Standing precariously by the water’s edge, the wreckage of what was once a home is one of the constant reminders of Fiona’s destruction in Port aux Basques, N.L.
Three months since the storm hit, the remains of the house — and the brown sofa thrown onto the front lawn — are still there.
All an indication of the long and difficult recovery still ahead.
While the provincial government has provided some details about the recovery plan for those whose homes were among the 101 condemned buildings, there are some families who say they’re stuck in limbo.
They’re unsure what the future holds and whether they can rebuild their lives in this coastal town.
The Savery family
Peggy and Lloyd Savery worked for 40 years to secure their ideal home to retire in: a blue house perched on the edge of the water.
Now, all that’s left of that house is a small L-shaped wall.
“I loved it; it was my dream home,” Peggy Savery says. “I loved looking out my kitchen window at the ocean.”
She doesn’t feel that way anymore.
“I just shake my head and wonder how I ever felt safe there because it doesn’t feel safe anymore.”
The Saverys had home insurance, but they were told their claim was denied because they were not covered for storm surge.
Now they’re left wondering if they’ll get enough money from the government to start over.
The province says, based on an assessment, each family will get a minimum of $200 reimbursement for each square foot of their home, as well as money for lost belongings and for land or a ‘suitable land option.’
Since the Savery home was destroyed, the family had to supply photos to show what it used to look like as part of their provincial application.
“Until the money is in the bank, you’re still really nervous,” Peggy Savery says. “You can’t make plans for the future because you don’t know for sure what you’re going to get.”
It’s also unclear, she says, how long the process will take.
The family is now living with Lloyd’s niece in a different part of town — far away from the water.
“It’s been stressful because nothing really feels like your own,” says the couple’s son, Josh. “Everything feels temporary because it is, and you don’t really know what the next day is going to bring or what the next week is going to bring.
“No one is really giving any good time frames or letting you know what’s going to happen next.”
As for the holidays, Peggy says Christmas will be difficult not only for her family but for everyone who suffered loss.
“It’s hard to embrace Christmas and the joy. I think after a while it gets tiresome to hear you should be thankful … I am thankful, don’t get me wrong. But it’s still really hard because this is my little world and for me, I’ve lost everything.”
WATCH | Still displaced by Fiona:
The Taylor family
For Austin Taylor, the last three months have been full of ups and downs. Mostly downs, he says.
It took him 24 years to pay off his mortgage, owning the house outright for four years. Then his home was declared condemned after Fiona; water mixed with fuel flooded his basement.
Taylor, his wife and his daughter are now renting a house in town. The lease is month-to-month.
“We’re here, but it’s not home. We can’t call it home,” Taylor says. “It’s just a place to stay. You can’t make it home because you don’t know when you’ve got to leave. You know it’s not yours, you can’t do what you normally would do. It feels out of place.”
Though the rental unit doesn’t yet feel like a home for the family, Taylor says he is trying to change that.
The family room is full of Christmas decorations — miniature houses, Santa, the nativity scene and Mickey Mouse figurines are scattered throughout. And, of course, there’s his daughter’s favourite toy, Mark the Moose.
It’s all for his 29-year-old daughter, Hillary. She has a rare condition that causes developmental delays and keeps asking to go home.
“That’s when it gets hard,” her father says.
WATCH | Making the most of a temporary home:
Taylor says they’ve tried to make his daughter’s room similar to the one in their house. But the stress of displacement has affected Hillary, he says.
“She’ll come home from her care worker and she won’t stop, she wants to go to bed. Before she’d play for hours.”
To get inside their temporary home, the Taylors have to climb 10 stairs, which isn’t easy for Hillary. She has a fear of heights.
Her care worker stands behind her, while Taylor stands in front, holding her hand as he slowly guides her down one step at a time.
“Sometimes she can be on that step for 15 minutes.”
Taylor is getting a ramp built, but work was stopped because of bad weather.
Taylor doesn’t want to rebuild; he’d rather buy an old house and fix it up. He’s 58 and wonders if a bank would give him another loan.
Like the Savery family, Taylor’s insurance claim was denied.
He paid home insurance for the last 28 years, he says — and he’s still paying.
The town has advised residents not to stop payments. They could be liable if, for example, a piece of their property flies off and causes damage to someone else’s home.
“I feel like I got robbed twice,” Taylor says. “We paid the insurance, we got nothing. We still got to pay insurance and we still got nothing.”
He wants the town to demolish his home so that he can stop paying insurance.
The Bragg family
For 49 years, Dorothy Bragg and her husband, Calvin, woke up to a view of the ocean.
But in the last few months, she knew something was different. The sea wasn’t the same.
“The last year, I packed four times to leave our house. The sea was so high, the winds were howling,” she says. “I was ready to leave, because I was scared that the seas were going to come up and wash us away.”
On Sept. 24, as Fiona slammed into the town, the waves washed away Bragg’s backyard along with a shed and nearly five-metre high wall.
Her husband built the wall — logs nailed together and filled with rocks — to protect their house from the sea.
Their house is still standing, but it’s been condemned. It was where the seniors were supposed to spend their retirement years.
“We can’t go back there. It’s just been very hard. I’ve said to my husband, ‘What will we do? What are we going to do?’ And he doesn’t know any more than I do. It’s been difficult.”
Housing is limited in the small coastal town.
Following the storm, Bragg and her husband moved around before going to a hotel for a month. They checked out in mid-December and moved two hours north to live with their daughter near Stephenville.
She doesn’t know if they’ll return to Port aux Basques. Her husband was born there and it’s where she was raised. She is still active in the community, baking cakes and taking them back to town on the bus.
Bragg hopes that as Port aux Basques rebuilds it will put up an apartment building specifically for seniors.
WATCH | First Christmas post Fiona:
No matter where Bragg ends up, one thing is for certain — she says she’ll never live by the sea again.
“I’m just hoping and praying that things will work out for us.”
The Strickland family
The view from the dining room is partly what sold Scott Strickland on his house. His family moved in 21 years ago, but he doesn’t know if he and his wife will be allowed to stay much longer.
Strickland’s kitchen was flooded by Fiona. The siding on part of his home is gone. He was also told there is structural and electrical damage.
“It does play on your nerves,” he says. “Every creak in the wall that you hear and now you’re wondering, ‘Is something going to collapse?'”
WATCH | An uncertain future:
Strickland says he hasn’t heard anything yet from the town on whether he will be allowed to stay.
His insurance claim was denied. He doesn’t want to spend tens of thousands of dollars of his own money fixing a house that could ultimately be demolished.
“It’s been a wild ride, a lot of anxiety, a lot of questions.”
Even if Strickland is allowed to stay he’s not sure he should.
“It would be tough to leave, but even tougher to stay.”
Fiona tore away part of his backyard. There isn’t much left separating his house from the water.
“You see the ocean today, it looks really beautiful and pristine, but you can hear, it’s always in the back of your mind,” he says.
“We’re seeing a change even in the 20 years we’ve lived here, the storms are more frequent and more intense. I can’t see how, long term, we’re going to expect people to stay here or rebuild. It’s just dangerous.”
What comes next
Port aux Basques Mayor Brian Button agrees. He says the town is discussing what to do with people like Strickland now living in vulnerable areas.
“These are the homes that we really have to look at now and to make a decision on and say, ‘Are they going to stay or are they going to go?'” Button says, adding it’s likely most people will have to move. “Fiona has left us in a big mess. We have big decisions that have to be made.”
For now, Button says crews are trying to fix the town’s infrastructure so that anyone in a vulnerable area can at least stay through the winter. There aren’t enough available homes to move everyone.
The town is also working on plans to build new homes. There are about 350 lots available in the northern part of Port aux Basques — far from the ocean.
“There are a lot of things going on behind the scenes of trying to get to where we need to be,” Button says. “The rebuild is going to be a big process.”
To help rebuild, the province has set aside $30 million in Fiona relief, while the federal government has allocated $1.3 billion to cover costs in the provinces affected by the storm. It’s not yet been determined how much of that money will go to help rebuild in Port aux Basques.