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A month after Fiona, some in western Newfoundland fear things will never be the same

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CHANNEL-PORT AUX BASQUES, N.L. — For Peggy Savery, the hardest part of the day comes as she leaves work in her Newfoundland community of Port aux Basques and drives to the home she’s been staying in with her husband and son.

The family’s blue oceanside house was swept into the sea last month by post-tropical storm Fiona, and a photo of it dangling over the ocean was published across North America. Taken by Rene Roy, editor of local newspaper Wreckhouse Press, the picture was a gut-wrenching look at the immediate horrors wrought by the historic storm.

But these days, Savery, 59, is increasingly worried about the storm’s impacts that aren’t so easily captured. The past month has been a “nightmare,” she said in an interview Monday, and it’s not clear when it will end. People who lost their homes are traumatized, and living in temporary situations as they wait for news about whether they’ll get help to rebuild, she said.

Since that morning, the Saverys have been staying with family in the nearby community of Grand Bay, she said. Going to work each day gives her something else to think about, but the dread and uncertainty come rushing back each night when she’s alone again in her car.

“I sit in my vehicle, and I break down and I think, ‘Where do I go now? What am I doing?’” Savery said. “It’s hard to get in that vehicle and drive to somewhere that’s not your home … it breaks me every single day.”

Fiona barrelled through Eastern Canada on the morning of Sept. 24, bringing ferocious winds and storm surge to parts of Atlantic Canada and Quebec’s Îles-de-la-Madeleine. The storm tore up roads, washed away homes and left power lines and trees splayed in the streets. In Port aux Basques, a 73-year-old woman died after she was swept out to sea.

After two days of surveying damage, officials estimated nearly 100 homes were destroyed along Newfoundland’s southern coast. The damage stretched from Port aux Basques, on the island’s southwestern tip, to Burgeo which sits about 115 kilometres to the east. The region is home to roughly 5,700 people.

Savery and her husband Lloyd were both born in Port aux Basques. Like many rural Newfoundlanders, they moved away when they were young, ultimately settling in Ontario with their son, Josh. But in 2019 they were drawn back home and moved into the blue house on Clement Crescent, overlooking the water.

It was the home they wanted to retire in, and they poured their life savings into it. But all that work and money — along with her father’s journals, her engagement ring, and her mother’s china — disappeared with Fiona, she said.

Like many who lost their oceanside homes, Savery said her insurance company is not covering the loss because her policy didn’t include damage from storm surge. The Newfoundland and Labrador government has promised it will help those whose insurance claims have been denied. Last Friday, officials were in Port aux Basques to help people fill out forms to get the process moving.

Savery said the government response has been too slow, adding that she hasn’t yet heard if she’ll qualify for financial help, or when it may arrive. In the meantime, her family is surviving on a $10,000 assistance payment from the province that was distributed by The Canadian Red Cross, she said.

“This is my life. And this is my future. And I’m scared right now,” she said. “We’re at the mercy right now of whoever is going to reach out and help.”

In the nearby community of Burnt Islands, Jamie King said it is still difficult to talk about what he is going through a month after Fiona tore the back off his home. The storm also swept away his shed, which had “thousands and thousands” of dollars’ worth of tools inside it, he said in an interview.

“That was my go-to thing. My safe space, I called it,” King said, adding: “My life as I knew it is gone, ruined.”

He and his family are staying with his sister and her family, packed into her two-bedroom house. It’s not clear when they might be able to rebuild, or where — though he said it won’t be near the ocean in what’s now known as the “danger zone.”

Paul Strickland, Burnt Islands’ deputy mayor, said the town is doing its best to work with the provincial government to find new spots for people like King to rebuild. Still, Strickland said he’s expecting some to leave the community altogether.

Fiona, he added, has likely changed Burnt Islands forever.

“The landscape alone already has a different look,” he said. “But the nature of the town might be a bit different after this.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 25, 2022.

— By Sarah Smellie in St. John’s, N.L.

 

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Woman found dead in suitcase in Newfoundland; spouse found dead, suspected in killing

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ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Police in St. John’s, N.L., say a woman’s body was found in a suitcase in the city’s downtown this week and her spouse — who was found dead a day prior — is suspected of killing her.

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Const. James Cadigan says the 33-year-old Iranian woman’s body was discovered Tuesday night in a suitcase in a vacant lot. He says it had been placed in the area six days before.

Cadigan says her 34-year-old Iranian husband was found dead in his home on Monday.

He says police have not determined whether their deaths involve a murder-suicide, and he says the two “had no involvement” with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary prior to the discovery of their bodies.

Cadigan says the woman arrived in Newfoundland on May 15 and the man had been living in downtown St. John’s for several years.

Police are not releasing their names to protect their family’s privacy, and are looking for any information from the public about what happened.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2024.

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Pilot dead after ultralight plane crash northwest of Fredericton

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FREDERICTON – The pilot of an ultralight plane died after the aircraft crashed in a cornfield about 25 kilometres northwest of Fredericton.

Ken Hodgson, fire chief of Keswick Valley Fire Department, says his team received a call at 11:33 a.m. about a crash in Burtts Corner, N.B., along Route 104, which links the province to Nova Scotia.

Hodgson says there were no other casualties.

Ambulance New Brunswick, the coroner’s office and RCMP also responded to the crash.

In a news release, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada says it deployed a team of investigators to an “aircraft accident near Fredericton.”

But the agency did not immediately respond to questions asking for details about the crash.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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B.C. Interior residents get ready to go as erupting wildfire threatens

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It’s the first time The Inn at Spences Bridge has been empty since April.

Dorothy Boragno, who owns the inn with her husband Michael Findlay, said Friday they watched thick smoke across the Thompson River from the out-of-control Shetland Creek wildfire that has already forced others to evacuate.

“We’ve been through fires before, so we know what happens, and if they get close, usually we get firemen to stay at our hotel, so we’re not too worried yet. But it does bring back bad memories,” said Boragno.

The Shetland Creek fire in the southern Interior more than doubled in size from Thursday to Friday, due to what the B.C. Wildfire Service said was “significant overnight growth” and more accurate mapping.

Its rapid spread was part of an eruption of wildfire activity across B.C., with more than 270 burning as of Friday afternoon, most caused by recent lightning storms, then fuelled by hot, dry weather and winds.

The Shetland Creek fire is now listed at 132 square kilometres in size, up from 57 square kilometres, and has prompted evacuation orders and alerts in the communities of Spences Bridge, Ashcroft and part of Cache Creek, east of Kamloops.

The BC Wildfire Service says the fire advanced about six kilometres in a northwest direction parallel to Highway 1 Thursday night.

It is considered the only “wildfire of note” in B.C., meaning it is highly visible or poses a potential threat to public safety or infrastructure.

The wildfire service says 71 firefighters and six helicopters are battling the blaze in addition to structure protection personnel, heavy equipment operators, and an incident management team.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District expanded an evacuation order in front of the fire on Thursday evening to cover about 85 properties in the Venables Valley area, while the Cook’s Ferry Indian Band has issued orders for several reserves along the Thompson River.

Hundreds of other properties are subject to an evacuation alert, with the district telling them to be ready to leave on short notice.

The Village of Cache Creek on Friday issued an evacuation alert because of the fire out of an “abundance of caution.” The alert includes the Cache Creek Regional Airport and nine other properties, but the main sections of the village are not yet on alert.

The Village of Ashcroft is also under an evacuation alert and Mayor Barbara Roden said Friday that the fire’s aggressive behaviour is “very concerning.”

“So, residents are very on edge. They have been ever since this fire started and it was clear that it was going to be heading in this direction,” she said. “It’s been thick smoke here for the last few days even though the fire is still several kilometres away, there’s ash falling on everything here in Ashcroft.”

The nearby Ashcroft Indian Band, which is also on evacuation alert, posted a notice on Facebook Friday, saying band leaders understand that “everyone is on edge with the Shetland Creek Fire burning nearby.”

The statement said they are in constant contact with the BC Wildfire Service, getting updates when available and they appreciate everyone’s co-operation in conserving water they have in the reservoirs to “use in a worst-case scenario.”

“In the meantime, we have our maintenance and fire mitigation crews out in the community adding more fireguards around the south and east side. As an additional piece to our regular fire mitigation practices, they are clearing debris and flammable fuels from around power poles and hydrants and we have a water tank on a trailer with hoses ready to go.”

Boragno said they are also ready to get out, with a cat cage and a bag of “special stuff” ready next to the door.

She said it was touching to see the whole town pull together with people helping each other out, because no one likes going through this.

“It brings back huge trauma for people who lost their homes and stuff,” said Boragno.

Cliff Chapman with the BC Wildfire Service said Thursday the province appeared to be “on the precipice of a very challenging 72 hours” with hot weather, dry lightning and strong winds in the forecast.

Environment Canada on Friday issued a series of severe thunderstorm watches across much of the B.C. Interior, and a severe thunderstorm warning for the Stuart-Nechako region in the north.

The storms mostly overlap the almost 30 areas that are also under heat warnings, and while they may bring hail and rain, they also bring lightning and winds that trigger and fuel fires. The heat warnings span most of the southern Interior and stretch up through central B.C. into the northeast, along with inland sections of the north and central coasts.

The weather office says much of the Interior is expected to see temperatures in the 30s over the coming days, along with overnight lows in the mid-teens.

For Roden the forecast offers little hope for relief with temperatures topping 40 degrees, but she’s hopeful that people will remain calm and ready to leave if it comes to that.

“So, you’ve got the smoke, you’ve got the ash, you’ve got the heat,” she said. “All these factors coming together are making people very edgy, very nervous. They’re remembering fires past and, and it’s the uncertainty.”

Roden said the village had fires in 2017 and 2021 “on our doorstep.”

“Part of my job as mayor is to try to ensure that people don’t panic,” she added. “I cannot think of any situation that has ever been improved by people panicking.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2024.

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