Displaced Port aux Basques residents are 'just trying to keep things together'

Government, military to assess needs of communities, premier says

As residents of southwest Newfoundland try to salvage items from homes destroyed by post-tropical storm Fiona, heavy rainfall and potential flooding threaten to ruin whatever is left.

A doll, hockey cards and a "Home is Where the Heart Is" sign were among the piles of rubble in Port aux Basques where several homes once stood. Some areas remain inaccessible to residents because of severely damaged infrastructure.

FORECAST: Rain and recovery efforts continue in Atlantic Canada

Environment Canada has issued a rainfall warning for Port aux Basques and vicinity, with 40 to 70 millimetres of rain expected between Tuesday and Wednesday morning, with the potential for 100 millimetres in areas with the heaviest downpours.

"This additional rainfall could impact ongoing cleanup efforts from the damages inflicted by post-tropical storm Fiona," the warning reads. "Localized flooding in low-lying areas is possible. Heavy downpours can cause flash floods and water pooling on roads."


This aerial drone photo shows extensive damage to homes in Port aux Basques, N.L., on Saturday. (Yan Theoret/CBC)

The ground in the area is already saturated after 77 millimetres of rain fell during post-tropical storm Fiona, which struck on Saturday. As the rain streamed down, heavy machinery dug through the remnants of houses that stood by the water for decades.

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Canadian Forces begin work

About 25 reservists from the 37 Canadian Brigade Group, based in Moncton, N.B., have been dispatched to the area so far. A bigger complement is expected Tuesday, totalling about 100 members from three platoons. At least one naval ship has also been tasked with helping out in coastal communities.

They've been joined by members of the Canadian Rangers from Newfoundland and Labrador.

Warrant Officer Bradley McInnis of the Canadian Ranger Patrol Group in Gander was in Port aux Basques on Tuesday to assess what is needed from the military.

"Since we got on the ground here, our rangers have been helping out with the local fire department and the local ground search and rescue as well," he said.


Warrant Officer Bradley McInnis, with the Canadian Ranger Patrol Group out of Gander, was in Port aux Basques to assess what the community needs from the military. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

He said about 67 rangers will arrive in the community by the end of Tuesday.

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The cleanup will be massive, with residents in several communities telling CBC News they expect it will take weeks, if not months, to remove the debris and unsalvageable houses.

Jerry Musseau, Channel-Port aux Basques fire chief, said the town will need plenty of help with cleanup and infrastructure repair.

"It's not going to be cleaned up in a matter of months. It's probably going to take a year, probably even longer," he said.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, Musseau said, the fire department was focused on keeping people away from dangerous areas. Now the rangers are helping keep those areas secure.

He described the scene in town as "a war zone."

"I never would've thought that something like this could happen in Port aux Basques," he said.

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Gathering supplies

In the meantime, people across the province are pooling resources to help out those who have been most affected. A truckload of clothes was set to arrive in Port aux Basques on Tuesday morning, all donated to people who lost everything when the storm surge battered their homes.

The Port aux Basques Salvation Army Thrift Store distributed water, personal hygiene products and clothes on Tuesday.

"Today, everything is free," said store supervisor Darlene Collier. "Just come on in."

The supplies are badly needed by residents like Melissa Barr, who was forced to flee her coastal home with her husband and children during the storm.

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Melissa Barr and her family are some of the displaced residents in southwestern Newfoundland who need supplies like clothes and food after post-tropical storm Fiona. (Waqas Chughtai /CBC)

She said their home is still standing but has been damaged beyond repair. The family left their home with only medication and the clothes on their backs.

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"Thankfully, with all the donations that we've been getting, we're at least getting clothes, because we only had what we were wearing, toys for the kids. Like it's been amazing in that sense," she said.

Barr said she's received monetary donations and has applied for housing through the Canadian Red Cross.

"Just trying to keep things together," she said.

Federal, provincial officials in town

People will need more than just clothes, however, and Premier Andrew Furey said the province will take part in a co-ordinated effort to assess the needs of residents in the coming days and weeks and "determine how to best match those needs with the expertise offers through the military institutions or the volunteers."

According to a Tuesday afternoon press release, Furey, Burgeo-La Poile MHA Andrew Parsons and Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Elvis Loveless will reveal details of a $30-million relief package for people affected by the storm at a media briefing in Port aux Basques on Wednesday morning.

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In another press release, a spokesperson said the provincial government has established an command centre for the response to the storm, and officials will help municipalities with structural assessments, road repairs and debris cleanup.

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Liberal MPs Gudie Hutchings and Seamus O'Regan surveyed the damage in Port aux Basques on Tuesday.

Hutchings said federal resources are aimed at immediate needs first.

"Right now it's, do people have food, shelter, clothing? Do kids have toys? Do the dogs have dog food?" she said.

She said the federal funding will roll out through the provincial emergency response, but federal officials will assist with rebuilding. She said rebuilding has to be done with climate change in mind.

"These storms are only getting more and more and more severe," she said.

About 100 homes have been destroyed. Many people are staying with family members or in hotels. Furey said he hopes to have a "robust" provincial support program for people who have been displaced, and a federal plan to assist with funding as well.

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Furey will be touring the towns hit the hardest on Tuesday, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to arrive in the region on Wednesday.

This article was originally published for CBC News. It contains files from Malone Mullin and Ellen Mauro.