‘We wouldn’t be content anywhere else’

Barb
Barb Sweet
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Flood victims stand by Trouty

Ernest King’s home washed downstream about 100 metres in hurricane Igor.

Ernest King won’t let misfortune get him down, not after a lifetime of tragedy and survival.

King swam to safety when his home floated away in Trouty, but only after he’d gotten his wife, Michelle, and his 80-year-old mother, Peggy King, to safety at the neighbours’ place.

King shoved his dog, Blackie, out his son’s bedroom window so the pet could swim to safety.

As Ernest was struggling through 10 feet of water, Peggy knelt on neighbour Barbara Spurrell’s floor and prayed not to lose another son.

A petite woman, Peggy shies away from media attention, but she has a strong hug and a gracious manner.

“We’re alive,” she says, a little over two weeks after the ordeal.

“You learn not to dwell on things,” says Ernest, a dockside observer.

“It’s time to bring the fighting Newfoundlander back. I’m over it. I am ready to move on.”

After all, the Kings have moved on from so much.

Peggy’s husband died of cancer at the age of 43, leaving her a widow raising five kids, ages nine to 17. 

In 1992, Ernest, then a fisherman, and his brother, Johnny, were heating tar to waterproof cod trap lines. Fire broke out in the shed where Johnny was working and he died 10 days later, leaving three young children fatherless.

Ernest’s grandmother outlived four of her five sons and two husbands.

Ernest has had several narrow escapes — he has struck moose with his vehicle, fallen from 40-feet high scaffolding at a fish plant onto concrete blocks below and has had close calls on fishing boats.

King says the fact that his house did float away Sept. 21 saved his life. When it started to shift, it was his sign to get out.

“I have a new saying: ‘God moves houses in mysterious ways,’” he says.

The landscape in Trouty has changed and it is perhaps most obvious in the place along the once non-threatening brook where Ernest’s home used to sit next door to his mom’s two-storey, where he was raised.

Trouty was still a highway construction zone this week as crews worked to reopen a section of the community. The main road over a one-lane temporary bridge built by the army is twisted, rocky and rutted.

The Kings are staying four kilometres away in Goose Cove at Michelle’s vacant grandparents’ house until government flood compensation is settled.

It is spotless, and Ernest and Michelle are sitting at the Formica kitchen table just after supper. Little Blackie, who followed the family’s scent to the Spurrells’ house during the storm, happily greets visitors at the door.

Ernest says he’d rebuild right on the same spot again. Michelle says that would be stupid. He allows that maybe higher ground would be a better.

“We’re like two teenagers getting out of school and starting all over again,” Ernest says, as his youngest of two sons, Lucas, 19, prepares to head out to look around Trouty. Son Joshua, a young father himself, got hit with basement flooding by Igor on Random Island.

Ernest and Michelle are resolute about sticking by their community of roughly 100, even though his relatives in St. John’s have told him, “It’s time to move out of it.”

“Trouty is home,” says Ernest, who is a country and traditional singer in his spare time.

“We wouldn’t be content anywhere else.”

 Their home came to rest against a clump of trees, just before it would have headed out to sea. His patio landed 21 miles away across the water in Old Perlican, the barbecue still strapped on from the night before Igor — futile preparations Ernest chuckles at now.

“Tied my barbecue down, forgot to tie the house down,” he says. 

But Ernest is not laughing as he tucks bills away in the cupboard. One is from his insurance company, which gave him a swift “no” when he inquired about coverage for his destroyed home, but still withdrew his premium payment for the month.

“That was a slap in the face. Insurance is a pure rip-off,” he says. “Where would we be to without government?”

Back in Trouty,  Josephine Johnson is wrapping trays of squares at Trinity Bake Shop, which employs nine, including the owners and their son. The smell of fresh bread and cinnamon is as potent as her renewed hope.

Johnson answers the phone and says, “We’re happy to say we’re in full production.”

After nearly two weeks of shutdown due to the road washouts, floods in the bakery basement and a sewer backup at her own home, the delivery truck is finally rolling again all over the Bonavista Peninsula. Workers were sent home the morning of the flood.

After the  devastation, the Johnsons handed out their pies, bread, buns and cakes.

Johnson admits it became too much for her and her husband, Hedley, in the first days as the community was bombarded by hardship and the influx of media, military and politicians, including Premier Danny Williams and Prime minister Stephen Harper.

“We decided to pick up from it and move on,” Johnson says of getting the business back in gear.

Racks of bread, pies and other goods still share storage room space with Canadian Red Cross aid boxes, water, bags of clothes and other donations.

Meanwhile, one of her employees, Vic Ryder, lost her home and was having a hard time finding any place to rent in the area and navigating the bureaucracy.

Her family is staying with her partner, Edwin Miller’s parents, Lloyd and Annette.

Lloyd Miller has told everyone from the media to Harper that when the final fix is done in the community, a bridge needs to be put back as it was 30 years ago, instead of a culvert.

He was nearly trapped in his basement as the water rose and storage tubs and firewood started falling around him. He escaped before it reached the ceiling.

The community has had warm weather to tackle the cleanup each day since the storm.

When heavy rains come again, everyone will be nerve-wracked, he said.

“That night turned out beautiful. But I looked out the kitchen window and all you could see was water. It was frightening,” says Lloyd Miller.

Fisherman Toby Miller of nearby Old Bonaventure — whose residents must travel through Trouty to get to the Bonavista Peninsula highway — is getting ready to write thank you notes to the Clarenville businesses that donated to the area when he called on them in the wake of Igor. Not one turned him down.

Miller was taking his wife, Minnie, to her home-care job in Clarenville that morning as roads and bridges crumbled behind them.

A neighbour, Katherine Marsh, who works at the bakery, has lost two weeks’ pay and she’s thankful life is rebounding.

“I was going stir crazy,” Marsh says.

Old Bonaventure and New Bonaventure were among the last communities in the province to get the road connected again.

Coffee talk turns to the massive roadwork that remains to be done.

The people wonder what  tragedy may come in winter when they have to drive down the steep, jagged hill to Trouty and make sharp twists before and after crossing the temporary bridge.

“There’s no way you can do that,” says Minnie.

For more Igor coverage check out our print edition, or try our Smart Edition.

bsweet@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Formica, Trinity Bake Shop

Geographic location: Trouty, Goose Cove, Old Perlican Clarenville Old Bonaventure

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Recent comments

  • dhjngt
    March 11, 2011 - 17:14

    i live by ernest king hes my friend

  • Lanesha
    October 14, 2010 - 11:15

    I think it is very ignorant to make such a comment. Would you rather your taxes fatten the pockets of politicians instead of being used as aid for people in the wake of such a disaster?!

  • Trouty
    October 10, 2010 - 17:02

    You built your house on the banks of a river. Rivers flood. Why should my taxes have to pay for this? Notice in the picture the neighbors were smart enough to build up from the river?