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Family still reeling after sinkhole incident in Falmouth, homeowner says

Looking at her home, Heather Strickey breaks down, saying this is the moment when it finally hits her that her home is truly gone.
Looking at her home, Heather Strickey breaks down, saying this is the moment when it finally hits her that her home is truly gone.

FALMOUTH, N.S. —  A few plastic bags of stuff, mismatched clothes and workout shoes, is pretty much all Heather Strickey has to pick from when getting ready in the morning.

Oh, and a bunch of swimsuits.

Strickey and her family managed to escape unharmed when the house they lived in started to collapse into a sinkhole on Sept. 3, 2017.  

Strickey, who works at King’s-Edgehill School in Windsor, says she’s still coming to terms with what happened.

“I think we’re still reeling from this; we’re living out of a couple of plastic bags and out of a friends home for now,” Strickey said.

“My 16-year-old is living in residence (at King’s-Edgehill School) to free up another bed,” she continued.

Heather Strickey and her daughter Julia Strickey, 16, stand in front of their home, which is slowly falling into a sinkhole that appeared under the property on Sept. 3, 2017. It’s expected to be demolished in the coming days.

“We’re coping for sure. You think about people who suffer through a natural disaster and lose everything and loved ones... we’re all still healthy and secure,” she said. “I think a lot of people are shocked by my positivity.”

Strickey said she initially thought the rumbling and rustling of furniture downstairs was a home invasion.

“It’s totally unreal to see a giant hole where your dining room table used to be,” she said. “In the end, the silver lining is that we’re all OK. If the sinkhole had opened on the other side of the house, we might not be OK.”

Just hours before the sinkhole opened up, Strickey had been doing laundry.

She said it had never occurred to her that a sinkhole could open up right under her home.

“An RCMP officer told my daughter and I to grab some stuff, so we grabbed some pretty silly things because your brain isn’t really processing things,” she said.

“I grabbed my work bag, with my laptop and agenda notes, and my workout bag because I thought I might still be able to get a workout in that day,” she said.

“My daughter, who was in the house, grabbed her basketball sneakers and her McDonalds uniform, because she thought ‘hey I got a shift later, in case I can’t get in the house right away I want to be ready for work,’” she added.

She said members of the fire department were able to, using harness gear, enter one of the bedrooms and grab a few valuables including some clothes, jewellery and photo albums.

“The girls have basically lost everything and my husband and I have a very interesting assortment of clothing,” she said. “Like I have all of my bathing suits, but I have no jackets or shoes.”

Strickey said one thing the family is still coming to terms with is knowing all of their possessions are still inside and will likely be lost in the demolition.

“It’s different than a fire when all of your things are destroyed, you know all of your things are still in there,” she said. “You’re dying to say ‘just let me in for a minute so I can grab something.’ Like I was sleeping in a bed I have never slept in before and I thought how nice it would be to have my pillow.”

The sinkhole under the home on Mountain View Drive continues to spread, now encompassing most of the two-door garage. Strickey said her Volkswagen Tiguan would be in the ground now if was still there.

Insurance still an unknown

One of the big questions still unanswered for the family is whether or not insurance will cover them, but she’s hopeful they will.

“The insurance adjuster was there on scene very quickly,” she said. “The company is looking into hiring its own geologist or geotechnical engineer outside of what the municipality has hired. They want a second opinion.”

The Municipality of West Hants said in a statement that the sinkhole was likely an isolated, natural event.

“Right from the beginning I’ve been very confident our insurance company will do the right thing. This is not an earthquake and our insurance covers us for collapse,” she said.

The house begins to lose structural integrity as it sinks deeper into the hole that has emerged underneath.

“Our house did collapse and it wasn’t a natural disaster. The sinkhole was there over time, they don’t magically appear,” she continued.

“We can’t afford two homes, we can’t afford to pay a mortgage on a home we can’t live in and pay rent or another mortgage,” she said. “Literally we’re relying on kindness at this point to help us.”

Strickey said she’s hopeful they’ll have an opportunity to restart and buy another home eventually.

“We would love to go back to Falmouth, it’s so wonderful there,” she said. “I would move back into that subdivision.”

Community response

Strickey remains upbeat, considering what she’s been through, and she says her friends, family, colleagues and neighbours have rallied around them during this difficult time.

“I’ve never felt so loved; I’ve had people say ‘we’ll take the children, we’ll take you, please use our house,’ we’ve been offered 30 homes to live in,” she said. “Some people are literally letting us use their winterized cottage.”

Strickey also said people have dropped off food, clothes and other supplies.

“You really realize how good and caring people are when something terrible like this happens,” she said.

She also said the municipality has been helpful in working with them, giving them time to figure things out with the insurance company. However, if the house becomes dangerous, the demolition will go ahead quickly.

Hazard tape surrounds the property and a 24-hour security guard patrols the area.

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