just found out about this today. So if you didn’t save your receipts and you’re staying in a hotel, how are you going to buy things? Where are you going to keep it?”

Still, Anderson was happy to hear that people living with families or renting apartments will soon be receiving extra assistance, just like those put up in a hotel.

“Some people still have mortgages, so they would be paying their mortgages and paying rent,” said Anderson. ”I have to help my mother-in-law out, for example. I’ve done 42 loads of laundry since being here. There’s two extra people in her home that are showering every day. The heat's now on in the basement that she probably wouldn’t have on. A dehumidifier is going 24 hours around the clock where our stuff is stored. That’s all going to drive her light bill up and we still have bills from our home yet.”

Even for those who have a home to return to, the stress and anxiety felt in the aftermath of Fiona still remains and consumes their time, and takes a toll.

Edgar Reid’s home was far enough away from the water, but after Fiona hit there wasn’t nearly as much yard frontage left.

“There was some major damage to the land around my home. I lost my patio, siding, damage to some windows. The land itself was the major destruction,” explained Reid. “I was approximately 20 feet away (from the water). I have two feet now. That’s all that’s left of the land in one area.”

Reid is a volunteer firefighter and left his home around early Sept. 24 to help with the evacuations.

“I guess around 9:30 my wife called and said the patio was blowing off the house, and at that time she was getting ready to leave,” said Reid. “Thinking back on it, I’m surprised I didn’t leave and go home. I thought about that several times after. I was staying there, in an area that was pretty much destroyed, and my home up there is being destroyed as well.”

Reid said they aren’t completely sure of what is going to happen with their home moving forward.

“I understand that the town has done Phase 1, which means that everyone who has to be displaced has been notified, so I’m assuming that we will not have to leave.”

Reid has also observed that since Fiona ripped through the town a lot has changed.

“It’s almost like a ghost place. There’s no movement of people. You go around town and your close friends will speak to you, but everything else is silent. The traffic around town is almost down to nil. At one time you would sit out your window and watch the traffic go by, but you don’t see that anymore.”

Reid said getting back to normal is something that won’t happen overnight.

“I think it’s going to take a while to get back to normal, if that’s the right way to put it. Normal. No one wants to leave their home, obviously, no one. Having to leave, where you will go, it’s shocking to even think about.”

Frank Spencer said that in the aftermath of Fiona, he had some struggles, but he has dealt with them and is currently doing fine.

“I lived with passion in my home, which is in the affected area. I must’ve taken a dozen pictures and posted on Facebook of different sunsets. I loved where I lived. I’m having a little bit of difficulty getting the passion back. Matter of fact, I get the negative of passion. When I look out my window now, I just see destruction. My dream view has become a little bit of a, not a nightmare, but a little less of a dream view.”

Spencer shared that he hasn’t currently availed of the mental health supports being offered.

“I haven’t seeked any, but I’m fairly well equipped to avail of self-help. I did speak to one girl in passing from the Red Cross. She was there addressing some of the mental health concerns, but we just talked a bit. I’m more worried about other people than I am about myself.”

Spencer has witnessed both positive and negative changes.

“The positive change in the community is everyone is out trying to help everybody. The negative side is everybody seems to be going around in a bit of a daze,” said Spencer. “They haven’t really absorbed the fullness of the incident. There’s still houses to come down, which I fear is going to affect the mental health of even more people, because the scene is changing right in front of them, daily. The community has gotten stronger in that it has pulled together, but it’s divided with emotions and people are talking about the storm mostly. They keep seeing new devastation. I can drive around town any day and see something I haven’t seen before, and if I concentrate on the devastation it interferes with my mental health. So I avoid the devastated areas to get it off my mind.”

Karen Kettle, a business owner in Port aux Basques, said that things are still difficult.

“It’s not easy. There’s a lot of stress and anxiety. We’re not in Phase 1, so we’re being told we have to wait until Phase 1 people have been looked after and then they’ll move on to the next lot of properties. We don’t know if we’re in that lot or where we fit to on the list, but our home is red flagged and we just feel like sitting ducks because we don’t know if the phone is going to ring today and we have to leave. We don’t know how soon we have to leave. We don’t know if we’re going to be staying. There’s a lot of uncertainty."

Graham McDonald suffered significant damage to his home on Water Street West, and he has been included in Phase 1, meaning his house is also coming down. Until he got that notification, he still hoped that he would be able to return home.

“Now it’s just a waiting game, hoping. I don’t think I’m going to get enough to build a new home. I still have a mortgage to pay, and that’s what hurts the most now because now I’ve got two lots of bills.”

McDonald and his family were lucky enough to find temporary lodgings while they figure out what happens next.

“A fellow bought a house from Ontario, but he let us go in there because he is coming home next May or June, so he let us go in his house. God love him, but other than that, it’s two lots of bills. The banks down there want their money.”

McDonald believes it is important now to focus on those families who have nothing left and nowhere to go, so he isn’t as disappointed with how answers are being given by the government.

“They lost literally everything. They watched their homes get washed out to sea, so I’ve got no issues with it. That’s fine. That’s perfect. But as for me, I would soon like to know something about what’s going on, so I can make some kind of a plan going forward. I’m almost 50 years old and I’ve got to start from scratch.”

After Fiona, the safety McDonald once felt is understandably shaken and he is unsure whether he would want to rebuild by the sea again.

“I loved where my home was. I could go out on my lawn in the evenings, sit on my lawn chair and look out over it. My wife loved it. My daughter loved it, but now I’m a bit antsy. I never ever thought – I don’t think anybody thought – this was going to happen.”

Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wreckhouse Weekly News