Residents in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality should avoid coming into contact with floodwaters because some of it has been contaminated with sewage and overturned oil tanks, the city warned Monday night.
"This is a very significant flood for us," said Wayne MacDonald, director of engineering and public works for the municipality. "Certainly one of the worst in many years."
In particular, floodwaters in the Cottage Road and Cabot Street area should be avoided, officials said.
The Sydney area got about 225 millimetres of rain on Monday, according to unofficial numbers from Environment Canada. The weather system is a result of the remnants of Hurricane Matthew meeting up with a system off the coast of the Carolinas.
More than 180 calls for help
Cape Breton Mayor Cecil Clarke said the local fire department had received 182 calls for help since noon on Monday.
"Quite frankly, our resources are taxed to the limit, whether that's public works, fire or police," he said. "We are asking for the public's co-operation to allow them to do their job and to get to the people in need."
Meanwhile, the chief of the Eskasoni First Nation said his community is in "emergency measures mode," and some buildings have been evacuated. Everyone in the community is being asked to boil their drinking water for three to five minutes as a precaution.
All schools in the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board will be closed Tuesday and hospitals are offering emergency services only.
Roads washed out
One Cape Breton man says his family was "exceptionally lucky" after a road ended up crumbling behind them moments after they drove by in the heavy rain.
Paul Roach, who lives on Mackeigan Road in Marion Bridge, N.S., said his father-in-law and son were driving toward the house when they felt the back of their truck "shudder."
"So they accelerated, and when they accelerated, my father-in-law looked in the mirror and saw that the whole road had collapsed," Roach told CBC News.
"If they had fallen in, I can't see any way that anybody would have survived. It would've been a tragedy for sure."
Mackeigan Road was one of several roads in Cape Breton that were washed out, and police said the problem isn't necessarily accidents — some roads are impassable because of cars being abandoned in the flood.
City officials are warning drivers to respect barricades. Some people are ignoring them and driving around them, which is dangerous because manhole covers are off in many instances, they said.
"We have manhole covers that are actually popping up and floating away because of the overflow conditions," said Cape Breton Regional Police Staff Sgt. Phillip Ross.
The Sydney airport is closed until at least 8 a.m. on Tuesday, as the main road to the airport is flooded.
John Phalen, a public works manager with the municipality, said there isn't much his department can do until the rain subsides.
"All our systems right now are all completely flooded — all our storm sewers and our sanitary sewers are all surcharged," he said. "Until the rain stops, there is absolutely nothing we can do about people with flooded basements."
Charlie Long, the platoon chief with Sydney Fire Department, says firefighters will check homes to ensure affected electrical outlets are shut off, but they don't have pumps to help homeowners get rid of water.
Pumps in high demand
On Lisgard Street in Sydney, Linda Bryden tried to get help as she watched the water rise in her basement.
Bryden said the pump in her basement became overwhelmed and her neighbour loaned her a pump, but then his basement started to flood. She said she tried calling the municipality but they didn't have pumps either.