Until this past weekend, Kenny MacLean was living in a house so infested with mould his eyes were burning and he was getting headaches.
During the Thanksgiving Day storm, overland flooding coming in through ground-level windows filled the finished basement of MacLean's Sydney Mines, N.S., home with more than half a metre of water.
Yet he left the damage largely untouched for almost six weeks.
"On the inside of the gyprock it was pretty black with mould, and it was pretty disgusting," MacLean said Tuesday.
"The smell, I couldn't come down to the basement. The kitchen, next level up, couldn't stay there. I'd only came down to eat and use the washroom. Mainly I had to stay up in my bedroom up on the third level."
MacLean — who does not have homeowner's insurance — had been calling the Cape Breton Regional Municipality's flood helpline and the Emergency Management Organization office in Halifax, but was getting conflicting advice.
"One time [EMO] told me I can get a carpenter in to rip it apart and get rid of the mould that way and they'd reimburse me. So I waited a couple of days and I called them back just to verify that I could do that and they said, 'No, no, you can't do that. Don't touch nothing until an adjuster comes.'"
Help through online community
MacLean finally turned to the Cape Breton Flood Facebook page for help. New Waterford resident Neil Rideout created the page on the day of the storm as a way to share photos, but it has since developed into a platform for connecting flood victims with help.
Rideout arranged for the aid organization Samaritan's Purse to visit MacLean's house this past weekend to get the cleanup started.
MacLean's situation is the latest in a string of similar stories Rideout has heard in recent weeks. He started reaching out to people after visiting a home in Louisbourg.
"The water had came in down under the house — it actually eroded the whole foundation to the point where the floors had started to cave in," he said.
"And they were in it for almost four weeks, to a point where the mould had gotten to their second story bathroom window. The ceilings were black, the smell was horrendous. And they had a family living in that house."
More people could be at risk
Rideout said mould is a known health danger, yet he worries other people in the area are living with it as they await cleanup directions.
"I'm sure there's pockets of people out there that are waiting for the Nova Scotia EMO to come, and they think that adjusters need to come to their house before they clean their house out."
In an emailed statement an EMO official said "the disaster financial assistance claim does not interfere with your cleanup," meaning an application for disaster relief should not hold up the cleanup process.
The statement also said "it is important to ensure your safety from any contaminated materials."