Thursday, June 13, 2024

Historic downpour impacts Eastern Shore

  • July 26 2023
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

EASTERN SHORE – Residents here breathed a collective sigh of relief Monday (July 24), as sunshine finally chased a torrential rain system that could easily have wreaked more havoc than it ultimately did along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore.

According to reports from Environment Canada’s coastal weather stations, anywhere from 50 to 100 millimetres fell on communities from Shearwater to Sherbrooke Saturday evening (July 22) and early Sunday (July 23) due to an unusual and slow-moving area of low pressure that funnelled moisture-laden air from the Caribbean into the Maritimes.

Earlier in the weekend, the system was responsible for a record-shattering 250 millimetres of rain, several flash floods, untold millions of dollars in property damage and at least four missing people in nearby Hants County and Halifax Regional Municipality, where parts of low-lying Bedford, Lower Sackville and Hammonds Plains had to be evacuated.

While the storm’s path tracked northeasterly, it had lost much of its energy by the time it reached Sheet Harbour. Still, it packed a punch.

“The boardwalk at MacPhee House is not open,” the community museum’s general manager Wendy MacKenzie posted to Facebook Sunday morning (July 23). “In fact, I am not sure it’s even there. The [West River] has major attitude this morning. She is high.”

Later in the day, MacKenzie uploaded a slow-motion video showing the river cascading, like a waterfall, over the still-intact boardwalk, and urged visitors “not to use... not safe.”

At noon, on Saturday (July 22), Historic Sherbrooke Village hopefully posted to its Facebook page, “We’re use to a bit of weather on the Eastern Shore. Our buildings are close together and we have umbrellas to lend you as you visit us today.”

Two hours later, however, the plan had changed.

“Due to current weather and road conditions,” it posted, “Sherbrooke Village will close early today. Please join us for our regular program hours tomorrow.”

It followed up on Sunday, stating: “With many surrounding roads impassable due to flooding, Sherbrooke Village will be closed again today, Sunday 23 July. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

The on-again-off-again story was much the same across the municipality.

According to resident Neil Black: “Highway 7 was closed due to high waters along the St. Mary’s River and church services were postponed Sunday due to high water in areas adjacent the river. There were no calls on [the] comfort center here in Sherbrooke... Lots and lots of rain, plus thunder and lightning. But not as bad as other areas.”

Said Sherbrooke’s Leigh MacFarlane — proprietor of The Soap Company of Nova Scotia — on Sunday: “Clover Farm [grocery store] closed early. We stayed opened until 6 p.m. as per usual... We didn’t lose power and had no flooding. As it happened, we had our grand opening Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. I was so grateful to the many, many folks who came out in great community spirit, torrential rain notwithstanding.”

Reached by phone, James Fuller, councillor and deputy warden of the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s, and a volunteer with the Goshen fire department, told The Journal that the St. Mary’s River “looked an awful lot like that song ‘Proud Mary’ ... rollin’, rollin’ on the river,” but that it had still managed to hold to its banks... There was sporadic flooding in low areas with many washouts due to fast water over dirt roads. Highway 7 at Lochiel Lake was completely flooded, washing away the repairs made after Fiona.”

Meanwhile, he said, “Goshen fire department assisted East River St. Mary’s fire department with a water rescue call in the east branch of the St. Mary’s River. A capsized canoe had been reported in the river, possibly with one person with it. Provincial search and rescue (SAR) was dispatched when no one was immediately found.”

In a press release issued on July 22, RCMP Public Information Officer Guillaume Tremblay confirmed that, while the police force was involved in a “multi-agency search” for four missing people in West Hants “following flooding conditions” in that area, “We have no further reports of missing people or of any injuries at this time.”

In a subsequent email to The Journal, he stated that the water rescue call in the east branch of the river was not “an ongoing search [as] it wasn’t confirmed if there was a person in the canoe or whether they were in distress if there was a person.”