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A narrow escape from trapped trailer

Ken O’Keefe stands by his trailer, still trapped between the cabin and shed, almost a week after Fiona. The small window he and his dog, Lily, escaped from can be seen slightly to his left. – © Rosalyn Roy / Wreckhouse Press Inc.

By Jaymie White,

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

– with files from Rosalyn Roy

CAPE RAY — For Ken O’Keefe, coming to live in Cape Ray following his divorce seemed like a match made in heaven. O’Keefe had just retired from the military and was living his retirement dream in a trailer, nestled next to the picturesque cabin he was in the process of buying before post-tropical depression Fiona hit the coast on Sept. 24.

O’Keefe and his dog, Lily, were asleep in the trailer when the waves lifted the cabin and shoved it into the trailer, effectively sandwiching it between the cabin and the shed.

“I was asleep in the back when the first wave hit and it took everything, moved this entire piece (of the cabin) about 15 feet over and jammed everything in. I got stuck inside and I couldn’t get out of the door inside because it was stuck in there,” said O’Keefe. “It was a 12- or 14-foot wave coming in and when that one hit, it shook the trailer again and I grabbed my dog, and we ran into the truck.”

O’Keefe escaped through a small window, and pulled his dog out after him into the brunt of the storm.

“She’s a big dog so I had to reach in and grab her because she was scared. She was on the bed and backing away, so I backed away first, so she could see it’s now or never, then I inched forward enough so I could get a hold of her, and I just pulled.”

His fight or flight response kicked in full gear, and he acted quickly to get them both to safety.

“I thought, ‘I got this,’ and the adrenaline kicked in. I was high on adrenaline until I got to Stephenville. When I got to my friend’s house in Stephenville, she looked at me and the adrenaline started wearing off and I just started shaking,” said O’Keefe. “The road was completely gone. There was no road left. I put the truck across in four-wheel drive and just held on for dear life. I looked at my dog and said, ‘Don’t worry. We’re okay.’ I was calm. I spent 20 years in the military, so I’m used to being ready to go at all times.”

O’Keefe said his dog is doing well now, but she was scared to death the whole way out.

“Somebody asked me yesterday, ‘Did you say oh my God help me,’ or did you say ‘I gotta get out of here,’ and I said I looked at my dog. I said, ‘Lily, let’s go.’ She (Lily) is a year old. I got out of the military with PTSD, so I’ve been on the edge for a while and when this happened it was just another ordinary day. Like, ‘What else are you going to throw at me?’ Mother Nature was a little angry and I wasn’t going to argue,” said O’Keefe. “As soon as I got out and I assessed what was going on, I knew I had enough time. I had to dodge the waves though. I timed my escape with the waves going out and then that gave me enough time, so when the third wave came in, I had just closed my door and then the wave crashed into the truck and completely swamped us.”

O’Keefe had only been in his trailer in Cape Ray for a few months.

“When I first came down here a couple of months ago to buy the place, I was actually looking at the land that was up there by the beach and I got lost, and I saw that he had this place down here. I fell in love with it and said this is where I want to spend the rest of my life. Luckily someone said, ’no, this isn’t going to be the end of your life,’ because I almost did spend the rest of my life here.”

The process of buying the cabin hadn’t been completed, and the couple who were selling backed out from the deal as a result of the damage from Fiona.

“I was getting ready to buy but nothing had gone through the lawyers. We were at the lawyer stage, but nothing had been signed and no money had changed hands, so they backed out gracefully and I didn’t even have to ask for them to back out,” said O’Keefe.

“There’s no way they were going to sell this. They just wouldn’t feel right, and I think they probably would’ve given me my money back. They were that nice of a couple that they would’ve felt so bad.”

Even though he loves Cape Ray, O’Keefe has decided that his future will lie elsewhere following Fiona.

“I’m moving to Stephenville. I’m done with the water for now. I’m looking at buying a cabin in the woods now. Mother Nature told me to stay away and I’m listening to her. I’m not a fool,” said O’Keefe. “I’m originally from St. John’s and I’ve always had the salt water in my blood. This just fell into my lap so easy and then it got taken away just as quick, but I got to enjoy it. That’s the main thing.”

Austin and Marie Lawrence came to Cape Ray to assess damages to the cabin O’Keefe had been planning to buy, which actually belonged to her sister-in-law.

“We went in and had a look at the inside, and it’s a write off. The floors are uneven, there’s water and mud and you can see out through underneath the wall in the porch,” said Marie. “A guy had a trailer in between the shed and the cottage because he was going to buy this place this week, and the cottage shifted, and it’s got his trailer pinned between the shed and the cottage and it’s a complete write off. It’s squat in like an accordion.”

Austin is from Isle aux Morts and has been witness to the extent of the damages up and down the coast.

“Isle Aux Morts is nothing compared to Port Aux Basques. The last couple days they’ve been cleaning up, but a lot of stages went down there.”

Immediately following Fiona, Paul Taverner had to go to his own cabin to remove some food items that weren’t going to keep.

“We had a deep freezer and another freezer in the cabin, and we had to go out and take all the stuff out because the power is off. The lines snapped off down to all the houses and they had to shut the power off out there. I guess it must’ve been the following day because there is no one out there past the graveyard. The road is washed out and it’s not supposed to be passable, but they were going out there anyway. They put a barricade up there now.”

A number of cabins, some belonging to seasonal residents, were damaged, some beyond repair.

“The cabin up towards the lighthouse, a guy just recently bought it from Nova Scotia. I forget his name now. He just bought it from the Potts who are living in Ontario. He is after spending a lot of money to put a new septic in. He put a new well in and then this just happened. The two of them were supposed to come back in October for Thanksgiving, then close it up for the winter. His place is actually moved in about 100 feet. Took it right off the shores, and it was on concrete shores too.”

Taverner noticed the lighthouse was without power also, and contacted a lightkeeper to report it.

“I called him and said, ‘do you know if the power is off at the lighthouse?’ and he said no, so he phoned the coastguard then and they didn’t know.”

Once the coastguard was informed, it brought in a generator to keep the lighthouse active until power could be restored.

Dates for repair to infrastructure, including roads that were already scheduled for work this fall, are uncertain due to post-Fiona cleanup.

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