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Red Cross update on Hurricane Fiona relief

Red Cross staff pose outside of St. Christopher’s in Oct. 2022, during the Canadian Red Cross relief efforts to assist families displaced by Hurricane Fiona, which battered the Southwest coast last Sept. 24, 2022. – File photo (Canadian Red Cross)

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

SOUTHWEST COAST — On the weekend of Sept. 24, 2022, the Southwest coast was left in tatters after the unprecedented destruction cause by Hurricane Fiona. Families lost homes, businesses were damaged, and the physical landscape of the entire region was forever changed. Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick were also heavily battered, and communities are still trying to recover even months later. In the wake of the disaster, the entire country banded together to help those families and individuals who had lost so much, and charged with leading the relief efforts was the Canadian Red Cross. On Monday, Feb. 6, the organization released a summary of donations received and distributed for those affected by Hurricane Fiona. Because of the extraordinary generosity across Canada by people who contributed to the ‘Hurricane Fiona in Canada Appeal’, the organization was about to assist individuals and families from more than 96,000 households impacted by Fiona. Households that had more significant needs were helped in numerous ways such as registration, lodging, clothing, food, clean-up kits, cots, blankets, hygiene kits, information and referrals, well-being support, and emergency financial assistance for eligible households. The financial assistance provided was on behalf of the provincial government in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, or Newfoundland and Labrador, or Red Cross financial assistance for eligible households from the most impacted areas, and those who were unable to meet their basic needs following the hurricane. The breakdown of assistance was outlined as follows:

  1. Assisted more than 96,000 eligible households.

  2. Provided support at 33 reception centres and/or sites and conducted 22 mobile visits to impacted communities in partnership with local authorities.

  3. Provided in-person assistance to more than 42,000 people.

  4. Provided virtual/remote assistance to more than 58,000 people.

  5. Supported more than 100,000 phone calls through the call centre.

  6. Provided more than 140,000 assessments digitally.

  7. Provided emergency lodging to more than 1,200 individuals on behalf of provincial governments.

  8. Provided more than 5,700 emergency items to impacted individuals and communities, including hygiene kits, cots, blankets and teddy bears for children.

  9. Connected with people through more than 6,900 conversations for psychosocial or well-being support.

  10. Provided more than 680 referrals for other community-based supports. The Hurricane Fiona in Canada Appeal raised more than $54 million, including the matching funds committed by the Government of Canada, and more than 94 per cent of the funds raised have already been spent or contributed to the Hurricane Fiona relief effort. Regardless of the significant contributions, some households experienced delays with receiving financial aid, and while assessment offers are rolling out, it has been an arduous process since so many families were displaced or had homes sustain heavy damage. Dan Bedell, Communications Director – Atlantic Region with the Canadian Red Cross, said that while things are changing with the relief efforts, people are not going to be left to fend for themselves. “The Canadian Red Cross is no longer involved with paying for hotel accommodations for people from the southwest coast displaced due to Fiona. That responsibility was taken over as of December 1 by the provincial government through the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Authority,” explained Bedell. “While Canadian Red Cross closed its reception centre at St. Christopher’s Hotel as of Dec. 15, one of our staff who had been deployed there since the day after Fiona struck, Debbie Tostik, learned that hotel management planned – as is their custom each December – to shut down over the Christmas long weekend, meaning the doors would be locked, the restaurant would be closed and there’d be no managerial, housekeeping or kitchen-restaurant staff on site. Debbie had come to know the owners well, and they agreed to give her a key to the main door and allow her to essentially single-handedly run the hotel over those four days, including keeping track of people coming and going, unlocking the door for them to enter or return, access the kitchen and the community room that the Canadian Red Cross is still paying to rent, and will continue to do so for several more months, and so on. Debbie lives in Ontario now, but is from Lewisporte, and still owns a house and has relatives there, so after spending a few days in Lewisporte with family, she went back to Port aux Basques to spend Christmas in the hotel with residents staying there, allowing them and other family members and friends to enter and leave and use the restaurant kitchen to cook a Christmas dinner and enjoy it together.” The presence of the Red Cross may be significantly lower in the community, but there are no plans to move out entirely for at least another month. “We still are leasing a conference room at St. Christopher’s as a “community room” for people still living at that hotel or staying elsewhere, but who like to have a common space to meet and talk. As you no doubt know from interviews with others in the community, there is still considerable anguish over the impacts of Fiona and that room has become an important place for people to gather practically daily for mutual support,” said Bedell. “One of our Mental Health and Psychosocial Support team members will be staying at the hotel with them at least through to the end of March, or perhaps longer if we see an ongoing need. Our current booking for administrative purposes is to the end of the fiscal year, March 31, but we will reassess the need for an extension closer to that date.” Financial assistance isn’t 100 per cent complete yet either. “There is still at least one additional component of Canadian Red Cross support to the most impacted individuals and families, which will involve any remaining funds donated by Canadians to our ‘Hurricane Fiona in Canada’ appeal that may be left over once people with urgent, basic needs have been assisted,” said Bedell. “ It’s in everyone’s best interest that we use those funds in a way that compliments, but does not duplicate government recovery programs like DFAA (Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements) and other supports like insurance. Most of those donated funds have already been spent or committed but discussions are continuing with government officials in all provinces impacted by Fiona to determine how the Red Cross may be able to assist with any remaining funds from the appeal. We’ll provide details once final decisions are made.”

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