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21 Campers Stranded When Bridge Collapses

August 24, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Cape Breton Island is located on the eastern end of Nova Scotia. Meat Cove is located on the extreme northern tip of of Cape Breton.

A bridge on the northern end of Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island has collapsed, trapping 21 campers at Meat Cove Campground and residents of the tiny community of Meat Cove.

Nova Scotia emergency officials were making arrangements Monday (Aug. 23) to evacuate tourists and feed local residents who won’t be able to use the only road into this remote northern Cape Breton community for at least another seven days, the Cape Breton Post reported.

Michelle Perry, a spokesperson for the province’s Emergency Management Office (EMO), said the tourists will be offered the option of being evacuated by boat to nearby Bay St. Lawrence. Early Monday evening, Perry said she was still waiting to be briefed by EMO officials on the ground in Meat Cove but she expected the evacuation to begin later that evening or today.

Food was brought into the community for residents and any tourists who decide to stay, she said.

The last estimate Perry had was that between 25 and 35 residents and under 50 tourists were in the community when a wild weekend of heavy rain left a bridge on the only road impassable while also damaging other bridges, culverts and the road itself.

George Muise, an emergency management official on the ground in Meat Cove, thought most of the tourists were opting to be evacuated to a temporary center in Bay St. Lawrence and on from there when transportation can be arranged, although some have apparently decided to stay.

Local residents contacted Monday have all decided to stay put, he said.

Perry said emergency management officials are advising any residents who have a pre-existing medical condition to be evacuated as soon as possible and will have paramedics stationed in Meat Cove, as well as boats and, if necessary, a helicopter on hand to respond to medical emergencies.

Engineers working for the provincial Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Department concluded Monday a temporary bridge will be required to restore access to Meat Cove, the installation of which is expected to take at least seven days.

The provincial department will have to restore access across where the Salmon River Bridge was damaged to allow heavy equipment to get at other damaged areas.

Local residents were still shaken Monday as they added up the damage caused by the weekend downpour.

Derrick MacLellan said some of the worst damage happened when a wall of water in Meat Cove Brook swept away everything in its path where it meets the beach, including a recently renovated bridge, boardwalk and sheds used by fishermen to store equipment and a boat hauling engine.

“We don’t have a beach left,” he said. “It’s totally gone.

“There’s no bridge, there’s no road.”

A concrete slipway slab is standing on end, he said.

He speculated that a wall of water at least 30 feet high swept along the Meat Cove Brook when fallen logs that had been acting as a kind of dam upstream suddenly gave way.

Two German tourists in a van on the beach scrambled for their lives when the wall of water hit, he said.

The van was washed out into the ocean.

Later, he encountered the two when they were yelling for help from the road.

MacLellan and other local residents were feeding people at the community center and he has also been helping the German visitors contact their consulate in Halifax to get some identifying documents and new passports.

“Our doors are open to whoever wishes to come in and there’s no charge for anything. We just want everybody to be well and safe.”

He hoped federal and provincial government officials would declare Meat Cove a disaster area.

“I mean you have to see to believe the damage that is in this community.”

Kenneth MacLellan, owner of the Meat Cove Campground and Meat Cove Chowder Hut, was frustrated early Monday morning by a lack of information being made available for the staff and 21 campers at the site.

“The tourists want to know what’s taking so long. You want to know they want to get out of here.”

The tourist operator was feeding the visitors for free and not charging fees to stay in the campgrounds.

Perry said officials met with the campers later Monday.

“I don’t think we were slow,” she said. “I think (Sunday) was an evolving situation. It’s a remote location which even local emergency managers had to travel to. And there was information being given to the campers reported to us by local community leaders who had gone to the campground (Sunday) to talk to the campers about what was going on.”

The campground owner also said the Salmon River Bridge on the road into Meat Cove was known to be unsafe. But Cathy MacIsaac, a spokesperson for the Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Department, said the bridge was inspected and was in good condition.

Deputy Premier Frank Corbett was also in Meat Cove on Monday meeting with residents and campers and staff from the EMO, RCMP, Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, Emergency Health Services and others who were also in the Meat Cove area to provide support services and co-ordinate repairs, according to a release.

People were encouraged to report damages to their primary residence by the rainstorm to the EMO by calling (866) 424-5620.

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