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They were displaced en masse. A year on from the storm, Fiona's victims are still living in limbo

Hundreds of people who lost their homes are still waiting to see what the future holds as government assessments drag on, one year after a historic storm pummeled the Newfoundland coast.

Some living in rentals, damaged homes while waiting to see what the future holds

A man holds a framed photo sitting on a couch
Brian Osmond holds the last remaining picture of his mother. Osmond is among the Newfoundlanders displaced by post-tropical storm Fiona. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

Brian Osmond holds an aged photo of a woman in a black and white dress.

The 62-year-old retired maintenance man, known lovingly around Port aux Basques as Smokey, had his own bright orange cottage by the sea until last year. He'd spend his days puttering around his garage and watching hockey in his living room, filled to bursting with Toronto Maple Leafs paraphernalia.

But the life he knew is gone.

"That's my mother. That's the only picture I've got," he says, clutching the framed photo in his dimly lit rental, a few minutes' walk from the remains of his old house. Spartan decorations surround him: a small plaque of his favourite team. A clock on the kitchen wall.

Osmond is among dozens of people uprooted from their homes after a massive storm surge from post-tropical storm Fiona pounded the Port aux Basques coastline last September, crumpling entire buildings and whisking them off to sea.

A man in front of wrecked orange home
Osmond assesses the damage at his home in Port aux Basques in September 2022. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

Some of the displaced have bought new homes in town with the help of government disaster aid and donations. Others are building anew. A few have moved away.

Then there are those, like Osmond, still caught in limbo, waiting in rentals or condemned housing, unsure where they'll go next.

"The problem is there are no new homes," says Rene Roy, editor-in-chief of Wreckhouse Weekly. "There's no apartments, there's no rentals. There's nowhere for them to go."

WATCH | A year after Fiona, anxiety is still in the air in Port aux Basques:

Fiona’s homeless are still stuck in limbo as they wonder what the future holds

5 months ago
Duration 3:50
Some of those who lost their properties in Port aux Basques in September 2022’s massive storm still don’t know where they’ll end up.

Roy says he knows of at least eight families who've had to leave town due to the sudden housing crunch that Fiona caused. 

The town lost 82 houses to the sudden influx of seawater from the initial storm. This summer, the province and town jointly assessed surviving properties, eventually determining that another 57 homes — some completely untouched by Fiona — were within a new exclusion zone.

CLoseup of man with grim expression
Rene Roy, editor-in-chief of the local Port aux Basques paper, says his hometown has taken a massive blow from the loss of housing stock after Fiona. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

Due to increasing risk of deadly storms in the decades to come, they're now considered too close to the ocean to live in.

The province will buy out those homeowners by January. They'll have 90 days to pack up their things and find a new place to live. A new subdivision might provide a haven for some, and the Canadian Red Cross is using donations to retrofit two buildings in town for a dozen seniors.

Despite those measures, more than 100 homes being off the market entirely is still a massive blow to the small community.

"It's going to cost the town a lot in terms of population," Roy says. 

It's already left its mark, he says. Entire neighbourhoods are now unrecognizable, with gravel pits where houses had stood for decades.

"This isn't home anymore," Roy sighs.

A piece of concrete sticking up on a beach
Houses used to exist along the shore in Port aux Basques, but now only rubble remains. They will not be rebuilt. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

Down the shore from Osmond's old home, frustrated homeowner Karen Kettle weighs her options.

Officials told her in June that she'd need to leave her house, its mortgage paid off over a decade ago, by early next year.

She won't find out how much she'll be compensated until January. She doubts it'll be enough to buy or build in Port aux Basques, leaving her caught in a dilemma: should the family sell their car repair shop and move to Corner Brook, or hunker down in their tiny cabin and commute to work each day?

Another mortgage, she says, would toss any hope of retirement out the window.

"This was our forever home. This is where we were going to die," she said. "We don't really want to leave here. That was never the plan."

She's left waiting, living in a damaged home, wondering where she'll be a year from now.

"If we had more answers from the government on what our pay would be, we probably could make a better decision on our future," Kettle said.

"It's like we're starting over … at this point in our life, we never dreamed this is where we would be."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Malone Mullin is a reporter in St. John's who previously worked in Vancouver and Toronto. News tip? Reach her at malone.mullin@cbc.ca.

With files from Patrick Butler and Michèle Brideau 

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