Fiona’s incalculable cost: Burgeo family shattered by loss of home steeped in 40 years of memories | CBC News

Dan Simms, centre, and daughters, from left, Dana Strickland and Donna Simms, assess the damage to their family home in Burgeo. (Troy Turner/CBC)

For Dan and June Simms, the value of a home far surpasses its walls, roof and belongings. It’s more than the countless hours of toil to build and then expand and then renovate it into the little piece of retirement paradise they had planned for decades.

It’s the memories that seeped into the walls, the safe haven from anything taking place elsewhere in the world, and the family focal point that was always “home,” regardless of how many were living there at any given time.

That house, and sense of home, has now been shaken forever due to the force and effect of a storm called Fiona.

“Where to go to? What to do? We can’t go home anymore,” Dana Strickland, one of Dan and Judy Simms’ two daughters, told CBC News. “We don’t have a home. That’s the most devastating part that we’re facing right now. We’re staying with our aunt, but it’s just nothing like home.”

Volunteers clean up debris left from the weekend storm in the Smalls Island neighbourhood of Burgeo. (James Grudic/CBC)

A little more than 40 years ago, Dan Simms and his brothers built the house on Smalls Island in Burgeo — about 115 kilometres east of Port aux Basques on a remote section of Newfoundland’s southwest coast. The rugged rock of an island has about 15 homes, and the Simms’, like others, was perched near the top, about 10 metres above sea level.

The building of the home was a source of pride for the family, and the first night the Simms spent there was the day of their wedding, more than 41 years ago. 

They raised their twin daughters there, catered the layout to their changing needs and always kept vicious wind and waves at bay over the years.

“We’ve had many storms that the power go off,” said Strickland. “We’ve had windows shake, the patio door shake, fans would shake, glasses and plates would shake in the cupboards. Pictures have come off the wall. Ornaments have come off the wall, but nothing has actually left the house.”

Early Saturday morning, however, pieces of that house were taken by the ocean.

Dan was checking out the waves when he called on June to come have a look. The first big wave took the shed. The next, the patio encircling the home. Dan decided it was time to shut the power off and evacuate. He flicked the main circuit in the basement and he and his wife left their home. The next big wave destroyed that same basement.

Dan Simms is devastated by the damage to his home. His wife, June, has been unable to bring herself to look at it. (Troy Turner/CBC)

“We’re happy to be safe,” Strickland said. “They got out safe. They’re alive. That’s the main thing right now. It’s always hard focusing on what you lost, but when you have your parents that are safe, that’s the main priority.”

The Simms family, like others who fell victim to Fiona, are now trying to pick up the pieces of what’s left and figure out where they go from here. On Sunday afternoon, a grief-stricken Dan said they had to find a place to live, and June was still finding it too hard to look at the devastation of their home.

The rock Cynthia Green is holding smashed through her living room window Saturday morning in Burgeo. (Troy Turner/CBC)

Next door, Cynthia Green was taking video of the wave through her living room window when she went to a different part of the house to assess the situation outside.

“I just walked away from window and thought I heard a gush of water from the bathroom,” she said. “I was on my way to come out and this is when [a large rock] come on in through with a load of rocks. And a wave. A wave came in. Not just little sprinkles, a wave came in.” 

Green’s house also sits about 10 metres above sea level and is 30 metres from the edge of the water.

“Never in our wildest dreams did we ever expect anything like this,” she said.

Green feels lucky to have escaped without injury or too much damage to her home. The window will be boarded up for good, she said. 

Ocean rocks now inhabit the rec room of the home of Dan and June Simms in Burgeo. (Troy Turner/CBC)

It was a busy weekend for the Burgeo volunteer fire department. The calls started coming in around 8 a.m. 

“We we came over [to Smalls Island] for a visit, see if we could [help] out over here,” said Chief Glenn Hann. “And lo and behold, to see the devastation that those people had, you know, it was frightening.”

Hann describes the fire department at the town’s first line of defence. In addition to fighting fires, they assist with medical calls, help out ground search and rescue, assist any calls with the provincial ferry system and help out the ambulance paramedics when needed.

A firefighter since 1979, Hann said he’s never seen the wrath of a storm like he did this weekend past.

“It’s sad, devastating. But we are fortunate, I guess you might call it, that we didn’t we didn’t have a loss of life. And I guess we can be thankful.”

In addition to the Smalls Island damage — which also includes sheds being swept out to sea, and other damage —  others lost their stages and sheds near the causeway on Park Road. The fish plant lost some of its roofing, and some slips and docks were destroyed. 

The Simms’s home is still standing, following the weekend storm, but may not be livable anymore. (James Grudic/CBC)

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