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James Towers stares up at a damaged ceiling in Nova ScotiaJames Towers stares up at a damaged ceiling in Nova Scotia

Jessica Reid-Lynk knew something was wrong when she heard the shingles on her roof flapping.

“I got up and looked outside and there were shingles everywhere,” said the mother of three young children about the damage caused when Hurricane Fiona hit Cape Breton on September 24, 2022.

With the roof damaged, the rain started pouring into her home in Sydney Mines. “We were bailing buckets of water,” she said. “Bailing and bailing.”

When the storm was over, Jessica and her partner, Thomas, surveyed the damage—a large hole in the ceiling of her living room, water damage throughout the walls and basement.

She felt despair looking at the damage; the couple had no insurance and couldn’t pay for repairs themselves.

“I struggle with depression and anxiety normally,” she said. “But after that, I was defeated and hopeless.”

Jessica is feeling more hopeful today now that Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) Canada volunteers have put a new roof on her house—and more will be coming soon to make her home livable again.

“It’s amazing,” she said of the help she is getting from MDS. “I feel my stress going down. I’m already counting the days until the work is done. I can’t wait to meet the volunteers.”

The family is among 14 homeowners in Cape Breton who MDS is planning to help after last year’s hurricane. Also on the list is James Towers, also of Sydney Mines.

“That night was frightful,” he said, surveying the damage to his house.

James was home alone that night—his partner, Sue, was at her night-shift job.

“I could hear the bang, bang, bang as shingles were torn off the roof,” he said. “The wind was really howling.”

The storm tore a big hole in the roof into which the rain later poured in, damaging the ceilings in the second floor and seeping into the walls.

“I had a tarp put on the roof. It covered it up for a few weeks but was torn off by the wind again,” he said. “Then more water came in.”

Since the house was unlivable, the couple left to live in a hotel for over two months before finding an apartment to rent.

“I can’t afford to repair it,” said James, who lacks home insurance. “Insurance is just too expensive for us. We earn minimum wage.”

Knowing MDS volunteers will be coming to repair the house fills him with hope.

“I can hardly believe there are people like that who will come help us,” he said. “We are so grateful. This is our home. We could never afford to fix it ourselves. We can hardly wait to get back in.”

For Roman Heuft, Response Coordinator for Cape Breton, people like Jessica and James are why he serves with MDS.

“So many people here are struggling with the affects of the hurricane,” he said. “They are the working poor, people who were just getting by before Fiona hit. The storm really set them back. Our job is to get them back on their feet again.”

Already, over 200 people have signed up to volunteer in Cape Breton between March and October. But more are needed, Roman said.

“We need more people to make sure we can get all the jobs done. We don’t want to leave anyone behind. We want to see them all get back home and be comfortable and safe once again.”

MDS was in Cape Breton last fall doing clean-up following the storm. Working with our partner, the United Way of Cape Breton, we are going back this year to do interior repairs on homes damaged by the hurricane. Those who want to serve can contact Clara Flores at cflores@mds.org. Travel subsidies are available.

John Longhurst, MDS Canada Communications

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