A flooded Nova Scotia field was the focus of an intense weekend search for four people, including two children, lost after rushing waters caused by torrential rains swamped the vehicles they were travelling in.
RCMP Cpl. Guillaume Tremblay said efforts were continuing in the area of West Hants, a largely rural municipality northwest of Halifax where the people were reported missing in separate incidents on Saturday.
Tremblay said a dive recovery team conducted an underwater search of the field Saturday evening and located an unoccupied pick-up truck believed to be the vehicle in which the children were passengers.
He said the truck was submerged in over two metres of water, adding the search was continuing in the same area for all four people and a second vehicle.
“We are talking about flood waters that have zero visibility, so that definitely makes searching difficult where divers have to do a search according to touch,” Tremblay said in an interview.
“We are mobilizing industrial (pumping) equipment to try to lower the water levels. We’re going to keep searching and we’re not going to give up hope,” he said.
Police said earlier the children were with three other people who managed to escape from a vehicle that got stuck in floodwaters. A second vehicle carrying four people was also submerged and two people escaped, but a youth and a man remain unaccounted for.
And while the floodwater had largely receded by Sunday afternoon, it left behind a network of destroyed roads and bridges in the West Hants area and in other parts of the province. Flooding on the Meander River and Crawford Brook in West Hants washed out two bridges and a road, a vital link for one family.
Will Mounce said his 97-year-old aunt, Irene Harvey, requires daily visits from personal care workers for everything from medication to meals.
Search continues for four people missing after record #rainfall in Nova Scotia. #Floods #NovaScotia #ClimateEmergency #WestHants
“Our concern always is, our bridge is our lifeline,” Mounce said. “To have it out of commission for a long period of time, we’re trying to work around it.”
Mounce’s family is taking turns preparing meals and is working on forging a path for a tractor to access the main highway. He built his home on the bank of the Meander River, just down the hill from the family homestead where he grew up.
“I know I live on a floodplain,” he said, surveying what’s left of a washed-out bridge. “This is something I was always scared would happen. But I was sort of hoping, if it’s a 100 year storm, that I would expire before that 100 years comes around.”
His uncle, Howard Harvey, said the flooded brook knocked out the foundation of his barn, which held decades worth of farm equipment and memories.
Harvey, 92, began farming Hereford cattle in the 1950s, and only just recently retired.
“I have never seen a storm like that,” he said. “Just so long lasting. I don’t know how many hours of rain we had.”
Just down the road from a popular provincial campground is Shirley’s Pizza, where owner Bobby Maskine said he walked in on Saturday morning and initially thought the roof on the nearly 200-year-old building had collapsed. Instead, he discovered the basement was full of about four metres of murky, brown floodwater.
He believes his store will be closed for weeks, “a major hit” in the height of tourism season.
“I’m trying to keep myself calm because everyone is going through it,” he said. “There’s disaster everywhere, but this is the worst time of year for this to happen, for sure.”
Meanwhile, a state of emergency was lifted in the district of Lunenburg where there had been fears of a potential dam breach in the Fancy Lake area. Mayor Carolyn Bolivar-Getson said waters in the lake were no longer rising and were now considered stable, so an evacuation order was lifted for 440 households in the vicinity.
Premier Tim Houston praised first responders during a media briefing Sunday and said the entire province was holding out hope for the missing.
“To the families, you have an entire province praying for your loved ones' safe return,” he said.
The premier said that while water levels were still high in many of the affected areas of the province they were starting to recede after Friday and Saturday’s deluge.
He said 25 bridges had been affected across the province, with 19 damaged and six completely destroyed.
“It’s incredible to see the force of the water and the impact it’s had,” said Houston, who added that there were still between 500 and 600 people who remained out of their homes across the province.
Environment Canada meteorologist Bob Robichaud said the heavy rain, which began Friday, dumped between 200 and 250 millimetres along the province's South Shore, across the Halifax area and into central and western parts of Nova Scotia.
He said the weather system was expected to pass through Cape Breton and out of the province by mid-day Sunday after drenching the island and eastern Nova Scotia with about 175 millimetres of rain.
Hammonds Plains, Bedford and Lower Sackville were the hardest hit areas of the Halifax region where more than 200 millimetres of rain flooded roads, parking lots, sports fields and the basements of homes.
Erica Fleck, director of emergency management and community safety for Halifax Regional Municipality, said 200 residents were still displaced Sunday.
“Our biggest issue right now is that the water levels did not recede in a lot of places and we can’t continue to do assessments until those water levels go down,” said Fleck. “In some areas we still have bridges that are well over five feet under water.”
Houston declared a provincewide state of emergency on Saturday, which will remain in effect until Aug. 5 unless the government terminates or extends it.
Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said he approved a request Sunday evening for federal assistance from Nova Scotia "as communities across the province recover," in addition to federal resources that had been supporting the immediate response efforts over the weekend.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2023.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.