Nova Scotia

Sydney Thanksgiving Day flood victims look back ... and to the future

People who lost their homes to flood waters in a torrential downpour in Cape Breton in 2016 are thankful the worst is behind them, but say their total losses will never be fully compensated.

'There's still a lot of bitterness over how things were handled,' says Sydney homeowner Terry Drohan

The record rainfall on Thanksgiving Day 2016 brought a torrent of water that flooded hundreds of homes and businesses, and turned roads into rivers. (Vaughan Merchant/Canadian Press)

Terry Drohan of Sydney, N.S., hopes to enjoy a peaceful turkey dinner with his family this Thanksgiving, unlike last year.

"It's a beautiful day and we plan on having a Thanksgiving dinner, without the water, hopefully," said Drohan.

Drohan was among dozens of people forced from their homes on Oct. 10, 2016, in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality when up to 225 millimetres of rain fell in the area that day.

The record rainfall brought a torrent of water that flooded hundreds of homes and businesses, and turned roads into rivers.

Terry Drohan says bitterness still lingers over how the province and insurance companies treated residents affected by the flood. (CBC)

Some homes, including Drohan's in south-end Sydney, were damaged beyond repair.

He's now settled into a new house, which is a couple of blocks away from his previous home, and trying to get on with his life.

Gratitude and bitterness

"I'm thankful that I'm lucky enough to be in a new home and getting resettled," said Drohan.

"However, there's still a lot of bitterness over how things were handled by our government and by insurance companies. There's still a big financial hit that we're carrying with us."

Drohan said home insurance and provincial disaster assistance fell far short of covering his losses. He figures he's more than $180,000 out of pocket, much of that for lost contents.

The province bought 17 uninhabitable homes for market value, including Drohan's, but he said he qualified for just $30,000 to cover his lost belongings.

Drohan said several families have gone into debt trying to replace what they lost.

"We know the government has restrictions and budgets to deal with. However, for the number of homeowners that they could have taken care of a little better, it wouldn't have cost the government that much more," he said.

Trauma and gratitude

Trish O'Neill and her family have also settled into a new home in south-end Sydney after spending seven months in temporary accommodations.

She is trying to put a stressful year behind her.

"Being thankful that we're past all of that, because you're in crisis mode for such a long time," said O'Neill.

Terry Drohan's five-bedroom home in Sydney, N.S., the day after the 2016 flood. (CBC)

O'Neill's 11-year-old son, Aidan Munroe, said it was tough, losing the only home he'd ever known.

In the months following the flood, he also lost two close relatives and two family pets.

"There were points where I was not in a very good mental state," said Munroe, but he said he's learning to appreciate the important things in life.

"It has made me not take things for granted. It has made me value the relationships that I have with people."

Government defends flood response

The Nova Scotia government has processed 1,185 claims for disaster assistance from the 2016 flood and paid out $14 million.

Minister of Municipal Affairs Derek Mombourquette said the response was fair and timely.

"Throughout this entire process, we wanted to be as flexible as possible, and I believe we've done that," he said. "We ensured that the residents in that area received the maximum value that we could provide."

Aidan Munroe and his mom, Trish O'Neill, are looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving in their new home. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

Meanwhile, the United Way of Cape Breton continues to offer flood assistance for a number of families, including half a dozen who remain homeless.

The organization raised close to $800,000, and spent just over $505,000 in the days immediately following the disaster on emergency shelter, food and clothing.

The remaining $375,000 was set aside for people who didn't qualify for government aid, and in many cases, didn't have property insurance, the agency said.

Municipal Affairs Minister Derek Mombourquette says the province's response to the flood was fair and timely. (CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wendy Martin

Reporter

Wendy Martin has been a reporter for nearly 30 years. Her first job in radio was at the age of three, on a show called Wendy's House on CFCB Radio in Corner Brook, N.L. Get in touch at wendy.martin@cbc.ca

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