Nfld. & Labrador

Bonavista homes at risk if seawall is not repaired, says mayor

John Norman says the town needs federal funding to protect it from future storms.

John Norman says town needs federal funding to protect it from future storms

Waves spray Bonavista on Saturday. (Submitted by Eric Abbott)

The mayor of Bonavista says immediate action is required to prevent the destruction of homes in his community, following damage to infrastructure suffered during Friday's blizzard.

John Norman told CBC that his town needs quick help from the federal government before things get worse.

"This is something that can't wait. In select locations now we need action in the coming months," said Norman on Wednesday.  "Otherwise we really have a chance of losing actual property and structures in some cases."

A seawall protecting properties and land in Bonavista failed in six different locations Friday, during a storm that saw winds reaching 164 km/h and more than 75 centimetres of snow.

Ice-covered homes in Bonavista, following Friday's blizzard. The ocean raged and winds sprayed sea water on homes near the shoreline. (Submitted by Mark Gray)

Norman estimates the cost of repairs at over $1 million. He was in contact with the area's MP, Churence Rogers, before Friday's storm but says the situation is all the more urgent now.

"In a couple of cases, many feet of land behind where the sea walls once stood is now vanished," Norman said Wednesday. 

He said in their old community, many people live close to the water — and getting closer, as some homes that were once 30 or 40 feet away from the ocean now have its waves lapping about five feet from their fence lines. 

"We are getting more and more serious storms. We need to deal with that, we need to plan as a municipality for that," Norman said, and that means finding money to rebuild a stronger sea wall that can withstand the current intensity of storms.

'It was hard against the needle'

The winds from Friday's blizzard battered towns across the Bonavista Peninsula. John Fisher, who operates the Fishers' Loft Inn in Port Rexton, measured wind speeds of 160 km/h on his property, and figured the real speeds were even higher.

"We have a professional weather anemometer here, and you know it's all brass and all the right stuff, and I believe it's very, very reliable, but it only goes as far as 160, and it was hard against the needle," he said. "We think we had a much stronger blow than that."

Fisher said the storm did bring deep drifts to Port Rexton — and Friday felt like "living in a fog" — but no permanent damage to the community.

Snow accumulates Friday as a record-breaking winter storm hits Port Union. (Submitted by Elizabeth Ryder)

"We looked at our roof from time to time and just wondered. But, no, everything was fine," he said, adding most of the houses in his rural community use a strong wood clapboard siding.

He said local businesses quickly reopened after Friday's storm, and people in his community were well stocked.

Gallery, house damaged

Twenty minutes north on the highway, the Town of Trinity Bay North — encompassing Port Union and Catalina — opened a warming centre at its fire hall after a prolonged power outage.

Some buildings were left with damage as a result of the wind speeds, including the Union House Arts gallery located in the Sir William Ford Coaker Heritage Foundation buildings in Port Union.

Jane Walker, who operates the gallery, said the high winds blew snow into the building's attic vents. She said the snow eventually melted, and started leaking inside.

"We had about two feet of snow get its way into the attic," she said. "We had to tear out part of our ceilings in the studios to get it out and start drying out the attic."

Jane Walker says the Union House Arts studio has had to strip out long parts of its ceiling in order to deal with leaks and water buildup inside the attic. (Union House Arts/Facebook)

No art was damaged, Walker said, as there was no exhibition in the leaking room.

"Both of the artists jokingly said that if their artwork had been damaged in that way they would have just gone with it," she said. "It's all part of the experience of being on an artist residency during the megastorm of the century." 

Walker is asking homeowners in the area to check their attics for water damage. She said snow also made its way into the attic in the home of one of her board members.

Beautiful ice

Walker works in Port Union but lives in Bonavista, so she saw the effects of Friday's blizzard in two communities.

She was forced out of her home Friday, and when she returned, she wasn't faced with snow — but a wall of ice that blanketed her home, that she called "beautiful."

"I'm arty like that, I guess but it was gorgeous," she said. "It was sparkling!"

Ice covers a window at Walker's house in Bonavista. (Submitted by Jane Walker)

She said her home took a beating, but the ice hasn't caused any permanent damage.

"It melts off. It's startled me a couple of times in the middle of the night hearing big chunks of ice fall off of the side of the house, but no damage, so I'm really lucky in that way."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from CBC Radio and Garrett Barry

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