Part of Hwy. 17 reopens at Wawa

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It’s not every day that Michipicoten First Nation resident Travis McKenzie would get into a boat to get groceries and other essentials in nearby Wawa. But a 10-minute boat ride on Lake Superior has been preferable to being isolated on the Michipicoten reserve, which remained cut off early Sunday, four days after a huge rain storm washed away parts of the road into Wawa and damaged several sections of the Trans-Canada Highway.
The end of October isn’t the safest time to be boating on Lake Superior, “but that’s how we’re doing it for now,” said the 17-year-old McKenzie from his First Nation home.
It was possible that the reserve might be reconnected late Sunday, if heavy trucks from Timmins arrived to support road crews trying to fill in the washouts.
About 20 Michipicoten residents at risk, including children and elders, who were taken out by helicopter a few days ago remained evacuated Sunday. They were staying at Wawa’s Motor Inn motel.
Around 1 p.m. Sunday, provincial police announced that temporary repairs to washouts just south of Wawa had allowed for the reopening of Highway 17 between the town and Sault Ste. Marie.
A much larger series of washouts on the same highway north of town in front of a Ford dealership and damaged motel continued to be worked on.
Some believe that repair could take a few more days, forcing cross-Canada travellers to be detoured north on Highway 11.
“That (washout) is just unbelievable,” Wawa Mayor Linda Nowicki said Sunday.
“It was like a whole river was running through it.”
Telephone service, including 911, was still out on Sunday in nearby Dubreuilville and in the villages of Hawk Junction and Missinabie.
Meanwhile, Nowicki and other town officials continued Sunday to get a sense of the cost to fix damaged municipal streets and bridges, which she said could run as high as $15 million.
Though more than 100 millimetres of rain fell in torrents Thursday on the town and surrounding areas, there have been no reports about the kind of sewage backups that hundreds of Thunder Bay residents endured this spring during a similar deluge.
“Really, our town itself is fine,” said Nowicki.
“We’ve got good streets, good drainage, and rain water doesn’t flow into our sewage treatment plant. We’re blessed that way.”
Wawa’s state of emergency remained in effect Sunday.
The municipality has requested provincial and federal financial assistance to pay for road repairs. Nowicki said there are about half-a-dozen washouts in town and around the municipality’s outskirts.
Though the loss of Highway 17 to the Sault was a major inconvenience, the town wasn’t cut off for very long after the rain stopped, because road crews had a washout on Highway 101 repaired Friday.
Still, said Nowicki, the lack of Highway 17 traffic has put the pinch on in-town businesses, which rely on customers coming off the Trans-Canada.
Ontario’s commissioner of community safety was to be in Wawa today to view the road damage.
Nowicki said one of the reasons the damage was so bad is because the terrain around the town is hilly; water from swollen creeks and lakes rapidly flowed downhill during the height of the storm.
Wawa Lake rose by six inches, and there were reports that another nearby lake temporarily rose by four feet before it released a deluge, said Nowicki.
As the storm intensified Thursday night, Nowicki said she received a call at home from a resident.
“They asked me if the town had any sand bags,” Nowicki recalled.
“I asked why, and they said the water was starting to creep up their driveway.”