Furey says nearly 100 homes in southwestern Newfoundland destroyed, cost of damage unclear
Gudie Hutchings, federal minister of rural economic development, also in town to survey the damage
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey says the cost of the cleanup after post-tropical storm Fiona isn't yet clear, but nearly 100 homes — and counting — were damaged beyond repair in southwestern Newfoundland.
He said the number of destroyed houses will likely grow as more residents return to their property and discover the storm has rendered their home unlivable.
"The devastation is unbelievable," he said during a media briefing at the Channel-Port aux Basques town office Monday afternoon.
Furey, who had been in Gallipoli, Turkey, on Friday to attend a dedication ceremony for a memorial to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, said he cut his travel plans short Saturday when the magnitude of the damage in communities on Newfoundland's southwest coast became clear.
In the coming days, Furey said, the province will create a financial package to help people who have been displaced and either did not have homeowners' insurance, or whose insurance did not cover storm surge damage.
He said the provincial government will administer emergency funds as quickly as possible.
"We will be striving to have the most efficient process in place," he said.
He said the province is co-ordinating with the federal government and municipal leaders in the impacted communities, and is doing a needs assessment, including an inventory of properties.
"That's a moving target right now," he said.
Furey said the province will be availing of federal disaster relief funds, and he is also in discussions with the federal government about creating a funding program specifically for the communities battered by the storm in southwestern Newfoundland.
"We'll ensure that the needs that are there will match the skills that are coming," he said.
Furey said he's been in discussions with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about federal support, including 100 military personnel who were en route to Newfoundland's south coast on Monday afternoon.
Beginning to rebuild
Furey said the potential for storm surges — the cause of most of the damage in Port aux Basques, Burgeo and Burnt Islands — will be taken into consideration as the communities rebuild.
"There are opportunities to rebuild stronger, there are opportunities to rebuild with different considerations that weren't there because of historical contexts and the way some of our communities were settled," he said.
Some of the homes that were destroyed Saturday had been there for nearly a century. Furey said rebuilding will involve consultations with residents and the communities.
Furey said the provincial government may create a program that would allow residents with homes that are still standing, but could be at risk during future storms, to move to a safer area.
Burgeo-La Poile MHA Andrew Parsons, who is from Port aux Basques, said the impact of the damage is hard to put into words.
"This town has seen a lot, this coast has seen a lot, but nothing like what we've seen these past few days," Parsons said.
Parsons said he knows people impacted by the storm — including the woman who was swept out to sea while preparing to leave her home on Saturday.
He said the provincial government is focused on the immediate response to the storm but is also making plans to help residents in impacted communities.
'We're going to be there for every single person that's lost a house, that's lost a vehicle, that's lost their belongings — you name it, we'll be there," he said.
Parsons said the provincial government is co-ordinating with other entities, like the Red Cross, to find long-term shelter for people who have been displaced
Before the briefing, the provincial government announced a dedicated co-ordinator to assist anyone with inquiries related to post-tropical storm Fiona. The co-ordinator can be reached by phone at 709-695-9871 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org beginning 8 a.m. NT on Tuesday.
Parsons said the response co-ordinator will also help people navigate the insurance process.
"This is an issue that's going to go on for a while. We will be there. We'll figure it out," he said.
Hutchings surveys damage
Gudie Hutchings, federal minister of rural economic development and MP for Long Range Mountains, was also in Port aux Basques Monday morning.
"My heart is broken," she said.
The federal government has granted a request for support by the Newfoundland and Labrador government. Hutchings, who arrived in Port aux Basques on Sunday evening, said the Canadian Armed Forces will help with reconnaissance, cleanup and engineering.
She said members of the RCMP, the Canadian Coast Guard and the Department of National Defence are in Port aux Basques to help with relief efforts. She said the federal government's financial assistance program for people affected by disasters can help homeowners whose insurance won't cover the damage.
"We're putting all our resources on the ground to work in partnership with the province, and of course the town," she said.
While the town has assessed some of the damage, the full extent — and cost — of rebuilding isn't clear. Hutchings said recovery will be a long process. She commended the Channel-Port aux Basques town council.
"These volunteer mayors and councils sign up to do great work for their town. They want to have good infrastructure, good community buildings. They want to make their town a healthy and safe place to live. When they sign up and put their name on the ballot they don't realize they're going to be addressing this," she said.
As the ocean warms due to climate change, Hutchings noted, more tropical storms will be making their way to Atlantic Canada, and coastal communities should start preparing.
'Sadly, we're going to see more and more of it so we have to build for the future," she said.
With files from Chris O'Neill-Yates