Crews work ‘as quickly and as safely as possible’ to repair Cape Breton roads, bridges

Officials in Cape Breton say they are working hard to repair damaged roads and bridges and to reconnect areas cut off from services such as hospitals and pharmacies.

A storm Wednesday dumped more than 200 millimeters of rain in some areas, including Ingonish River, NS, which saw a total of 290 millimeters during the storm.

Road or bridge washouts in Ingonish, Turbotvale, White Point and other areas have left residents stranded or forced to take hours of detours.

Lyle Donovan, the Emergency Management Office coordinator for Victoria County, said repairs must be assessed before construction can begin, and he asked people to be patient.

“We’re working as fast and as safe as possible. It’s about being safe and accessing people as quickly and as quickly as possible, but we have to be safe when we do it,” he told CBCs Information morning Cape Breton on Thursday.

Turbotvale completely cut off

The community of Turbotvale is now completely isolated after a 30m steel truss bridge was washed away. Phone and internet lines to the community were connected to the bridge, and there is no cell service in the area, so emergency services cannot communicate with residents.

Donovan said the creek the bridge crossed is still “fast, flowing water,” so crews won’t be able to cross to check on residents.

“We’ve had visual contact with them through neighbors. They’ve seen them, they’ve seen them outside. They seem to be fine,” he said.

Donovan said it could take days or even weeks to get a route to the community.

“We hope Mother Nature will start working with us and help us with this daunting task of helping everyone.”

Ingonish residents are unable to reach the local hospital, Buchanan Memorial Hospital in Neils Harbor or a nearby pharmacy due to impassable roads in the area, including a bridge in Neils Harbor that was flooded on Wednesday. The alternate route is a three-hour drive around western Cape Breton.

‘The response was great’

Larry Dauphinee, Victoria County’s deputy manager, said the Neils Harbor pharmacist has made the long journey to keep her store going, and has sent some prescriptions to Sydney to be filled so customers on the other side of the closed able to get their meds away.

The pharmacy has had offers from even Pleasant Bay to house staff trapped in Neils Harbour.

Fishermen have offered to transport people who have to bypass the closed road, including to hospitals, but Dauphinee said no transfers have taken place so far due to safety and legal concerns.

“The response has been great…many fishermen still have their boats in the water and are willing to move back and forth,” he said. “It’s great to see everyone working together. They think outside the box.”

A road in Cape Breton Highlands National Park needs major repairs before it can reopen. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

In Dingwall, people managed to swing a rope over a faded road and transport supplies using a cooler.

Robie Gourd, Parks Canada’s asset manager for the Cape Breton field unit, said a team of engineers is traveling from the area further north to Ingonish to inspect roads and culverts.

A number of washouts have occurred along a 15-mile stretch of the Cabot Trail, including near Broad Cove, where a Parks employee’s vehicle fell about twenty feet when the road collapsed.

Murdock Burton posted this photo to Facebook of White Point Road, which was swept away by heavy rain, cutting off local residents from the rest of Cape Breton. (Murdock Burton/Facebook)

“There’s a long stretch of highway that’s been undermined almost to the centerline. So from the surface it looks like asphalt is intact…when in fact there’s no substructure to the centerline. So it’s a very dangerous road, said Gourd.

Jamie Chisholm, the district director of the eastern zone of the provincial Department of Public Works, said 30 to 40 roads had been washed away at one point on Wednesday, but that number is falling.

Some bridges lost

Three bridges in Victoria County have been completely lost, he said, including the Turbotvale Bridge, one construction on Oregon Road and another on White Point Road.

“This is way beyond anything I’ve ever been involved in,” Chisholm said. “We also have crews, two crews working day and night, trying to fix some of the easier roads to make those passable, but our top priority is to try and get in and access those who can’t access in and out.”

A ditch overflowed on the road in the Cape Breton Highlands on Tuesday. (Sarah Barrington)

Chisholm said the department is asking for help from private companies to help with repairs.

According to CBC meteorologist Tina Simpkin, it will continue to rain in Cape Breton on Thursday, with up to 20mm expected in some areas.

Classes will be canceled for the rest of the week at Cape Smokey Elementary, Cabot Education Center, and North Highlands Elementary.

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