Freezing floodwaters trap cars in Antigonish parking lot

It could take until Monday before a parking lot in downtown Antigonish, N.S., is cleaned up following a flash flood and freeze that trapped 23 cars in solid ice Friday night.

It could be until Monday before the site is cleaned up, says town's chief administrative officer

Cars surrounded by freezing flood waters in Antigonish, N.S., on Friday night. (Stephen Jewkes)

It could take until Monday before a parking lot in downtown Antigonish, N.S., is cleaned up following a flash flood and freeze that trapped 23 cars in solid ice Friday night.

To free the vehicles, workers with the town of Antigonish's public works department are using a loader, backhoe, sidewalk-plowing machine and manual labour to chip them out. Once the vehicles are free, they're being towed away.

"We couldn't remove them last night, we had to wait until this morning to try to get them out," said Antigonish chief administrative officer Jeff Lawrence.

Stephen Jewkes, the co-owner of Antigonish's 5¢ to $1 store, said water levels rose very quickly. (Stephen Jewkes)

All of Nova Scotia was under a flash freeze warning on Friday. Prior to the flood and freeze, Stephen Jewkes, who co-owns the Antigonish 5¢ to $1 store located in front of the parking lot, said it had been raining heavily.

"It happened so quickly that people weren't able to get to their vehicles. There were probably 20-plus vehicles that were stranded," said Jewkes.

He said at about 6 p.m. AT, the river that runs about 200 metres behind his store flooded the parking lot within 10 minutes. Water rose more than a metre on the lot and vehicles were trapped.

View of the Creighton Lane parking lot in Antigonish, N.S. (Stephen Jewkes)

"This is the highest I've seen it since I was a kid. In the last 30 years, I don't remember having seen the water come in as high. What was sort of unusual in this circumstance was how fast it came in," Jewkes said.

"It looks like there was pretty significant damage to many of those cars that were stuck," Jewkes said.

New car 'complete writeoff'

Lisa Higgins said her car, a brand new Mazda CX-3 that she had only had for four months, is "a complete writeoff." The Mahone Bay, N.S., woman was in Antigonish visiting her daughter and had parked her car in the lot on Creighton Lane.

"I loved my car, but anyway, it's just a car,"  Higgins said. "It was pretty devastating, but yet the main thing is we're all safe."

Higgins said they got there just as police were arriving. She took out her keys and clicked the fob to find her car. The headlights lit up from under the water.

Cars that were trapped in ice overnight are being removed from the parking lot behind the 5¢ to $1 store. (Stephen Jewkes)

"You can't believe what you're seeing. Your brain is trying to compute what your eyes are seeing," she said.

"Everybody was watching my car because my car's lights were on and they wouldn't go off and then they'd be flickering. You could tell it was trying to short out."

Flood warning signs

Higgins came back to the parking lot Saturday morning.

"I was able to get to my car but I still couldn't get into it. There were still huge chunks of ice all around it, up in the wheel wells," Higgins said. "The windows were all steamed up and frozen so I'm assuming that's because there's water inside there."

Higgins said she wasn't able to get a rental car, so she drove home in her daughter's car. As for her vehicle, Higgins said she hopes insurance will cover it. She said there should be signs up warning people about risks of flooding in that lot.

She said, "There was a couple that parked there, I think to go to an appointment of some sort and all their luggage was in the car. They were supposed to be leaving for Paris this morning so they were not going to be able to get to their luggage." 

The town of Antigonish had staff Friday night on Creighton Lane — behind Jewke's store where the parking lot is located — to address the flooding and closed the lane between College and Church streets.

Lawrence said the street won't reopen until the cleanup is complete. He said he's trying to track down all the owners of the vehicles. He's been asking people on site to share his cell number.

"It's been hit and miss so far," Lawrence said. "I can either meet with them over the course of the weekend or we could meet them Monday. We still have to get ahold of our insurance agents and at this point I'm not really sure how that's going to work."

Lawrence said some of the vehicles may have extensive damage.

About the Author

Anjuli Patil

Reporter

Anjuli Patil is a reporter and occasional video journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team.

With files from Blair Sanderson