Natural Resources

Avalanches

Date: February 7, 1921

Location: Battery, St. John's

Easting: 372700

Northing: 5269700

Latitude: 47° 34' 00" N

Longitude: 52° 41' 00" W

Fatalities: 1?

Injuries: 2+

Source: Evening Telegram Feb 10, 1921, Western Star Feb 23, 1921

Heavy snowfall combined with high winds resulted in an avalanche striking the Outer Battery with devastating effect. The avalanche hit the house of Alfred Wells and family, moving it 10 feet, ripping off the top story, and driving the roof down into the room where the Wells family were sleeping. Mr. and Mrs. Wells were pinned in their bed by the falling roof. Mr. Wells, despite having his ribs broken, was able to extricate himself, and rescued their two year old son Sam, whose crib was crushed. He returned to free his wife, who had severe back injuries, and to rescue another infant (Geneva; Janeva in the 1921 census records) who had nearly smothered under the snow.

The Evening Telegram of February 10 talked to Mr. Wells and described the incident in detail thus:

"At about eleven o'clock he heard a tumbling sound above the noise of the storm and aroused his wife, telling her he feared there would be a snow-slide. They both went to get up when suddenly the house collapsed, a portion of the roof pinning the pair in bed in a sitting position. All was in darkness but the father managing to extricate himself, tried to get outside. He could not stand up as the roof was resting on the floor. Luckily, however, one portion at the farthest end being kept up by partitions, he managed to make an exit and hearing the cry of his boy he crawled back inside and removed him outside. Next he went to the assistance of his wife, and after a while he extricated her from amid debris and snow. The little infant in bed being nearly smothered was next rescued. The storm was at its height and all was in darkness, the family clad only in night clothes crawled down the hill to Wells' brothers".

Numerous other houses were damaged, including those of Mr. Wells' brother and father. Houses belonging to Morris, Edgecombe and Moses Pearcey were either destroyed or severely damaged. Loss of life was avoided in some houses as they were used only as summer residences during the fishing season, but considerable hardship resulted from loss of stages and fishing gear. Two families were left homeless however, and the Pearcey house partially destroyed, so the family were restricted to living in a single room.

The exact location of the Wells house is unclear, despite attempts to locate it using material from the City of St. John's archives. The Morris, Edgecombe and Pearcey residences are clearly identified as lying between Chain Rock and Fort Waldegrave, and it is reasonable to assume the Wells house was in the same area. This was confirmed after conversations with Geneva Bowering (née Wells; the infant involved in the avalanche in 1921), who identified the house as being in the Lower Battery. In the initial reports of the disaster, it was thought that Mrs. Annie Wells was unlikely to survive, but survive she did, living well into her seventies. She was pregnant at the time of the avalanche, and following treatment for a broken back, remained in hospital for several months until her daughter Elizabeth was born in August. By the autumn of that year the entire family was back in the Battery, recorded thus in the 1921 census as living in the Upper Battery.

 
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