Nfld. & Labrador

This now-iconic blue house in Port aux Basques is gone. Its owners are left picking up the pieces

One family's dream home by the sea became a symbol for Fiona's wrath, as a single image of a house teetering on the edge of the Atlantic was shared across the globe.

The Savery family won't rebuild after Fiona

Port aux Basques home becomes a symbol of Fiona’s destruction

2 months ago
Duration 3:01
The now-iconic picture of Josh Savery’s family home in Port aux Basque, N.L., teetering on the edge of a cliff captured the terror of post-tropical storm Fiona in a single image. While the famous picture reminds the family of what they lost, it also attracted an outpouring of sympathy and kindness.

Lloyd Savery picks up a plastic frame, calling out to his son, a look of amazement on his face.

Amid a pile of splintered wood and seaweed, about half a kilometre from the ruins of his dream home, he's found what's left of the family's cat door.

Savery, along with his wife Peggy and son Josh, lived in a sturdy 80-year-old blue house with an ocean view in Port aux Basques, N.L. The family bought it three years ago, when they moved home from Barrie, Ont., and had been renovating ever since.

They had no idea, when they fled a monstrous storm surge last weekend, that the house they planned to spend their retirement in would become the face of the destruction left by Fiona in Newfoundland.

A photo of that blue house, teetering on the edge of the seething Atlantic on Saturday, made international headlines as Fiona ripped through Port aux Basques. Local newspaper editor Rene Roy of Wreckhouse Press took the shot before he, too, left his home.

A man in a hunting jacket stands in front of debris.
Josh Savery spent Monday morning helping his family clear up the wreckage of their home. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

The picture ended up in most major outlets in Canada, including CBC News, and was published in the Guardian, on CNN and the New York Times, among others, painting a vivid picture of the catastrophe striking the small town.

"It's weird to see your house everywhere in shambles when you're used to seeing it as it stood, nice and pristine," Josh says, wiping rain from his face as he takes a short break from clearing the wreckage. 

"You're used to seeing it as your home. Now everyone sees it and recognizes it as that house that's crumbled by the sea."

On Monday morning, as the skies turned grey once again, Josh, Lloyd and Peggy donned work gloves and warm clothes to dig through debris that washed ashore.

Some of the salvageable items they found weren't theirs. Others were. They shake their heads at the odd mementos they're pulling from the wreckage: half of a wooden Ikea bowl. A live-edge shelf that Lloyd had just installed. A photo of Peggy and Lloyd on their prom night.

They're among dozens of others in the town left scavenging.

"It's not something you think you'd ever do," Josh says.

People stand around wreckage
Amid the wreckage: rope, seaweed, a large chunk of the family's living room floor, and various small personal items from the Savery household. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

He describes waking up Saturday to rain pelting the windows, the sea a full two metres higher than normal. 

"[We] just grabbed the cats. Grabbed our shoes. Got in the car and left," he says. "Hour later, we see pictures of our house. It got hit by a wave and started collapsing."

Josh still seemed dazed as he spoke.

"It's just really hard to comprehend all that power in that water. It's relatively calm today, yesterday it was sunny skies, but the day before that everyone's lives were getting torn apart," he says. "I was there and I still can't wrap my head around it."

'You never expect it to be your house'

The blue house had withstood eight decades of hurricane-force winds, countless blizzards, torrential rainfall. But in the end it was the sea, the same one in their picturesque window views, that knocked it down.

The family says their dream of living by the ocean is gone, washed away by Fiona. With the changing climate, they say, there's no telling when a storm surge that powerful may happen again. They won't rebuild. 

For now, though, they're focused on cleaning, piecing their lives back together one mud-covered keepsake at a time, including the prom night picture.

A house on the edge of a cliff and the same house beside it destroyed.
The photo on the left, taken at the peak of Fiona on Saturday, was shared worldwide and published in media outlets around the world. (Rene Roy/Wreckhouse Press, Malone Mullin/CBC)

"It hurts a little bit, every time you see it," Josh says. "You always see images of other people's houses and devastation elsewhere. You never expect it to be your house."

Through that single image, though, he's also found solace.

"We're getting messages from all over the world," he says, moments before he turns to keep throwing bits of his home into large piles.

"It's really touching to know that so many people care, out there, about a bunch of strangers."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Malone Mullin is a reporter in St. John's who previously worked in Vancouver and Toronto. News tip? Reach her at malone.mullin@cbc.ca.

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