Storm brings East Coast transport to a halt

by Michael MacDonald and Sarah Smellie THE CANADIAN PRESS

Torrential rain flooded basements and washed out roads and bridges in western Cape Breton and southwestern Newfoundland on Wednesday, as a huge storm spent a third day slowly trudging over Atlantic Canada.

A state of emergency was declared late Tuesday in Cape Breton’s Victoria County, where schools were closed and residents were warned to stay off the roads. In Port aux Basques, the largest town in southwestern Newfoundland, stories emerged about increasingly treacherous conditions.

Local resident Ryan Moore was driving about 40 kilometres north of Port aux Basques on Tuesday night when a section of waterlogged asphalt disintegrated beneath his pickup.

“Luckily, I got to the other side of it before it really let go,” Moore said in an interview Wednesday. “The airbags went off, so I couldn’t really see what was going on. I was just holding on, hoping for the best.” Upon closer inspection with a flashlight, Moore discovered the washout had created a four-metre-deep crater that was wider than the length of his wrecked truck.

“I just got woozy,” he said. “It could have been a lot worse.”

Trans-Canada Highway flooded

Port aux Basques Mayor Brian Button said the pounding rainfall had overwhelmed the sewer system and inundated the main roads, including the Trans-Canada Highway.

“You kind of feel helpless,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “There’s not a lot that you can do.”

With the main highway severed by a washout near North Branch, N.L., the community’s only other link to the rest of the island – a small, secondary highway along the southern coast – was submerged by floodwaters before noon, Button said.

“I just had someone call; they had to turn back (because) the water is coming all over the road,” he said. “We won’t be able to leave Port aux Basques to get very far.”

The coastal community of 4,000 had received about 147 millimetres of rain by Wednesday afternoon, but there were indications the automated weather station there was not operating properly. The forecast was calling for a total of 200 mm or more. The town usually gets about 160 mm of rain, on average, during the entire month of November.

Southerly gusts reaching up to 110 kilometres per hour were expected north of Port aux Basques in the Wreckhouse area, which is notorious for punishing winds that pick up speed as they roll down a nearby mountain chain.

“The system is not moving a whole lot,” Bob Robichaud, a senior meteorologist with Environment Canada in Halifax, said Wednesday. “It’s just going to keep pounding them with rain, heavy at times, throughout the day.”


Later in the day, Premier Andrew Furey said helicopters were on standby “to transport people as needed,” and Transport Minister Elvis Loveless confirmed there had been four washouts along the Trans-Canada Highway on the province’s west coast.

“This is not a 48-hour fix,” Loveless told a news conference Wednesday. “The rain hasn’t stopped. We need that rain to stop and the winds to slow down.”

Meanwhile, the storm dumped between 100 mm and 150 mm of rain across large sections of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. Communities along the east coast of Victoria County recorded more than 200 mm of steady rain. At Ingonish River, the total rainfall amount had reached 278.4 mm by the time the storm moved on Wednesday morning.

Bruce Morrison, the county’s warden, said the storm caused extensive damage along the Cabot Trail, the world-renowned scenic highway at the northern tip of the island. Runoff from mountains in the Cape Breton Highlands damaged bridges and collapsed roads across the county, he said.

“It’s the calm after the storm, however, and that rain is supposed to come back,” Morrison said. “That’s our concern.”

In Neils Harbour, near the northern tip of Cape Breton, resident Johnathan Smith said he had never seen such foul weather, adding that the storm had washed away large rocks that were set in the coastline.

“Some people are blocked in different areas,” he said in an interview. “There was a culvert under the road and that’s now wide open.”

Meanwhile, the Canadian Red Cross said it was providing help to 63 people forced to evacuate the Indian Garden mobile home park in Antigonish, N.S., on Tuesday. The town in northeastern Nova Scotia experienced severe flooding, which left many roads impassable.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said the Department of Public Works had yet to complete a damage assessment.

“We are particularly concerned that there are some people without access to (ambulance) and medical services,” he said, adding that it was too early to determine if the province would apply for federal disaster relief. “The federal government has already reached out to say they will be there for support.”

The storm was forecast to reverse course Thursday and return to Nova Scotia to deliver more rain, though at a lighter pace.

“We’re not looking at a constant stream of heavy rain, like over the past few days,” Robichaud said. “But there could be a few pockets of brief downpours over southeastern Cape Breton.”

With files from Danielle Edwards in Halifax.