‘Canada cut in half’: Country’s only east-west highway closed after new bridge splits

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The only road connecting Eastern and Western Canada has been shut after a newly-constructed bridge on Ontario’s Nipigon River split apart. Police have been redirecting people to take an alternate route through the US.

The Ontario provincial police tweeted the following message this morning.

It also told CBC News the closure could last “possibly days,” as engineers work to determine the cause of the split, which saw the west side of the bridge pull away from the support connecting it to the river bank. One of the halves now protrudes by 60 centimeters.

"It's not just us [who are affected]. It's all of Canada that has a problem right now," Nipigon Mayor Richard Harvey said. This is the one place in Canada where there is only one road, one bridge across the country,” he said of the Trans-Canada Highway, which is now off limits.

"My first thought was, Canada is cut in half," he told TB Newswatch.  "My second thought was, how can we get traffic moving as quickly as possible again?"

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The damage to the bridge has also left people stranded, with emergency accommodation being set up in the vicinity to allow people to rest their weary heads.

Ambulances and emergency vehicles were at the ready Sunday afternoon, as authorities tried to ensure they would be able to cross the bridge safely using metal sheeting.

Some unlucky motorists experienced first-hand the moment of the split. A married couple from Dorion was there on Sunday afternoon to describe it.

"As we turned [onto the highway], we saw the whole bridge — a kind of big gust of wind came underneath it and blew it up and then it came back down," Ashley Littlefield said. "We watched two pickup trucks come flying over. … They didn't see us, didn't hear my horn honking, and they flew over and smashed their front ends down on the cement."

It was Ashley’s husband who got out to stop the traffic before the police arrived half an hour later.

Ontario Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca said in a statement the authority “will do everything they can do to restore the bridge quickly, while also making sure that the safety of the travelling public remains of paramount importance.”

Greenstone, an Ontario municipality, even issued a state of emergency following the closure.

The bridge over the Nipigon finds itself in the middle of repair works costing CA$106 million (US$75 million). The project seeks to expand the bridge and replace the older lane with two new ones. The westbound part of the new bridge has been open since November, while the eastbound part awaits completion sometime in 2017.