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Province promises Fiona help, Port aux Basques residents hope to rebuild lives

Thursday, September 29th 2022, 1:22 pm - Temporary evacuees will get $1,000, displaced residents will get $10,000

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 on Wednesday.

CBC: Fiona Port aux Basques 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)

Taylor's basement flooded during the storm, which destroyed more than 80 houses in the community. 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 has been able to remove possessions from the house, but said everything he takes smells like oil. Now Taylor 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 which 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 towards affected communities to begin rebuilding.

CBC: Fiona Port aux Basques Bella Seaward, a member of the under-13 Blaze hockey team, volunteered to help distribute supplies for people displaced by post-tropical storm Fiona — even though her own home was destroyed by the storm. (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.

Starting over — away from the water's edge

Tracy Spencer placed sandbags around her property and boarded up her windows before the storm on 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 on Wednesday. "That's a lot to take in."

CBC: Fiona Port aux Baus Tracy Spencer, second from left, said she hopes the financial assistance promised by the provincial government will help her begin to rebuild her life, after post-tropical storm Fiona smashed into her basement apartment. (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."

WATCH MORE: Troops deployed to help Atlantic Canada clean-up after Fiona

This article was originally published for CBC News.

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