Brian Osmond holds an old photograph of a woman in a black and white dress.
The 62-year-old retired maintenance man, known affectionately in Port aux Basques as Smokey, had his own bright orange seaside cabin until last year. He spent his days entertaining in his garage and watching hockey in his living room, filled with Toronto Maple Leafs paraphernalia.
But the life I knew is gone.
“That’s my mother. It’s the only photo I have,” he says, clutching the framed photo in his dimly lit rental apartment, a few minutes’ walk from the remains of his former home. Spartan decorations surround him: a small plaque from his favorite team. A clock on the kitchen wall.
Osmond is among dozens of people uprooted from their homes after a massive storm surge from post-tropical storm Fiona hit the coast of Port aux Basques last September, toppling entire buildings and sweeping them into the sea.
Some of the displaced have purchased new homes in the city with the help of donations and government disaster aid. Others are building again. Some have walked away.
Then there are those, like Osmond, who are still stuck in limbo, waiting in rental houses or abandoned housing, not knowing where they will go next.
“The problem is that there are no new houses,” says René Roy, editor-in-chief of Weekly shipwreck. “There are no apartments, there are no rentals. There is nowhere for them to go.”
Roy says he knows of at least eight families who have had to leave town because of the sudden housing crisis Fiona caused.
The city lost 82 homes due to the sudden influx of seawater from the initial storm. This summer, the province and city jointly assessed the surviving properties and ultimately determined that another 57 homes, some completely untouched by Fiona, were within a new exclusion zone.
Due to the increasing risk of deadly storms in the coming decades, they are now considered too close to the ocean to live in.
The province will buy out those owners in January. They will have 90 days to gather their things and find a new place to live. A new subdivision could provide shelter for some, and the Canadian Red Cross is using donations to retrofit two buildings in the city for a dozen seniors.
Despite those measures, the fact that more than 100 homes are completely off the market remains a blow to the small community.
“It’s going to cost the city a lot in terms of population,” Roy says.
He has already left his mark, he says. Entire neighborhoods are now unrecognizable, with gravel pits where houses stood for decades.
“This isn’t my home anymore,” Roy sighs.
Down the street from Osmond’s former home, frustrated homeowner Karen Kettle weighs her options.
Authorities told him in June that he would have to leave his home, for which the mortgage had been paid off more than a decade ago, at the beginning of next year.
You won’t know how much you’ll be compensated until January. She doubts it will be enough to buy or build in Port aux Basques, leaving her caught in a dilemma: should the family sell their auto repair shop and move to Corner Brook, or hunker down in their small cabin and commute to work every day? the days? ?
Another mortgage, he says, would dash any hope of retirement.
“This was our forever home. This is where we were going to die,” he said. “We really don’t want to leave here. That was never the plan.”
She is left waiting, living in a damaged house, wondering where she will be in a year.
“If we had more answers from the government about what our salary would be, we could probably make a better decision about our future,” Kettle said.
“It’s like we’re starting over… at this point in our lives, we never dreamed we’d be here.”
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