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Volunteer efforts leave lasting impact

Natalie MacIsaac was one of many volunteers who helped after Fiona. — Submitted photo

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter — with files from Rosalyn Roy PORT AUX BASQUES — During the immediate aftermath and over the many weeks that followed, there were volunteers who spent countless hours doing everything they could to ensure families got the help and support they needed. One of the volunteers was Natalie MacIsaac, Business Development Officer with the Port aux Basques and Area Chamber of Commerce. “I turned the train station here into a rescue centre for all the materials and items being picked up along the shorelines to be brought in, (and) sorted and returned to the (town) councillors. Once it was sorted, it was documented with pictures and sent off to the town office,” said MacIsaac, who dealt directly with the Newfoundland Reserves and the Canadian Armed Forces, who combed through the debris to salvage what they could. “They were the ones that came here directly with all the belongings, and we sorted through them. They stayed with me while we sorted and we laid it all out to dry and get it ready, so it was a different experience. I did all the running around for the town, picked up supplies, delivered food, picked up different items that were needed like bins, totes, garbage bags, cases of water. They had food being delivered to the ones that were doing cleanups to the town office itself or over to the garage. It was a lot of running around, but I did what I could to help out.” MacIsaac didn’t have to be asked for assistance, but like so many others simply leapt into action. “I called and told Nadine (Osmond, PAB Town Clerk) that whatever she needed me to do, I would o, that I want to do my part in helping the town as best way I possibly could,” said MacIsaac. The items retrieved were usually found in deplorable condition. “They were really raunchy. They were covered in sewage and oil, water, sand, almost like it was murky,” said MacIsaac. “There were a lot of pictures, ornaments, a lot of eyeglasses came in. There were helmets. There were teddy bears. There were Christmas tree ornaments, but 90 per cent of it was pictures.” After delivery began the process of sorting and cleaning. “We used all the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). We have masks, gloves, everything like that on the go. All of our tables that we had here were covered in plastic and taped down, and we laid everything on the table and left it for 24 hours. Then we went back and we took pictures and documented it of who we thought they (owners) were and all of them went into separate bins. We had different bins for pictures, ornaments, knickknacks, personal belongings, medications, all that stuff,” said MacIsaac. “Once they were dry enough that we could touch them without having to worry that we’re going to break it or rip it, we then document with pictures. I took over 200 pictures of everything that came in right down to earrings, necklaces, everything. What was found was bought in, and I documented it, dried it off, best as we possibly could, put it in the bins. The bins were then taken to the town office or to the councillors, and they had an off site storage unit that they could put into to freeze it. Nobody knew where it was, not even me, but they could freeze it, because once it was frozen for, I think it was two weeks, all the bacteria was killed. Then people could touch it without having to wear the PPE.” They filled eight bins with recovered items. MacIsaac is unsure if all the recovered items were claimed by their owners. “Hopefully all of it got returned. I know that once everything was said and done, they set up at the stadium and had a big post put out that anybody who wanted to come up to go through it to find their stuff,” said MacIsaac. “I think it was for a full weekend or four days that they held it up there, so I’m hoping that people got their stuff back.” The public wasn’t able to go directly to the train station to look through the items before then. “It wasn’t set up for the public to know that for that reason because it was only me here in the daytime, so we didn’t want people to know that their stuff was being bought here,” said MacIsaac. This volunteer work took weeks. “It was pretty much the full month of October, right up until I think was like just before Halloween,” said MacIsaac. “I enjoyed it though, getting out and talking to different people and seeing different people and helping where I could. It made me feel good about what I could do.” Even though it felt good to help, MacIsaac also struggled at times. On the last day of sorting through items she happened to stumble across personal photos of families who had lost their homes, and who happened to be friends of hers. “That kind of hit me. I think I froze and everything. A reservist was here with me and he took notice of what was going on, so he took me up for a little walk around the premises just to clear my head and talk to me. He wanted me to talk to the mental health (volunteers) and said that he was going to get them to call me or come here. They did call. We did talk. It was nice. I enjoyed it, and basically how she put it is what was called survivor’s guilt,” said MacIsaac. “I felt guilty because they lost so much and I didn’t lose anything. I was one of the lucky ones. I didn’t have any effect of Fiona where I live, here in town, but everybody else did and I felt guilty over it.” When Fiona hit, MacIssac was actually working at her second job at a gas station and had no inkling of how bad things were about to get. “I went in at quarter after five and there was nothing up here. A little bit of wind at the end of it was up here as well, but not like it was downtown or at Mouse Island. It was breathtaking, heartbreaking,” said MacIsaac. “This gentleman came in the store, about 20 after seven and said that the whole area was being evacuated. I basically went to panic mode, and of course then I was on my phone constantly, and my supervisor at the time came over and the two of us were on our phone constantly, looking at stuff, making phone calls, doing our texting, making sure we knew, everybody was okay.” The experience felt surreal. “Between the power outages and flickering lights and having no debit, no gas tanks, it was a rush. It was a different situation altogether, not what we all expected. I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t expect that,” said MacIsaac. “I will be the first to admit I thought that the storm was blown out of proportion. None of us expected it. I think myself, along with half of Port aux Basques thought that same thing, that it was being blown out of proportion, but I ate my words big time and I still eat my words every day.” Although she didn’t lose her home or experience any property loss, Fiona changed her life forever. “I can sleep pretty much in any weather with my bedroom window open, but not since Fiona. If there’s a little bit of wind my bedroom window is closed. I can’t hear it. I can’t listen to the wind or the heavy rain anymore. I can’t do it,” said MacIsaac. “People should pay attention to what the wind warnings and the storm warnings are and talk to anybody and everybody that you can help or that can help you. Don’t be ashamed. If you need help, open yourself up to help others. Always give a helping hand when needed.”

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