Residents of the tiny community of Trouty in eastern Newfoundland were relieved and moved Monday as the Defence Minister and Canada's top soldier landed in their hurricane-ravaged village.
Josephine Johnson, owner of the Trinity Bake Shop, burst into tears moments after Defence Minister Peter MacKay stepped from the Sea King helicopter with General Walter Natynczyk, chief of the defence staff.
"To think that he would come here to help us," she told reporters after Mr. MacKay assured her the military will do all it can to put the severed community back together again.
"It's like a nightmare that we can't wake up from.
"You don't know what to do or where to start."
Trouty Brook, a salmon stream that bisects the picturesque village, became a raging river as Hurricane Igor unleashed more than 200 millimetres of rain in the hardest-hit places last Tuesday.
"It sure gives you an impression of the power of Mother Nature," Mr. MacKay said of the vast swath of destruction, particularly along the Burin and Bonavista Peninsulas.
"The cavalry has come," he said of the arrival in Trouty of military combat engineers and support staff. "And we're working closely with the province [and]emergency services.
"Everyone is very focused and co-ordinating their efforts to help people here as quickly and as efficiently as possible."
Soldiers began dumping truckloads of gravel Monday to smooth a makeshift road heading toward the fast-moving brook. Slabs of buckled asphalt are all that's left of what was once the main road.
A wooden foot bridge built with two telephone poles hauled from nearby Trinity now connects one side of Trouty to the other. It has been used over the last several days to get food, water and other supplies to homes cut off by the rushing water.
One house was swept off its foundation entirely, landing several metres away on a neighbour's lot.
Gen. Natynczyk said the province and local road crews have made great progress in other areas already.
"The challenge is here, where you have these twisting roads coming in, that it's really hard to actually get a project like this done," he said of the gaping chasm in Trouty where a bridge needs to be rebuilt. "And that's where our engineers can lend a helping hand."
Gen. Natynczyk said his soldiers are glad to have a chance to use their skills and training on behalf of Canadians here at home.
It's particularly special for reservist engineers based in Newfoundland who are getting the chance to make a permanent contribution, he said.
"They're really proud to do that."
Combat engineer Corporal Stephen Hickey is a Newfoundlander based in St. John's.
"It's people's livelihoods that are pretty much being shaken up here beyond anything I've ever seen before in Newfoundland," he said.
"You need to be there to help them."
The military was expected to spend several hours moving dirt in preparation for bridge building. Three navy ships and Sea King helicopters are also delivering supplies and moving equipment.
Igor's deluge turned rivers and streams into raging waterways that plowed through asphalt.
The small town of Clarenville near Trouty has become a military base for the relief effort, where about 140 troops from Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick are taking part in Operation Lama - standard military code for hurricane relief.
At the bakery, Ms. Johnson paused to collect herself as Mr. MacKay and Gen. Natynczyk surveyed the damage to Trouty, the place she has called home for 40 years. With a population of about 60 people, it's a close community that has pulled together through the last six days.
"There's just so much to do," Ms. Johnson said. "When you look at the enormity of what we're facing, you know we're not going to get it back overnight.
"If people could only see what it was like before. It was so quiet, peaceful and beautiful."