This now emblematic blue house of Port aux Basques has disappeared. Its owners are picking up the pieces
Lloyd Savery picks up a plastic frame, calls out to his son, a puzzled look on his face.
Amidst a pile of splintered wood and seaweed, about half a mile from the ruins of his dream home, he found what remains of the family’s pet door.
Savery, along with his wife Peggy and son Josh, lived in a sturdy 80-year-old blue house overlooking the ocean in Port aux Basques, NL. The family bought it three years ago when they moved from Barrie, Ontario, and have been renovating ever since.
They had no idea when they fled a monstrous storm surge last weekend that the house they planned to retire to would become the face of destruction Fiona left behind in Newfoundland.
A photo of this blue house, teetering on the edge of the seething Atlantic on Saturday, made international headlines as Fiona cruised through Port aux Basques. Local newspaper editor Rene Roy of the Wreckhouse Press took the picture before he too was evacuated.
The photo found its way into most major media outlets in Canada, including CBC News, and was featured in The Guardian, CNN and the New York Times, among others, painting a stark picture of the disaster that has struck the small town.
« It’s weird seeing your house everywhere in ruins when you’re used to seeing it as it was, beautiful and pristine, » Josh says, wiping the rain from his face as he takes a short break to clean up the wreckage.
« You used to see it as your home. Now everyone sees it and recognizes it as that house that collapsed by the sea. »
Monday morning, as the skies turned gray again, Josh, Lloyd and Peggy donned work gloves and warm clothes, digging through the debris that washed up on the shore.
Some of the salvageable items they found were not theirs. Others were. They shake their heads at the strange memories they pull from the wreckage: half a wooden bowl from Ikea. A live-edge shelf that Lloyd had just installed. A photo of Peggy and Lloyd at their prom night.
They are among dozens of others in the city left in the trash.
« It’s not something you think you would ever do, » Josh says.
He says he woke up on Saturday to rain pounding on the windows, the sea two meters higher than normal.
« [We] just caught the cats. Grabbed our shoes. I got in the car and drove off,” he says. “An hour later we see pictures of our house. It got hit by a wave and started to crumble. »
Josh still sounded dazed as he spoke.
« It’s really hard to understand all that power in that water. It’s relatively calm today, yesterday it was sunny skies, but the day before everyone’s life was torn apart, » he said. « I was there and I still can’t figure it out. »
« You never expect this to be your home »
The blue house had withstood eight decades of high winds, countless blizzards and torrential rains. But in the end, it was the sea, the same in their picturesque windows, that knocked him down.
The family say their dream of living by the ocean is gone, taken away by Fiona. With climate change, they say, it’s unclear when such a powerful storm surge could happen again. They will not rebuild.
For now, however, they are focused on cleaning up, putting their lives back together one mud-covered memory at a time.
« It kinda hurts every time you see it, » Josh says of the photo. « You always see images of other people’s homes and devastation elsewhere. You never expect this to be your home. »
Through that image alone, however, he also found solace.
“We get messages from all over the world,” he says, moments before turning to continue throwing pieces of his house into a big heap.
« It’s really touching to know that so many people there care about a group of foreigners. »
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