The Newfoundland Tsunami. BURIN, Newfoundland November 18, 1929 5:02 pm NST .
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The Newfoundland Tsunami
November 18, 1929 5:02 pm NST
On November 18, 1929, an earthquake of magnitude 7.2 occurred beneath the Laurentian Slopeon the Grand Banks. The quake was felt throughout the Atlantic Provinces of Canada and as far west as Ottawa and as far south as Claymont, Delaware. The resulting tsunami measured over 7 meters in height and took about 2½ hours to reach the Burin Peninsula on the south coast of Newfoundland. 29 people lost their lives, the highest death toll attributed to an earthquake in Canada, and 10 000 were left homeless.
Newspaper article of the disaster.
November 22, 1929
St. John’s, N.F., Nov. 22 (UP). – The complete story of Monday night’s devastation by earthquake and tidal wave along the southeastern coast of Burin Peninsula, describing the deaths of women and children swept away by a wall of water which crushed their homes, was brought here by the United Press today by motorboat from Burin.
Preceding many relief vessels converging on the cliff-guarded town, the motorboat visited Burin and the stricken villages along the coast southward. A death toll of 36 was listed as follows:
Lamaline & Point-Aux-Gaul15
Lord’s Cove & Kelley’s Cove2
A map of the Burin Peninsula, showing the damage from the Tsunami.
November 18, 1929
November 21, 1929
The United Press found chaos, tragedy, distress everywhere.
Devastated shoreline at Port au Bras, Newfoundland.
It will be days before actual relief work can get underway. All means of communication are paralyzed. Cables, telegraph and telephone lines have been broken by the earth tremor, the centre of which was only a few hundred miles from the peninsula.
People are even without the ability to communicate by boat, the tidal wall of water having swept away hundreds of dories and skiffs.
Sunken schooners after the tsunami.
Areas that felt effects of the earthquake that spawned a tsunami that hit Newfoundland. Intensities indicate effects of the earthquake shaking, not the tsunami.
Although the entire seaward coast felt the wave, the stretch from Burin southward was hardest hit. The French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon apparently escaped damage as did the western coast of the peninsula.
Burin harbour BEFORE the tsunami, circa 1920.
The most graphic stories of the disaster were obtained from eye-witnesses at Burin. Their stories dated from 5:30 pm when the entire peninsula was rocked by the earth tremor. Barely recovering from the earth shock which in itself did considerable damage, the villagers were having supper when the resulting tidal wave struck the coast with terrifying force.
Tsunami damage to the west side of Taylor's Bay.
Coastline of the Burin Peninsula after the tsunami.
The tremor had lasted about two minutes, shaking every building for miles along the sparsely populated southeastern coast. The rumble like that of distant thunder was broken by the crash of household dishes, glass, pictures shaken from walls, cracking buildings and the screech of twisting houses.
Women and children, most of them alone with husbands and fathers fishing, fled from their homes, rushed through the streets to gather in the churches. Children were lost in the panic and many were trapped in their homes as the water crushed the small frame dwellings and carried them back into the sea.
When one mother saw the advancing wall of water, she rushed to rescue her children. Her house was filling rapidly with water, but she waded through the door, only to be swept out to sea in the wreckage of the building. Many bodies were found beneath the debris left by the receding waves.
Dislodged home in Burin, Newfoundland after the tsunami.
Small boats and schooners, lifted from their anchorage, were dashed upon the shore, crashing against buildings. Piers and wharves were lifted clear from their foundations and hurled with tremendous force against houses on shore. Structures were demolished, the wreckage carried back into the ocean.
The terror of the dwellers was accentuated by screams that the island was sinking. Prayers and entreaties to God mingled with calls for loved ones. There were reports that some had become completely bereft of reason and were found several hours later wandering helplessly inland.
The distress was made greater by the loss of most of the winter supplies which were swept away by the tidal wave. Stocks of many of the Burin stores were wiped out.
Crafts torn from their moorings drifted along the shore for a full day after the disaster. Efforts to salvage them were defeated by the gale. Most of them ultimately were wrecked against the rocks. Wreckage of schooners and fishing boats was piled high with the debris of dwellings along the shore.
A washed-out house is retrieved by a schooner after the tsunami.
In the small town of Port-Aux-Bras seven lives were lost. The town was completely inundated by the tidal wave. Many dwellers were rescued after they had been adrift on their dwellings for hours, their cries attracting the rescuers along the shore. 11 dwellings, 14 fishing schooners, more than 100 dories and skiffs and every small structure from the smallest landing stage to merchants’ stores were swept into the sea and dashed to bits on the shore. Every article of food was lost as well as coal and winter supplies. Residents were destitute for food, clothing and fuel.
In Lamaline and the adjacent settlement of Point Aux Gaul, 15 persons perished. 4 members of the Hipditch family were drowned in their home; 2 other people were swept out to sea. All fishing property, stages, cod traps and provisions were lost. 3 houses and 70 buildings were wrecked. 8 people were killed when a building collapsed.
2 people drowned at Kelley’s Cove, 3 dwellings wrecked and all fishing boats and fishing gear lost.
Waterfront house destroyed by the tsunami.
St. Lawrence, Corbin, Burin, Mortier Bay, Rock Harbor, Stepaside and Lancelau were swept clean of shore buildings and fishing boats, although all residents either escaped to higher ground before the wave struck or were rescued before they were carried back to sea.
A family's grave in Lord's Cove
Bridges and buildings near Lord’s Cove were thrown 20 to 30 feet out of place, trees uprooted, fences leveled and roads obliterated. The carcasses of drowned cattle line the shore where they were deposited.
The telegraph station building at St. Lawrence was swept out to sea by the receding wave, but later found and anchored in the middle of the harbor. The surface of the harbor was strewn with wreckage and fishing gear, all of which was picked up from the shore.
Witnesses told of the heroic rescue of an entire family at Lancelau as a home was being carried out on the crest of the receding water. There was no loss of life there, although several were suffering from exposure.
Many injuries were reported at Lamaline, and one man, caught in the collapse of a dwelling, died today. He was Thomas Lawlor. There were others suffering from shock.
There was no estimate of monetary loss possible. Concern centred only on aiding the injured and sheltering and feeding the victims of the disaster.
The first to reach the scene were appalled by the catastrophe, accustomed as Newfoundlanders are, to storms and disasters at sea.
The cutter Daisy towed several dwellings to shore near Port au Bras, but found no bodies. One cutter reported that two persons had died from exposure and shock at Port au Bras, but there was no confirmation.
The next day, houses lay floating in the waters off Burin.
Collapsed building in the community of Port au Bras.
In Port Aux Bras, Mary Ann Bennett (Dibbon) went to check on her brother, Henry Dibbon, only to be met by the vicious Tidal Wave and was swept out to sea.
Mr. Dibbon's home, his life and his sister's life, were taken that night. All that remained was the fence and a dark hole showing where Henry's home once stood.
In Port Union, Trinity Bay, 50 miles directly northwest of St. John’s, the water receded six feet, vessels at the piers settling firmly on the bottom for about ten minutes, when the water returned to normal.
One of many breaks in the transatlantic cables caused by the submarine slump.
Cable officials relayed word from their repair ships reporting a tremendous upheaval of the ocean bed 350 miles south of St. John’s, intersecting cable routes. Shipping that was south and southeast of St. John’s Monday night and from 50 to 100 miles off the coast encountered a dangerous upheaval of the ocean surface which passed quickly without damage.
Nurse Dorothy Cherry (left) received commendations for risking life and limb in traveling from town to town on the Burin Peninsula, giving medical aid to victims of the tsunami.
The government steamer, Meigle, carrying doctors, nurses and provisions, early today was nearing the coast of Burin Peninsula.
During the night of the tsunami a gale blew up, dropping temperatures and adding sleet and snow to the survivors' misery.
While the wave smashed and destroyed many buildings, it simply lifted others off their foundations and floated them away. One store was moved 60 metres inland and deposited in a meadow, with all its stock left intact.
People took to the remaining boats in search of people hanging to debris or trapped in floating homes. A kerosene lamp burning in the second floor window of one floating house led rescuers to a sleeping baby, whose family had been drowned on the first floor. A man, swept to sea, swam to another floating house only to find it was his own. The house was later towed back to shore and replaced on its foundation.
The ferocity of the wave also tore up the seabed. This damage to the seabed was believed by many to be the dominant factor in poor fish catches during much of the Great Depression.
A fund is being collected here for the people whose means of livelihood have been demolished.
Collection vehicle for Burin tsunami relief.
The photograph shows a large schooner at anchor with a two-story house (and an attached shed behind it) floating directly astern of the schooner.
The house belonged to Mr. Steven Henry Isaacs of Port au Bras (seven lives were lost in this village but none of them appear to have been members of the immediate Isaacs family).
It was swept away from Port au Bras by the tsunami and found floating offshore 1-2 kilometres southeast of the mouth of Port au Bras inlet. It was towed into shelter into Little Burin Harbour by the owner and his father, William Henry Isaacs. There was apparently a lot of dry lumber stored under the house - some of the wood was still trapped there when it was recovered and may explain why the house floated so high in the water.
The house in this photo was eventually restored to its original location onshore.
Various newspaper clipping of the Tsunami.
Books about the Newfoundland Tsunami Disaster.