Teams conducting a grim search of a flooded Nova Scotia field located the body of a missing man Monday, and the RCMP confirmed the recovery of what they believe are remains of a second person swept away when torrential rain hit the province on the weekend.
Police said they recovered the body of a 52-year-old man from Windsor, N.S., in the main search area northwest of Halifax, while the second person’s remains were found “by civilians” on shore in a tidal area in the neighbouring county.
Four people, including two children, were reported missing on Saturday when the two vehicles they were travelling in were submerged in the regional municipality of West Hants. Police said the children were with three other people who managed to escape. A man and a youth travelling in a second vehicle in the area were also reported missing.
Sgt. Rob Frizzell said police are working with the medical examiner to identify the remains, but investigators have reason to believe they belong to one of the other three people missing. There have been no other reports of missing people from the flooding, he said.
“The second remains … were near a tidal system or near water, so we have reason to believe they most likely moved along those waterways,” said Frizzell, who couldn’t provide an estimate of the distance.
He also confirmed the search of the submerged field had turned up a second missing vehicle. An RCMP dive team recovered an unoccupied pickup truck Saturday in more than two metres of water and said it was believed to be the vehicle the children were travelling in. Frizzell said the second vehicle, also empty, was not far from the truck.
A series of thunderstorms that began Friday and stretched into the following day dumped up to 250 millimetres of rain on several parts of the province, washing out roads and bridges and causing widespread damage. Provincial officials said 25 bridges had been affected, with 19 damaged and six destroyed. At least 50 roads sustained significant damage.
Premier Tim Houston told reporters in Windsor that Monday was a “heartbreaking day” for the province.
“We can rebuild roads and bridges and buildings, but we can’t bring people back, and the legacy for these floods will be the incredibly tragic loss of life,” he said.
Earlier in the day, industrial pumps steadily emptied the field as searchers scoured the area for the missing people.
Abraham Zebian, mayor of West Hants Regional Municipality, was at the site and said search teams were pumping more than 94,000 litres of water a minute from the field. The goal, he said, was to get the water level low enough that people could search the area by foot. “We’re going to stay positive until we have some closure here,” Zebian said in an interview.
Traffic was being diverted away from the search scene just off the Meander River, a winding tidal river that flows near the locations where the missing people were last seen about 55 kilometres northwest of Halifax. Helicopters could be seen flying overhead.
Paul Johnston, a local veterinarian, said that when he woke up on Saturday he walked down his driveway and saw the water rushing knee deep along the road. Much of the search was being carried out on hay lands that Johnston owns.
“We gradually became more aware over Saturday morning that something terrible had happened down on the corner (at the home where the children were last seen),” he said in an interview on his front porch.
“Our own worries about damaged driveways and such just dissipated and all we care about now is the kids and the other lost people … For me personally, living here all these years, there’s never been anything as devastating as this.”
He knows the area well and speculated that the Meander River became a torrent and met resistance from a rising tide.
“The river discovered, as rivers will, that it could escape through those poor peoples’ property and outflow into the hay fields,” he said. “That created the massive current across the road. It was the river choosing to take a different path.”
While the floodwaters had largely receded by Sunday, they left behind a trail of damaged and washed out roads and bridges in the province. In the Halifax suburb of Bedford, power was out for many businesses and the hum of generators filled the air as owners assessed the damage. A film of red-brown dirt coated everything the water once touched.
Paul Chang said he has cleaned the dirt and debris out of his tropical fish store twice: once on Saturday morning after the Sackville River left about 30 centimetres of water in his store, and again on Sunday morning after water levels briefly rose and fell again.
“It’s been non-stop,” Chang said, “and the ground is still muddy, which brings mud back into the store.” The flooding damaged his store’s inventory, boxes and equipment, though his exotic fish were spared.
The swollen river is just a few metres from the door of John Mills’s Quarterback Mobile. He said his business fared better than some, taking on just a few inches of water. Mills took advantage of the sunny afternoon, laying out pieces of carpet to prevent mould.
“I think people need to keep a sense of relativity,” Mills said. “Four people are missing. So, if you lost power, you’re insured. Inventory, physical possessions, you’re insured. I try to remember that.”
About 90 kilometres north of Halifax, Canadian National Railway Co. was dealing with a major washout along part of its main line in Nova Scotia. Rail officials said a washed-out culvert had left a stretch of track sagging unsupported over a massive ditch, disrupting freight and passenger travel. Via Rail issued a travel warning, with no bookings available until Friday between Halifax and Moncton, N.B.
As well, mail delivery by Canada Post was on hold in the province until there is a better evaluation of safe areas for delivery.
A provincewide state of emergency declared on Saturday will remain in effect until Aug. 5, and on Sunday federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair approved a request from the province for continued assistance.