Nfld. & Labrador

Igor diary: What happened when a devastating hurricane came to call

Ten years after Hurricane Igor struck Newfoundland, journalist Lee Pitts remembers sideways rain, howling winds and especially a spirit of survival among people whose lives were turned upside down.

There was sideways rain and howling wind, but also an unbeatable spirit of survival

Lee Pitts reports during Hurricane Igor on Sept. 21, 2010. The storm made landfall with winds of 140 km/h. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Whenever I think back on Hurricane Igor 10 years ago, images come flashing before me.

I spent that first day — Sept. 21, 2010 — in the field covering that catastrophic, history-making storm for CBC News.

I stayed on the road for more than a week, following the storm at first, and then witnessing the damage and capturing people's stories.

The images that come back to me are not just of sideways rain and howling wind.

It's not even the uprooted houses nor the rivers that had once been roads.

A mother and her daughter have a tearful reunion on Random Island in the aftermath of Hurricane Igor. (CBC)

The images are also of people, their spirit of survival, of coming together to help one another, of finding the way through incredible circumstances.

Once Igor had pushed out to sea, more than 100 communities found themselves cut off. No roads, no power, no immediate access to food and other essentials — they were left to fend for themselves.

Trouty, in Trinity Bay, was one of the communities hit hard by Hurricane Igor. (CBC)

In the days that followed the storm, I was based in Clarenville, trying to reach as many of the communities as possible in the area and along the Bonavista Peninsula.

I know there was terrific damage in other places, particularly the Burin Peninsula. I saw it every night on Here & Now. The destruction I saw first-hand, though, was along the Bonavista Peninsula, and that's my focus here. 

We truly were in this together 

I had heard Random Island was hit particularly hard, so we chartered a boat to take us there. You could not drive over the causeway. 

Hurricane Igor cut through roads and destroyed bridges. (CBC)

As we were loading out gear aboard, I was also on the phone speaking to our radio host about our plans. That's when I got a call asking us to wait — one of the grocery stores wanted to load the boat with food, water and other supplies to deliver.

As well, two women wanted to catch a ride to see their parents, who had woken up during the storm to find their bed floating on water that had flooded their home.

For a split second, I'll admit, I was torn. Deadlines in journalism are fast and furious, and every second counts.

But this wasn't your average news story. It was of survival.

The store manager arrived, volunteers loaded the boat quickly and seamlessly, and it seemed as if everyone automatically knew what they had to do.

Volunteers quickly moved into action to load a boat bound for Random Island. The causeway was no longer accessible. (CBC)

Once we arrived, residents quickly unloaded the boat, and arranged a ride for videographer Eddy Kennedy and me so we could capture the damage and the stories.

A stunning scene from the air

There were so many scenes. At one home, a woman had taken ill and was still trapped inside. An ambulance waited outside as residents laid down logs to build a bridge to her home. 

It was tough to get around after the storm, as it had destroyed many of the roads. 

We were able to get aboard a helicopter, which provided a stunning set of scenes. From the air, it looked like a giant had walked all over a child's Lego town. Large chunks of road had simply vanished.

An aerial shot of Random Island shows the extreme damage to local roads. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The next day, we made it further up the Bonavista Peninsula, along Route 235 toward Plate Cove West, until we reached Summerville. The road had, quite literally, dropped off.

As I looked over the edge, I saw several people hiking on the other side of the chasm, loaded down with backpacks, bags and red jerry cans. Slowly they made their way along, and up the embankment on my side.

The road between Summerville and Plate Cove West was severed as Hurricane Igor pushed through. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

They had taken their ATVs as far as they could go. After getting across the washout, they would hitch rides with others who would take them to Clarenville for supplies — not just for themselves, but for anyone in the town who needed them.

They no longer put their own needs first; it was the needs of the many.

People hike from Plate Cove West with empty jerry cans, in an effort to get fuel and other supplies for the whole community. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

In the days that followed, I made it farther along the Bonavista Peninsula by car, witnessing the scars in each town. Scars on the landscape. Scars on the people.

In Trouty, a house had been picked up from its foundation, with the water floating it to a new location. A large shed had washed out to sea. Roads became temporary rivers. Life felt far from normal.

"It's like a nightmare that we can't wake up from," Josephine Johnston said at the time.

"You get up in the morning and you think you can go on, but you don't know what to do or where to start."

Josephine Johnston said she was learning how to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Igor. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Jumping into action

Very quickly, though, residents did figure out where to start. Jumping into action, they put others ahead of themselves.

We arrived in Plate Cove West late one night by boat to see a longliner pulling up and off-loading milk, baby formula and other urgent supplies. These goods were immediately distributed to homes throughout the community.

You just make do. In a time of crisis, everybody helps everybody else.- Brian Collins

The mayor of Bonavista at the time, Betty Fitzgerald, told us these longliners had become a lifeline to these coastal communities.

"They're going places where people are afraid to go," Fitzgerald said. "We're so thankful."

One thing — the spirit of community —emerged time and again from the rubble in each of those towns. 

Residents of Place Cove West offload a longliner filled with supplies for the community, which had instantly become isolated as Hurricane Igor ripped through. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Ten years after Hurricane Igor ripped through, it's not the memories of the debris that stick with me most, it's that community spirit.

"You just make do," Brian Collins, a resident of the area, told me back then. "In a time of crisis, everybody helps everybody else."

In the decade since Igor, I've spent a lot of time exploring the Bonavista Peninsula in the summers, while spending time with family there.

Each time I drive through the communities I visited during our coverage, I think back to how devastating everything seemed in the early days after the storm.

I also think of the people who found the will to rebuild their lives, their homes and their towns, and the sense of community co-operation that fuelled it all.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 


Lee Pitts

Senior producer

Lee Pitts is the senior producer of Here & Now in St. John's.

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