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PAB council and staff mobilize for Fiona

Members of Channel-Port aux Basques town council visit Water Street East on Friday, Sept. 30 accompanied by NL Opposition Leader David Brazil (not shown). From left: Councillors Todd Strickland, Melvin Keeping, Gwen Davis and Mayor Brian Button. – © René J. Roy

By Jaymie White

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

– with files from René J. Roy

PORT AUX BASQUES — If you ask him outright, Mayor Brian Button will admit he’s tired, although he’s quick to add that it’s not about him. His exhaustion is etched on his face and readily apparent in his body language. His fellow councillors and town staff appear much the same, but none of them are ready to rest quite yet, even though it’s been over a full week since post-tropical depression Fiona tore through the entire Southwest Coast.

When the alert came on Friday, Sept. 23, that Fiona was going to be even more formidable than originally forecasted, Button wasted little time. He hopped on social media, posting video updates, telling residents what to expect.

“That day, everybody was forecasting it. You knew it was going to

be a big storm,” said Button. “Later on in that evening, after the newscast, I had the chance to talk to Eddie Sheerr personally. He called me and he thought there was information that we should know. He had a gut feeling about this whole thing

and how this was going to unfold. Him and other meteorologists had been talking, and they saw it coming.”

Button was attending his birthday dinner, but cut the celebrations short to call an emergency meeting with town councillors.

“What we tried to do is touch base and message in different areas, people we might know that are around to spread the word. I went on social media to say, ‘Look, we need to be up early. We need to be looking at this. This has the potential to be something really, really bad,’” said Button. “I never ever thought it was going to be this bad. I knew it was going to be bad. I figured we may lose sheds, maybe we might lose a home in one of the trouble areas we’ve seen in the past, but nowhere on this earth did I ever imagine that it would be what it was.”

From the beginning, residents took the town warnings to heart.

“They listened to the message.They got up early. They were looking. I do feel that the combination of all of this and the combination of trying to get the awareness out certainly helped quite a bit.”

Newfoundland Power also prepared ahead of time.

“They had extra crews here. They were ready to roll, and Newfoundland Hydro was here. I’m surprised that we didn’t have more out. People who put in poles, they had them

here too,” said Button. “They were ready for a small hit, power outages. They weren’t ready for this. No one was. So that takes more resources to get in, but it was impressive that so many were engaged and ready to go.”

Button’s phone rang off the hook with damage reports.

“When that started coming in, I became speechless then. It’s one thing to say it’s sheds and things like that, but when it’s a flurry of people saying, ‘This one’s home is gone. That one’s home is gone’. These are people I know. It’s not like when you’re here someone goes, ‘Down there, number 26 is gone’. Here it’s their names being called out who lost their home. You try to keep your composure. You try to keep it all together, but you’re human too, and it became harder.”

Button said it became too much for everybody when news came in that someone was missing.

“It took a fair bit to comprehend that. The reality was kicking in on this then.”

Town staff and councillors have been working tirelessly behind the scenes, but with all the help here and more arriving, Button said it will make it much easier for them to finally rest and recuperate.

“When you go out and you’re going to these areas and you talk to somebody, you see what they’re going through and what they’re doing to try and make this all work. It

says to you that you’ve got to keep going at this. We’ve had to keep going. At some point we’ll get a bit of rest because we are setting up the emergency response teams on the

ground here now,” said Button.

Button said the outpouring of thanks and support has been amazing, but he wants the thanks to go to everyone working to bring Port Aux Basques back from the brink.

“I’m only the person that, when we finish up at night, I’m making notes of the points to get out, but it all happened out there with the people who are working out there and I need to keep stressing that. Let’s thank the people out there because in here, I have the duty of getting it out to you. That’s all. It’s a joint effort, not me. I am just the person asked to lead the charge. A lot of good people are working hard.”

Town Clerk Nadine Osmond said the whole experience has been like

learning through ‘baptism by fire,’ because, even though there is significantly more to be done in the aftermath of Fiona, all regular town business continues.

Osmond is still relatively new, having just stepped into the role only months ago. Performing regular duties on top of emergency efforts makes for an excessively busy schedule right now. Given the circumstances, there are certain things the Town is not focused on for the time being.

“We’re not overly concerned about people coming in and taking care of their bills right at this moment. We know everybody is stressed about that. We also had to put garbage on hold this week because it just didn’t make sense to pick it up. We’ve still got bills to pay, so we are trying to do that, and normally we would’ve had a council meeting tonight (Wednesday, Sept.28). I was finalizing the minutes a few days ago and stopped that because this happened. We’ve had stuff on our list with Public Works and all of that business got put aside, but the office still needs to operate, do payroll, all of that stuff.”

The town office has been a hive of activity, acting as a central hub.

“It’s been like this since yesterday. We have some government officials here, and then all of the town council are having meetings here. The fire department comes in and checks with us. We’ve got some people from emergency services and quite a few out-of-town people in having discussions with us.”

Phones constantly ring as concerned residents and others seek critical information. The outpouring of support has been significant.

“So many people are calling us, trying to find out where they can donate, and this is people in Town, people from upper Canada, from way out West, people from across the island. We’re getting calls from all of the towns. We’ve gotten a lot of phone calls from Stephenville, Corner Brook, and all the town clerks and managers, a lot of them have reached out to see about financial donations, equipment, asking what people need.”

Osmond said there are a few things in particular that would help.

“I think money is good because then we can cover off a lot of needs of the people,” said Osmond. “We did hear from the Lions Club that they probably need toilet paper, toiletries, personal hygiene products and bath towels. That was some of the stuff that they listed because they have a lot of clothes, they have some household items, but those were the things they were low on.”

There have also been talks with Western Health to put in further supports for residents.

“I think the public is well aware of everything that is going on here. We are getting calls from people that are upset as well. We are not the best people to deal with that, but we’ve also had Western Health down with us, letting us know about counselling services and residents are definitely going to need some of that,” said Osmond. “I had a call from a lady that lives in the area who does have damage to her home – she is up in Nova Scotia or New Brunswick visiting family – and she was quite upset this morning. She is definitely someone I will be contacting Western Health about, letting them know she will need access to some counselling services.”

Osmond said, through everything, the town staff and town workers have been amazing.

“The staff has been great dealing with all of this because we’ve had so many calls, we’ve had texts, we’ve had messages, and it’s been a job to keep everything organized and keep the information straight in your head – everything we’ve got to tell people – and also, our town workers who are out, they’ve been doing a great job as well.”

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