As It Happens

A mud-caked doll and a case of White Claw bring hope and laughter to Fiona survivor 

Krystle Collier lost a lot when post-tropical storm Fiona battered her community and ripped her home apart. But the Port aux Basques, N.L., woman is focusing on the things she didn’t lose.

Krystle Collier's Port aux Basques home was badly damaged, but she managed to salvage a few key items

A woman stands on massive pile of broken wood next to the a big chunk of a destroyed house, on rocky cliffs next to the ocean. In front of her is a white fridge with the door ripped off. She's holding cans in both hands over her head and smiling.
Krystle Collier of Port aux Basques, N.L., holds up two cans of White Claw from her fridge that washed out to sea during post-tropical storm Fiona, and washed ashore on her neighbour's property on Sunday. (Submitted by Krystle Collier)

Krystle Collier lost a lot when post-tropical storm Fiona battered her community and ripped her home apart. 

But the Port aux Basques, N.L., woman is focusing on what she didn't lose — her life, her family, her framed photographs, her daughter's cherished baby doll, and a six-pack of her favourite boozy beverage that somehow survived being ripped out to sea. 

She's also grateful, she says, for the supportive community that has sprung up around her in the storm's aftermath. 

"Looking at our home and seeing the devastation was gut-wrenching. But the overwhelming support of community and family and friends is another type of emotion. And it all makes us cry. It all makes us laugh," Collier told As It Happens host Nil Köksal. 

"I was luckier than some people that couldn't get in to salvage not one item."

Port aux Basques has declared a state of emergency after the storm ripped through the town, destroying 20 homes, washing out roads, and sweeping a 73-year-old woman out to sea. The storm damaged at least 100 homes in southwestern Newfoundland, Premier Andrew Furey said Monday. 

Roofs piling up 'like cardboard boxes'

Collier lives not far from the woman who was killed, in a two-storey house by the water with her husband, eight-year-old daughter and elderly mother-in-law.

When she learned Port aux Basques was in Fiona's path, she went into prep mode. She sent her daughter to stay with her parents in a higher part of town. She packed go-bags in case the rest of them had to flee. And, in true Newfoundland fashion, she stocked up on "storm chips" and a case of White Claw.

"I needed to make sure I had it because, well, you know, what else are you gonna do [but] just sit back and just watch it all happen?" she said.

But when the storm hit on Friday night, it was worse than she could have imagined.

By 5 a.m., Saturday, the tides were rising and waves were smashing against her house. She and her family grabbed their bags and sought shelter with a nearby neighbour who lives on higher ground.

As they were fleeing, the winds were so strong, she says propane tanks were whirling around in the air.

"That's not even a word of a lie. You would never think something that big would be blowing around in the wind, but there were homes and sheds ... that were just folding in on top of one another on our lawn, just like they were cardboard boxes," she said. 

"Roof after roof after roof, and they were just piling up like they were light as a feather. It was unreal."

From their neighbour's house, they watched Fiona wreak havoc on their home. At one point, she saw her White Claw-stocked fridge float off to sea. 

Within a few hours, the entire area was under evacuation order, and they all had to leave. 

Salvaging what they can

When she returned the next day, she found her home in shambles. The storm had ripped out the main floor, and the upper floor had collapsed. She spent the day sorting through the rubble to see what she could salvage.

"The emotions were high," she said. "The sounds, the eeriness of the storm just being gone and the emptiness of everything that's been around us — it's something that was indescribable, actually."

Much of the structure from the collapsed upper floor remained intact, she said, and she was able to salvage some personal items, including framed photos and her mother-in-law's clothing.

WATCH | Fiona batters Port aux Basques:

N.L. residents describe harrowing experience living through Fiona

2 months ago
Duration 2:01
Residents of Port-aux-Basques, N.L., describe the harrowing experience of living through post-tropical storm Fiona — and what they’re witnessing in its aftermath.

Her daughter's room was destroyed, and all her toys along with it — save a single doll, covered in sludge.

"That one baby doll in that corner was, I think, what tore me apart more than anything. Just everything around it — her childhood, you know, her favourite things — are gone," Collier said.

"We're hoping that we can save him. It's been her favourite thing since she's been old enough to walk."

LISTEN | A Fiona survivor's story:

Then she spotted her fridge, washed up ashore on her neighbour's lawn.

"I looked over and I seen this little box and I said: There is no way that this is still that pack of White Claw," she said.

The drinks, remarkably, were intact. They reminded her of peaceful summer she'd just spent sitting outside by the fire with her husband and their neighbours, sipping on White Claws.

A neighbour snapped a photo of her standing in the rubble, the fridge at her feet, triumphantly holding up several cans. 

"It was just trying to find humour out of the most devastating day of your life. And that's me. I'm trying to be as optimistic as I can," she said. " I know a lot of people don't even like [White Claw], but I love them, anyway. Fiona kept them for me."

The photos have since gone viral, and Collier says she's glad they're giving people something to smile about.

"The smiles that these posts have put on my face has been more than the tears I've cried," she said. "I thought I could never cry anymore. And now I'm laughing more than I thought I could over something like this."

She and her family are staying with her parents and friends in a different part of town. Despite everything, she says they're hoping to rebuild on  their property, which has been her husband's family for generations.

"I think living there is the only place that we're supposed to be. So we're going to try," she said.

And she's already cracked open a White Claw.

"Oh, it was good. It was good. Yeah."

With files from CBC News. Interview produced by Chris Harbord.

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