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The Canadians plan to leave Port aux Basques, Newfoundland, after Fiona

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Scott Strickland has built his life by the water.

The 51-year-old Newfoundlander descendant of generations of lighthouse keepers who helped guide sailors safely to Port aux Basques, named after the Basque whalers who sought refuge there five centuries ago.

When Strickland’s family moved to the community on the southwestern tip of Newfoundland and Labrador, his father took a job with Marine Atlantic, a ferry service. Strickland, a real estate agent, bought a house with a great view — so close to the water that from his back window it’s “two jumps and in the ocean.”

But after post-tropical storm Fiona hit Atlantic Canada in September with hurricane-force winds and ruinous storm surge, the sight of Strickland no longer brings comfort. The storm, one of the worst in Canadian history, leveled fishing wharves, swept away homes and left many others, including Strickland’s, uninhabitable.

He doesn’t know yet where he will move, but there is one certainty: it won’t be near the water.

“Being on the water was exactly where we felt at home,” Strickland said. “But now everything has changed. Now there are scars – deep scars that affect you every time you look.

Fiona damage is widespread in Eastern Canada

Months after Fiona, residents of windswept Port aux Basques and other former fishing communities in the province are grappling with emotional decisions, including where and how to rebuild in a world where climate change could make intense storms more frequent.

In Newfoundland, where 90 percent of the people live within six miles of the rocky coast, quaint oceanside towns with brightly colored homes are not just the focus of tourist campaigns, but also a way of life. But for some, the sea that has long powered their communities is now a cause for apprehension.

In hard-hit Port aux Basques, some of the 3,500 residents are wondering if they should move further inland.

Days after Fiona hit, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey told reporters that climate change would further fuel such storms. He said he hadn’t spoken to anyone who wanted to rebuild where they had been.

“A lot of times those people didn’t choose to build there in the first place,” Furey said. “Our province is beautiful because it was so colonized historically and culturally out of the economic necessity of having fishing stops and houses near the water.

“Times have changed – and we must change with them.”

As Fiona watches Nova Scotia, a look at Canada’s strongest storms in the past

Rene Roy, editor of Wreckhouse Weekly, Port aux Basques’ newspaper, said Fiona had “without a doubt” changed the relationship city dwellers have with the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Some see a future elsewhere. Others have already left.

It’s not just the landscape that has changed, he says, but the people.

“People say, ‘I loved getting out on my back patio or getting out on my lawn and looking over those rocks out to the ocean and seeing the busters go over the rocks and spray 10 feet in the air’ , said Roy , 51. “It was peace for a lot of people, and it’s gone. A lot of people are now saying, ‘It’s scary. I hear waves and look around.’

Lori Dicks was one of those who liked to sit on her terrace to enjoy postcard-worthy views. In 2021, she built an extension to her house and opened Salon by the Sea, a hair salon. Then Fiona struck, shifting the foundations of her home and her future.

Dicks, 53, said she and her husband had always considered one day moving near their daughter, who lives elsewhere in the province, when they retired, but Fiona accelerated those plans. The couple plans to move this year.

“I don’t want to live by the water anymore,” Dicks said. “That’s for sure.”

Everyone else takes government money to leave a Canadian island village. A couple stays.

It is not uncommon for hurricanes to pass through eastern Canada, although by the time they reach the colder waters of the North Atlantic, their strength has dissipated considerably. This has changed over the past decades. Fiona traveled in much warmer than normal waters in September.

It was the lowest pressure storm to make landfall in Canada. It was the costliest extreme weather event in Atlantic Canada, causing more than $600 million in insured damage as it passed through parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. and Quebec.

But this total does not reflect the full extent of the devastation. The Insurance Bureau of Canada said many affected residents lived in areas so prone to flooding that home flood insurance coverage was often inaccessible to them.

Federal government reports have identified increased relative sea level rise due to climate change as a concern for Atlantic Canada. The projected increase in some areas over the next century exceeds the global average, putting coastal settlements at “substantial” risk of flooding and erosion.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government has summed up its future as “warmer, wetter and stormier”.

A tide gauge in Port aux Basques shows a rate of absolute sea level rise ranging from 2.5 millimeters per year to 3 millimeters per year, according to Phillip MacAulay, a national coordinator with a network that tracks fluctuating sea levels. water for Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

A “really bad combination” of factors was responsible for Fiona’s damage to the city, MacAulay said. Among them: The storm surge arrived at high tide and was aided by high winds and large waves. This does not mean that every storm will hit this way.

Some provinces and communities in Atlantic Canada have taken steps to adapt. Nova Scotia plans to limit how far from shore new structures can be built. Port aux Basques officials plan to demarcate a “red zone,” an area where it would be dangerous to have homes in the future.

Norm Catto, a retired geography professor at Memorial University in St. John’s, said coastal communities in Newfoundland also face other challenges: aging demographics, population decline and economic pressures.

“I don’t think anyone can argue that the coastline doesn’t change,” he said. “They see this in front of them. … If we look at small communities, adaptation has to be put in the context of everything that is happening.

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Some members of these communities choose to stay, but the decision is rarely simple.

Peggy Savery and her husband moved from Port aux Basques in the 1980s for work. But, like many Newfoundlanders, they felt the pull of the house and its “quieter, calmer pace of life.” The couple bought a blue house on the coast more than three years ago and have spent time and money renovating it.

Their terrace was the perfect place to contemplate to the stars or to look ferries and fishing boats, they said.

The morning after Fiona knocked, they left before high tide, locking their front door, thinking they would have a home to return to.

But the storm engulfed much of it. One of their neighbors died. Savery’s things were scattered far and wide. A worker restoring power found a photo of her and her husband on their Year 11 graduation in the rubble far from their home.

Savery lives with her husband’s niece. She said she had considered moving back – permanently.

“I would like to move,” Savery, 59, said, “but our son loves this place and doesn’t want to move, so we decided that…we’re going to make it work.”

Strickland’s house is still standing, but it suffered severe damage in the storm. Just before Christmas, he learned that he would be sentenced. All windows facing the water were breached, and the storm surge carried seaweed about 40 feet to the second story of the house.

For now, it is staying at a summer residence about 30 miles away, awaiting information on next steps — and charting a new relationship with water to which his family’s fortune had been tied for decades.

“We had a storm on Christmas morning and at night that night, and the winds and the seas got pretty strong,” Strickland said. “So of course you’re up all night thinking, ‘Will the house still be there when you check? And we’re at our cabin, and we’re still – the anxiety lingers and it’s hard to explain.

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