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Crumbled asphalt is seen in Antigonish, N.S., following torrential rain and high tides.DARREN CALABRESE/The Globe and Mail

The brown water was rising fast when Dorothy Fraser ran out of her trailer and saw her six-year-old granddaughter Grace across the street, calling for help.

The little girl was trying to reach her mother when she was caught up in a swirling flood that came so quickly that many residents were left trapped inside their homes. Grace was knocked off her feet before her grandmother could reach the child and carry her to safety. Within a few minutes, water a metre deep was pouring into residents’ front doors.

“When I came outside, the water was already above my deck. My granddaughter was saying, ‘Nanny, help me!’” Ms. Fraser said. “It was terrifying. The water just kept coming into my yard. It all happened within 15 minutes.”

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Ms. Fraser and her granddaughter were among about 90 residents of the Indian Gardens trailer park in Antigonish, N.S., who had to be evacuated from their homes Tuesday. Many in the community escaped with the clothes on their backs, some clutching pets – victims of a devastating rainstorm that washed out roads and highways across eastern Nova Scotia, Cape Breton and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The trail of destruction left by the storm, which dumped upwards of 200 millimetres of rain on parts of Cape Breton and Newfoundland and knocked down hydro lines with heavy winds, could take weeks to repair. It left some rural communities cut off from the rest of their province as roads disappeared into swollen rivers, including sections of the TransCanada Highway that were washed away.

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.

Port aux Basques Mayor Brian Button said the pounding rainfall had overwhelmed the sewer system and inundated the main roads.

“You kind of feel helpless,” he said. “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, Mr. Button said.

A flooded park in Antigonish on Nov. 24. Some residents of the Indian Gardens trailer park rushed to pull their neighbours to safety Tuesday morning after flooding began in the town with little warning.DARREN CALABRESE/The Globe and Mail

“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.”

In Antigonish, residents of the Indian Gardens trailer park rushed to pull their neighbours to safety Tuesday morning after flooding began with little warning.

Aaron Coady and Jim Green used a pickup truck and an aluminum boat to transport people from their homes. One woman and her small child had to be pulled out of their trailer window because they couldn’t open their front door on account of the water rushing in.

“I couldn’t believe how fast it came up,” Mr. Green said. “There were people who couldn’t leave their trailers because they had CPAP machines for breathing. Some of them were very elderly, and couldn’t get out on their own.”

Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher said it’s been more than 30 years since her town has seen flooding that reached its Main Street – but this storm was unprecedented in terms of the sheer volume of water that it dumped, she said.

“It just came so fast and so heavily, the ground couldn’t absorb all that water,” she said. “The weather patterns are so unpredictable now. We’re seeing the effects of climate change ... in the past, we probably wouldn’t have seen this at this time of year. Normally, this would have been a snowstorm.”

The storm was another reminder to municipalities like hers that they need to upgrade their old flood-management infrastructure, but many communities have limited budgets to take on those kind of major projects, Ms. Boucher said.

“We need to be ready in the future for these kind of storms, and we need to try to mitigate the effects of this erratic weather,” she said.

Barbara Deon stands alongside the receding floodwaters near her home in the Indian Gardens trailer park in Antigonish on Nov. 24. Ms. Deon, who escaped with her passport, some clothes and her late dog’s urn, said she’s been heartened to see how her neighbours have come together to help each other.DARREN CALABRESE/The Globe and Mail

Barbie Deon, who escaped with her passport, some clothes and her late dog’s urn, said she’s been heartened to see how her neighbours have come together to help each other. On Wednesday, extension chords attached to generators snaked through the trailer park, as people tried to salvage food, restart flooded cars and dry out their homes. Piles of debris were strewn through people’s yards, including oil tanks that had split open and were swept across the park.

The Red Cross has moved the trailer park’s residents into hotels, but Ms. Deon knows that’s not a permanent solution for a community where some are wondering how they begin to start over.

“This is devastating. I can see it in their faces,” she said. “The people who live here don’t have much, and they don’t want to leave their homes.”

With a report from the Canadian Press

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