Pauline Herritt grew up in a small house that her Poppy built, almost on top of the ocean in Burnt Islands, N.L.
“He put his whole heart and soul into it,” she said, her voice cracking for a moment.
Then came the howling winds and crashing waves of Storm Fiona, battering the rocky point where the house stood.
Herritt, who now lives in equally hard-hit Port aux Basques just half an hour away, was horrified when she saw photos of her childhood home on Saturday, the shed on the property broken and tilting precariously.
She wasn’t sure the house would last the night, but it somehow did — minus some of the white siding and damage to the basement.
As Herritt spoke with the Star on Sunday afternoon from Port aux Basques, helicopters thrummed overhead, part of the search for a 73-year-old woman who was in her home when it was struck by a wave.
When Fiona descended on the town Saturday, churning out 130-kilometre-per-hour gusts, police received reports that two women had been swept into the ocean as their homes collapsed under the weight of the storm surge.
One woman was rescued by local residents, but the body of the 73-year-old was found by local RCMP late Sunday afternoon. She had previously been seen inside her home just moments before a wave struck, tearing away a portion of the basement, the Mounties said in an earlier statement.
In Prince Edward Island, authorities said there was another fatality where the cause of death had yet to be determined, but preliminary findings pointed toward “generator use.”
Photos posted on Sunday from Port aux Basques show homes and outbuildings smashed or submerged on the shoreline, the result of a record-breaking storm surge that swamped a residential neighbourhood. Trees were uprooted, fishing stages swept away, and debris strewn along the shoreline.
Herritt’s own home fortunately survived but just across the street from her, a house was “totally wiped out.”
Going through the storm “felt like a movie … I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” she said. “I can only imagine the heartwrench of everyone around here who lost their home, who lost their belongings.”
Her yard is now strewn with lost family photos. One is black and white, from 1963.
“I’m holding on to it because I know it’s precious to someone,” she said.
Though the weather had improved since Saturday, allowing residents to recover belongings and assess damage, a full boil order was in place since late Saturday in Port aux Basques, according to an update on the local council’s Facebook page. In some areas, water was shut off.
At local resident Todd Ingram’s home, the power was back to normal, but his tap water started turning a tan colour Sunday morning.
“(It’s) almost like if you were boiling a cup of tea,” he said.
A candelit wedding
Despite the damage and the lack of power, life still went on.
Samantha Murphy was supposed to get married on Saturday in Sydney, N.S., and the justice of peace said he’d do his best to make the ceremony happen.
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Then a shelter-in-place warning was issued. But, unlike their last wedding delay (they are among the many pandemic postponements), this one only lasted a day.
On Sunday morning, she and her bridesmaids were in a nook in the lobby of their hotel, curling their hair using the only working power outlet.
“Everyone was like, no, we are not going to plug in our phones, we are going to let them do their hair,” she said with a laugh shortly before the ceremony. “Everyone at the hotel has been so accommodating … it’s been awesome.”
With no power at the hotel, the ceremony and the dinner was to be candlelit, with their DJ bringing a Bluetooth speaker.
“We are just going to do what we can and have the best time,” Murphy said. “We just want (all our family) to celebrate with us.”
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are prepared to help in P.E.I. and Newfoundland, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Sunday night via Twitter. Nova Scotia had been approved for military help the day prior.
Mayor Brian Button said the damage to Port aux Basques, a town of 4,000, was worse than first thought.
“The weather may have cleared, but the situation has not cleared at all,” he said via Facebook. “This is not a one day, we can all go back to normal. Unfortunately, this is going to take days, could take weeks, could take months in some places.”
Residents were traumatized by the experience, said John Osmond, president of a local Lions Club. He noted that aside from the loss of physical property, people were struck by the sight of their homes, which they’d spent their lives building, disappear in an instant.
But the biggest concern Osmond heard was of residents not being able to help others from a distance as the storm raged across the town.
“The stories I kept getting were like, ‘We tried to get our neighbour, we couldn’t,’ ” he said. “We had a few people in town that were hit by waves and there were one or two people stuck under vehicles. They were pushed with the force of the waves. … Other people were almost washed away.”
Schools in some areas were expected to remain closed on Monday. A shelter had been set up in the gymnasium of St. James Regional High School in Port aux Basques with help from the Canadian Red Cross and Lions Club.
Amid rows of cots and blankets, about 60 displaced residents, mostly older adults, remained in the temporary shelter late Sunday afternoon. A handful of children also stayed there, some of whom gathered around a laptop to watch a movie together earlier in the day. Some residents planned a community cleanup of debris in people’s yards.
“Entire communities have been swept away, entire streets have washed out to sea, so there is obviously an incredible feeling of loss and an incredible feeling of stress, but you’re also seeing people rallying around one another,” said Reid Eyre, emergency management co-ordinator for the Canadian Red Cross, speaking from the school.
But he warned that the recent storm and wildfires in the province last month are signs of climate change.
“It is becoming more and more real for people,” Eyre said. “There’s a lot of people who thought, ‘It could never happen here.’ And then it does.”
With files from The Canadian Press
Alyshah Hasham is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and court for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @alysanmati
Maria Iqbal is a 905 Region-based staff reporter for the Star. Reach Maria via email: email@example.com
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