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The Globe and Mail

Flash flood wreaks havoc in Cape Breton town

People stand on one side of a closed bridge that leads to the community of Meat Cove on Cape Breton.

PAUL DARROW/paul darrow The Globe and Mail

A raging torrent of water rushed through one of the most remote communities in the Maritimes on the weekend, cutting its road link to the outside world and leaving locals and tourists shell-shocked.

The storm-swelled river through the tiny Cape Breton town of Meat Cove damaged four bridges, a big culvert and long stretches of road. Several buildings were destroyed, but no serious injuries were reported.

"It's unbelievable the damage that the water did," said Hector Hines, who helped a group of tourists escape on Monday by boat. "I lived here all my life and I never heard tell of that much water."

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A helicopter is on standby for medical emergencies. But the town is otherwise cut off to those unwilling to brave a treacherous boat trip to nearby Bay St. Lawrence through a mess of uprooted trees and shattered building materials. Somewhere in the water is a vehicle from which a German couple had to flee before it was washed away.

"There's so much debris," said Randy Welp, visiting from Connecticut with his wife Lisa. "There's just trees and stumps and plywood, fibreglass and buoys."

The Welps were among about 30 tourists in town. With repairs expected to take weeks, most opted on Monday for a waterborne evacuation. But one visitor with a bad leg was forced to stay until the road is fixed.

Engineers will build a temporary bridge over the Salmon River and work their way through the damaged sections. Along the way, they will rescue an Ontario man who tried to escape with his camper and became stranded between two damaged bridges.

Rebuilding the community will be a slow process, and some fear the true scale of the damage has not yet sunk in.

"When the reality is going to start setting in on people it's going to be devastating," said Derrick MacLellan, who is running an emergency centre in the town. "To put our community back together, this is going to be a monumental task. It's just beyond imagination."

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