‘Total devastation’ as Port aux Basques declares state of emergency due to post-tropical storm Fiona

Communities in southwest Newfoundland are grappling with significant damage, including lost homes, flooding and road washing from post-tropical storm Fiona.

Everything east of City Hall in Port aux Basques is under an emergency evacuation order as high winds and storm surges hit the town.

“What is actually happening here is total devastation,” Mayor Brian Button said.

On Friday, the city recommended evacuating some residents of houses near the coast. On Saturday morning, that recommendation became an order.

“We will force people out of their homes if necessary. You have to go,” he said.

Power lines were cut, City Hall was flooded and several streets were washed away.

“I’m telling you, it’s a mess out there,” he said.

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A long shot of the house about to plunge into a raging ocean.
Several houses in Port aux Basques were destroyed by storm surges. (Rene Roy/Wreckhouse Press)

Button said it was too early to say if anyone was injured, but he said if people don’t heed the evacuation order they are in danger.

The city also has problems with its water system and is under a boiling warning.

“It got bigger and worse than we imagined.”

Other communities such as Burnt Islands and Burgeo are struggling with similar situations.

RCMP Cpl. Jolene Garland said several residential areas are being evacuated – and in some cases, residents have resisted leaving their homes.

“It causes a lot of problems and a lot of concern,” she said.

Garland said police received an unconfirmed report that a woman had been washed into the sea. She said first responders could not reach that location because of the storm surge.

She said police received another report that a woman was washed into the sea after her home collapsed, but she was rescued and taken to hospital.

The sea began to recede in the early afternoon as the tide changed, leaving a trail of flattened buildings, boulders and other debris. Fallen sheds and fishing platforms lined the shore.

A first responder told CBC News that the destruction in the locked down downtown area was nothing compared to the higher elevations around the city.

20 houses damaged or destroyed, almost 200 people displaced

MHA Andrew Parsons is devastated by the damage Hurricane Fiona did to his hometown.

Parsons is the member of Burgeo – La Poile and hails from Port Aux Basques. He said many of those affected were closest to him.

“After speaking to the city manager, we estimate there are about 200 displaced,” Parsons said.

“Over 20 damaged or destroyed houses. Again, some of them are very close friends, people I’ve known all my life.

Button added that these are initial estimates, suggesting they are sure to rise in the coming days.

“We know there’s more,” Button said. “But we don’t know how many and can’t even go outside to check.”

The mayor said many of the displaced were able to find rooms with family and friends, but the Red Cross and Salvation Army are coordinating and organizing accommodation for about 30 people at the local elementary school.

“I took everything”

On Saturday morning, the storm devastated daily life. Local residents, some in tears, rushed to pack up their vehicles and move out of areas devastated by floods and storm surges.

Some roads were washed away, completely cutting off some parts of the community.

Phil Boyles was one of the residents who was forced to flee his home due to the storm surge.

“I took out everything I could try to keep and now it doesn’t look like I can even come back,” he said.

Boyles said the community is used to inclement weather, but not this one.

Kay Gail was on her way to her job as a caregiver for a 96-year-old woman but had to turn around near Port aux Basques town hall because the roads were too dangerous.

Earlier this week, local residents told CBC News they are preparing for the worst – but on Saturday many said this was the worst storm they had ever seen.

“We can replace homes, not lives lost”

Provincial Minister of Justice and Public Safety John Hogan urges people in the hardest-hit areas to stay home and stay safe, citing advice from officials.

“Public safety is a priority over the next 24 to 72 hours as the storm moves on,” Hogan said. “We take care of this [figuring] figure out how to clean up the mess once the storm has passed.”

Hogan told CBC News there have been talks with federal officials over the past few days, with Secretary of State for Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair offering his full support to the province.

“I can only imagine how devastating it is to lose a family home and all of your belongings,” Hogan said.

“It’s a very traumatic event that families may never get over. But we can rebuild. We can fix [and] Replace houses, but we cannot replace lost lives.”

Meanwhile, Premier Andrew Furey is on his way to the province from Turkey following a ceremony to unveil a memorial to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. He tweeted today that he had spoken to both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who have offered their support to the people of the province.

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