Natural Resources

Avalanches

Date: March 12, 1907

Location: Foote's Cove, Burin Peninsula

Easting: 657500

Northing: 5237300

Latitude: 47° 02' 04" N

Longitude: 55° 08' 58" W

Fatalities: ?

Injuries: 9

Source: Daily News, March 15th and 18th, 1907

Foote's Cove, later known as Pardy's Island (and also known as Foot's Cove) was a small community of about 20 houses in the early 20th century, inhabited almost entirely by fishermen. The village sat in a rocky cove on Pardy's Island, a small island lying just off the coast from the town of Burin. Amongst the families dwelling there were several branches of the Mayo clan, including brothers Peter, William and Joseph. William and Peter had built their houses side by side in a corner of the harbour at the base of a steep cliff. The night of 11 March 1907 had seen heavy snowfall, and William Mayo had been out early shoveling snow, but had returned inside, and with his wife Anastasia was tending the stove. Joseph Mayo lived with his brother Peter and was returning from the well situated behind William's house when he saw a large avalanche release from the slopes above. He was extremely fortunate to avoid this himself, but saw it strike the two houses with tremendous force. The roof of William's house was torn off and thrown against the stable, the rear wall caved in, and the front wall knocked out. By the time Joseph attracted the attention of James Hollett, a neighbour, little could be seen of either house, being totally buried in up to 8 feet of snow. The community immediately mobilised a rescue party, but were unsure how to begin, as they feared digging down from above could crush those lying below. They started by digging a 30 foot trench at the edge of the avalanche and progressively moved in towards the collapsed houses - a strategy recommended by modern search and rescue experts.

After an hour of digging, the rescuers could hear screams and moans, and they rapidly excavated to reach the wall of the house. There they realised the unpleasant fate of William and Anastasia. The wall was supported by the coal box and thus had saved them from being crushed by the snow. When the avalanche hit, William had just finished putting coals on the stove and was handing the bucket of coal across the stove to his wife. The stove fell between him and his wife, pressed against his leg, and neither could move due to the weight of snow. Mrs Mayo was reached first, and the rescuers had great difficulty in removing her as according to the Daily News report "each time her rescuer touched her made the pain [from burns] almost unbearable". She was eventually extracted, badly bruised, and with her right arm badly burned. William Mayo was in an even worse predicament, and to reach him the rescuers had to go underneath the house and cut away the floor to reach him. He had at that point been buried for five hours and the Daily News reported his dreadful injuries as follows:

'His body was in a terrible state, and made the stoutest heart shudder. His left leg, abdomen and right arm were baked black, and the flesh could only be likened to leather, while his shoulder was dislocated. His sufferings were beyond description, and friends scarcely knew what to do to deaden the pain'.

In the other house, the inhabitants were more fortunate. Peter and his wife were still in bed when the avalanche hit, and the house also contained his mother, his sister, and her two children. It seems that a trunk was knocked on its end and thus prevented the weight of the house crushing its occupants. Peter was found quickly, but his wife was pinned under debris and could only be extracted with great care. His mother, who is described by the Daily News as "bordering on the grave" escaped with a gash over her eye and minor burns. Peter's sister, Mrs Thorne escaped unscathed as did her infant son, who she protected in her arms. Her other son, four years old, was trapped in a sitting position, but waited patiently to be freed. Amazingly all escaped without serious injury, especially as the house caught fire after the avalanche, as the wood stove was knocked over.

Mr. and Mrs. Mayo were quickly brought to the larger community of Burin, and as soon as possible brought into St John's in the Prospero. The last newspaper report suggested that Mr Mayo was "in a bad state and it is doubtful if he will recover". Whether he did in fact die from his injuries remained a puzzle for some time. Examination of the 1884 Census shows a Mayo family of Foote's Cove to consist of father Peter and Susan, with children Abraham, William, John, Mary, Peter, Benjamin, Henry, Hannah, and Sarah Jane. It seems very likely that the children listed include Peter and William who were involved in the accident. The next full census was 1921, and at that time there is no record of William or Peter Mayo in Foote's Cove. However the nearby community of Burin describes a household containing Peter Mayo, born in 1870, his wife Mary, and his brothers William (born in 1865) and Benjamin (born 1877). It seems very likely that this is the Mayo family formerly of Foote's Cove, and thus it seems that William did indeed survive his dreadful injuries. He is identified in 1921 as a single man, but there is no record of Anastasia who presumably passed away between 1907 and 1921. Whether she died as a result of injuries occurred on the avalanche is uncertain, and thus the fate of Anastasia is not known at this point (although it is possible, as in the case of her famous Romanoff namesake, further research might solve this small mystery).

 
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