10/28/2012 05:26 EDT | Updated 12/28/2012 05:12 EST

Wawa, Ont., Damage From Rain May Exceed $10M


The destruction that heavy rain caused in the northern Ontario town of Wawa is worse than feared, the community's mayor says, after the freak downpour overflowed creeks and rivers, washing out arterial roads and collapsing sections of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Although the rain has ceased, water from the storm continues to cause damage to municipal roads and infrastructure, and phone lines remain down in surrounding communities.

- Wawa, Ont., deluge forces First Nation evacuation

Wawa Mayor Linda Nowicki had initially estimated the damage to be around $5 million, but she has since revised the projection to at least double that amount.

"They're still seeing the impacts, and the mayor tallies the damage at this point at at least $10 million for municipal roads," CBC's Megan Thomas reported from Wawa. "So she'll will be looking to the province to help with the financing of these repairs."

The town is describing it as a disaster situation.

By Sunday afternoon, Ontario Provincial Police said two southband lanes on Hwy. 17 had reopened, with gravel sections and lowered speed limits. Police were urging motorists to drive carefully.

A northbound stretch on Hwy. 17 remained closed, and could take at least a week to get back to normal as crews rush to repair cavities as deep as 15 metres.

Partial evacuation of First Nation community

Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Madeleine Meilleur released a statement on Sunday saying she had been in correspondence with Nowicki on the situation in Wawa.

Meilleur added that she will be touring the disaster area on Monday.

"Our thoughts continue to be with the residents of Wawa, the Michipicoten First Nation, and the surronding region as they go through this difficult time and work to rebuild," she added.

The minister said that Emergency Management Ontario has since Friday been helping with emergency response in flood zones, and that the Ministry of Transportation is helping with road reconstruction.

Water was still trickling through the rain-carved gorges on Saturday, and police said phone lines and 911 services in the communities of Dubreuilville, Hawk Junction and Missinabie remain unavailable after connections were severed in the deluge.

Closure of the Trans-Canada Highway to the north and south of Wawa severed access between some residents, and normal traffic is not expected to flow across Ontario on the highway for days. Drivers were being asked to take a detour through the U.S. and around Lake Superior, or to take secondary highways further north.

The Michipicoten First Nation community of about 700 people southwest of Wawa had to be partially evacuated on Saturday, as residents were cut off from going in or out. Eighteen "vulnerable citizens" were airlifted out.

Cars in gorges

"All road access to that First Nation was wiped out by these floodwaters," Thomas said. "The vulnerable citizens — the elderly, children, they were brought to Wawa yesterday by helicopters, so they're still staying in town this morning, but attention now is really turning to the cost of this storm nd the damage it left behind."

The most dramatic damage could be seen from aerial images taken by helicopter camera crews, which showed chunks of the Trans-Canada Highway that had caved in from the deluge. Several cars were spotted in gorges and pits, though nobody was hurt.

Surveyors have been documenting the damage for a report for the province.

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said in an email that it was assessing the situation and was in touch with the community.

Meanwhile, a New Democrat member of the Ontario legislature called on the province to come to the aid of the northern community.

MPP Michael Mantha, who represents the area, said the provincial government should be helping repair not only the Trans-Canada, but all damaged roads and bridges.

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