After the flood: 6 weeks on, life is still far from normal in Mud Lake

It’s been more than six weeks since a devastating flood swept through the tiny Labrador community of Mud Lake, forcing residents to flee their homes in military helicopters. Some are still out of their homes.
Dave Raeburn stands on his lawn in Mud Lake. When the Churchill River jammed, his entire property was submerged and his basement flooded. (Bailey White/CBC)

Dave Raeburn opened the back door, three feet off the ground, and water came rushing in. That's the moment when his life changed.

It's been more than six weeks since a devastating flood swept through the tiny Labrador community of Mud Lake, forcing residents to flee their homes in military helicopters. Some people are still out of their homes.

"It's been hectic, it's been chaotic," Raeburn said about the last month and a half. Still, he and his wife count themselves among the lucky ones. 

"We came back about a month after we were evacuated and started living down here so we could basically get on with cleaning the place up," he said.

About 60 people lived in Mud Lake before the May flood. Most have returned home, but five houses are still unlivable. The displaced are staying with family or in the nearby barracks at 5 Wing Goose Bay.

Even for those who have returned, life is far from normal. Most will need to do repairs and are hoping an emergency fund administered by the province will cover the costs.

Homeowners are impatiently waiting for answers, since the construction season in Labrador is short and extra complicated in Mud Lake, which is only accessible by boat in the summer, making it difficult to transport materials.

Long-running fair cancelled

Other buildings in Mud Lake will need repairs, too. The floor in the community hall needs to be replaced, as does its hot water tank. An oil tank in the basement tipped over, spilling its contents and power has yet to be restored.

It means a long-running fall fair has been cancelled, since organizers say there's just too much to do.

"I never thought about a fair," said Melissa Best, who's part of the United Church Women's committee, the group behind the event.

"We'll get our people home, and then we'll worry about getting our hall up and running — then we worry about our fair."

Melissa Best, who's part of the organizing committee for the Mud Lake Fair said the event is low on the community's priority list. (Bailey White/CBC)

The annual fair is a fundraiser for the United Church Women's committee, featuring food, games and a live auction.

Best says the tradition isn't over, just postponed for this year.

"We still have so many people out of their homes," she said. "It's a little bit greedy of us to go ahead and have a fair right now."

'Government wheels don't turn very fast'

In the meantime, people like Best and Raeburn will get to work on their own repairs.

Raeburn hired a contractor to replace his damaged floors, even though he doesn't know yet whether the costs will be covered.  

"We were waiting for the adjusters to tell us the result of their inspection," he said. "But it's just so slow, you know. Government wheels don't turn very fast."

Dave Raeburn has lived in Mud Lake for 14 years. The tiny, unincorporated community is only accessible by boat in summer and by snowmobile in winter. (Bailey White/CBC)

Later this month, a researcher hired by the province will visit Mud Lake to try to determine the cause of the flood. Many believe the Muskrat Falls hyrdo project upstream is to blame.

Raeburn just wants to know if his home will flood again next year.

"My wife is actually quite worried about it. When it first happened she said, 'That's it, I'm not going back to Mud Lake anymore.' But we really don't have any option. We can't afford to buy a house in Happy Valley," he said.

"I don't know what's going to happen. We need some concrete information and concrete assurances that whatever happened is not going to happen again."

About the Author

Bailey White

CBC News

Bailey White is a journalist based in St. John's.