Body of missing woman found as southwestern Nfld. grapples with Fiona aftermath

The body of a 73-year-old woman was recovered in the water off Port aux Basques as residents of southwestern Newfoundland continue to deal with the aftermath of post-tropical storm Fiona.

Homes destroyed, hundreds of people displaced

Two men wearing rubber boots in Port aux Basques survey the devastation of their town after hurricane Fiona. Near them, a shed that was lifted by the waves has landed upside down on a neighbouring lawn.
Two men in Port aux Basques survey the devastation of their town. More than 20 homes were destroyed completely, while others suffered catastrophic damage. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

As residents in southwestern Newfoundland deal with the aftermath of post-tropical storm Fiona, the body of a missing woman has been recovered in the waters off Port aux Basques.

In a statement, the RCMP said officers located and recovered the woman's body shortly before 4 p.m. NT, along with the assistance of the Canadian Coast Guard and the Stephenville and Barachois search and rescue teams.

A 73-year-old woman was reported missing Saturday morning after she was washed out of her home in Port aux Basques. Her body is now being transported to the office of the chief medical examiner for further examination.

Her home was among the more than 20 that were destroyed — hundreds of people are still displaced — as the storm left boulders and debris scattered across the community.

Residents were using shovels to dig through the rubble on Sunday, looking for anything salvageable. Some have lost everything, including heirlooms and family photos. One woman ran away from her home sobbing, unable to bear the devastation any longer.

A wide shot of three people standing in the middle of debris.
First responders searched through the rubble, with one telling CBC News they were looking for a missing woman who had been swept out to sea during the storm. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

Derek Kettle, a Port aux Basques resident, said he doesn't know what he's going to do.

He owns two small apartment buildings near the coast on Mouse Island, an area in the town. He said the tenant in one of the buildings, which is two storeys, attempted to weather the storm on the upper floor of the building — but soon, waves began crashing against the window, which is about 10 metres above sea level.

On Sunday morning, the bottom floor was covered in seaweed, dirt and debris.

A waist-up shot of a person with his hand on his hip. Behind him, a wide house can be seen off its foundation. To the left of the house, the water is calm.
One of Derek Kettle's apartment buildings on Mouse Island in Port aux Basques was lifted off its foundation by a storm surge generated by post-tropical storm Fiona. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

The storm surge knocked Kettle's other apartment building, which is one storey, off its foundation and onto its side.

He said he's put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the buildings, which he rents out as Airbnbs and apartments. He said the buildings are the only source of income for him and his wife, and now his livelihood has been swept away — literally.

Catastrophic damage

On Sunday morning, CBC meteorologist Ashley Brauweiler said while the winds in Port aux Basques were significant, the bulk of the damage was caused by storm surges.

"When it came in, it came in so fast," she said.

She said models predicted 16-metre waves, but the maximum wave height may have been double.

"All of that combined was catastrophic," she said.

Brauweiler said residents have been in shock, and some on Sunday still won't even be able to access their homes — or whatever is left — because some areas are still inaccessible. 

Environment Canada meteorologist Melissa Field said the storm set a record for water levels in Port aux Basques at 2.73 metres — about a metre higher than the normal water level.

On Saturday, Fields said, peak gusts reached 177 km/h in the Wreckhouse area, 134 km/h in Port aux Basques, 110 km/h in Burgeo and 109 in Stephenville.

She said about 77 millimetres of rain fell in the Port aux Basques and Wreckhouse areas, just over 47 millimetres fell in the Stephenville area and just over 30 fell in the Burgeo area. 

'I have never seen this kind of destruction'

Stephen Hiscock of the Burgeo Broadcasting System said Burgeo has suffered significant damage, though not on the same level as Port aux Basques.

"It's been a pretty crazy day for everyone, especially for people in Port aux Basques, but people are still hurting here in Burgeo as well," he said.

A man in coveralls stands in front of two buildings, both knocked off their foundation.
On Sunday, Burgeo residents surveyed the destruction left by post-tropical storm Fiona. (James Grudic/CBC)

He said one home was almost lost, but made it through the storm.

"I have never seen this kind of destruction on the south coast of Newfoundland," he said.

Hundreds of Newfoundland Power customers in southwestern Newfoundland were without power on Sunday morning.

Ian Stewart, mayor of Ramea, an island community off Newfoundland's south coast, said the town is cleaning up debris and assessing damage Sunday morning. He said the town has never seen a storm as intense as post-tropical storm Fiona.

"It's pretty incredible," he said.

Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose said post-tropical storm Fiona was the scariest storm he's ever seen. He said the town mitigated the most severe damage but had to evacuate one home before a tree fell on top of it. 

He said the town has offered its help to Andrew Parsons, the MHA for the Port aux Basques area.

Rose said the devastation wreaked by the storm shows the increasingly severe impact of climate change.

"If we don't take care of the planet the planet will take care of us," he said.

Houses and sheds destroyed by a major tropical storm.
Post-tropical storm Fiona caused widespread damage in Burgeo. (James Grudic/CBC)

The beginning of the rebuild

Parsons, also the minister of industry, energy and technology, is from Port aux Basques and was heading back to the region. He said Sunday that the community is in a state of shock.

"It's a disaster like we've never seen before," said Parsons. "I don't think any of us [were] prepared or have seen anything like this."

"Everybody is on deck saying, 'Whatever can be done, will be done,'" said Parsons. "Right now, I think it's a case of assessing the damage, assessing the totality of it. I think we're just focused on recovery. We're just trying to connect people with who they need to be connected with. Figure out who is displaced, who needs help. It's the beginning of the recovery."

WATCH | CBC's Ashley Brauweiler details Fiona's destrucion

The scene in Port aux Basques, N.L., as it grapples with Fiona's aftermath

1 year ago
Duration 2:21
The aftermath of post-tropical storm Fiona in Port aux Basques, N.L., was striking on Sunday morning, with boulders and debris scattered across the community. More than 20 homes were destroyed completely, while others suffered catastrophic damage.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Weekend AM and Malone Mullin