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Fiona triggers memories of 70s storm

Alice Francis (far right) fled her home before post-tropical depression Fiona reached Port-aux-Basques on Saturday, Sept. 24. She and her husband, Art Young (left) are staying with Alice’s daughter, Phyllis Pike (centre). – © Rosalyn Roy / Wreckhouse Press Incorporated

By Jaymie White

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES — Hurricane Fiona will forever be known as one of the most devastating hurricanes to make landfall on the Southwest Coast, but Alice Francis and her daughter, Phyllis Pike, remember another storm, back in the ‘70’s, that also destroyed homes thanks to a huge storm surge.

“It was on a Sunday night, and it was in October of 1974. We had just finished supper and there was a storm on. There was lots of wind and rain. The wind wasn’t as high as Fiona, but it was very high. At the time, Mom was pregnant with her 10th child, Tina,” said Phyllis. “I happened to look out the living room window when I screamed. I screamed because the boats in the harbour were up on the road. I just saw the water come up and push the two boats up on the road.”

The damage didn’t stop there.

Alice’s children enjoyed looking out the window during high winds, watching the rough seas, but Phyllis said that what they witnessed that evening was beyond what they could’ve imagined.

“The house across from Mom’s was a lot smaller. It washed out overboard and, when it did, we could see it spinning. The water was spinning the house. That’s how it was going,” said Phyllis. “Then it just cracked. We were all afraid. The waves just took it out. I remember seeing the fridge and the bathtub. It was just bobbing on the water.”

Alice was home with eight children when the storm hit, and the minister in town rushed to their aid.

“He saw the destruction. He knew mom was pregnant and had all these kids there, so he came over and he had a van. He got Mom out and got all of us out. Dad helped him. He took us up to my sister’s house. She got married when she was 16 and was only 20 at the time. She had a house on Martin’s Corner, and that’s where he took us,” said Phyllis.

Alice recalls that as they were leaving, she looked back at her house and say a sight that terrified her.

“I got scared. I did. There were sparks coming out of the wires at the house.”

Phyllis recalled that three or four homes were either destroyed or at least quite severely damaged by the storm.

“One home belonged to Mrs. Bateman – I’m called after her actually – and she used to visit all the time. Her house was moved from the foundation, and it was pushed up into the concrete wall that was there. The water level was level to the road when it happened. I remember it like it was yesterday.”

Even though the damage from the storm in the 70s was significant, Phyllis said that Fiona caused more.

“There was more damage around Port aux Basques at the time, but not like it is today. There might have been a bit of debris, things like that. I know Brian Osmond lost his house and a few others up on the point where his brother lived were damaged, but nothing like it is today.”

As of last Tuesday, Sept. 27, neither Phyllis or Alice had been back to assess the damage to Alice’s home. The Town of Channel-Port aux Basques was restricting access to the area, even the undamaged homes, out of concern for public safety.

“We haven’t been down there – we aren’t allowed – but I don’t know if I’d want to see it. I’d probably cry,’ said Phyllis. “Now Mom is on the bank from all that. It’s all gone and like a rocky beach from the pictures. So I don’t know how Mom is going to manage with any wind now because some of that used to block her from the wind.”

Alice said she doesn’t plan on moving away from her home, but is realistic about the future.

“I don’t want to leave my house – I’ve been there 70 years – but I won’t stay there anymore with wind. I’ve got seven youngsters here. If any wind comes up, I’ll leave the first night.”

Two of her other children visited her home to retrieve a few things when it was safe to do so, because Alice didn’t think she could handle seeing what the storm had done.

“I was in Corner Brook and Lloyd called me to tell me you’re allowed to go down to your house, but I thought I would go down and get upset, so I said, ‘no, get somebody else to go do it’, so Tina went down.”

Alice broke down in tears when discussing the severe damage to East End. Water Street East has received a great deal of media attention, both local and national.

“I don’t think I’d be able to go and see.”

Alice’s house, even after both storms, is still standing, a testament to how well it was built.

“She was built to last. The man who helped Dad build the house must’ve made it pretty sturdy,” said Phyllis.

“I don’t have a concrete basement either,” Alice pointed out.

Phyllis, who works at a neighbourhood drug store, said going back to work after the storm, was a completely different experience.

“When I went back to work on Monday, it was pretty quiet. The store – there’s a different feeling there,” said Pike. “It’s so quiet and people come in. There is no conversation around. They just get what they want and leave. There are just a scattered few customers here and there and you can just tell that there’s something not right.”

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