Labrador highway washout could take days to repair, stranding truckers and travellers

A washed-out section of the Trans-Labrador Highway could take days to repair, says the Department of Transportation and Works.

Starting on Wednesday, stranded travellers will be helicoptered across the impassable road and freight will be delivered by Labrador Marine.

A section of Route 510 about 18 kilometres south of the Churchill River washed away Monday morning, near the entrance to the Muskrat Falls site.

Travellers in need of updates or assistance are asked to call the department at 709-896-7840 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Washout costly for truckers

As the hours tick by, Cecil Davis is hemorrhaging more and more money with his trucks stuck on both sides of a washout severing the Trans-Labrador Highway.

The owner of Christopher's Trucking in Forteau has trucks full of items stuck on both sides of the washout, with no way to deliver goods to Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

On Tuesday morning, Davis said a load of perishable food would likely be spoiled.

"You have drivers sitting, you have trucks and trailers loaded with products as well. It's substantial when you look at it, the costs you incur."

Jacob Barker/CBC

Davis estimates the cost to his business has already reached into the "tens of thousands."

Bikers stuck trying to reach wedding

Two adventure-seeking bikers are stuck in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, unable to get beyond the chasm in the road.

Andrew Woods of Nova Scotia, and Ralph Matthews of New Hampshire, decided to take the route through Labrador to get to Newfoundland for a friend's wedding.

"They say the Trans-Labrador Highway is one of the best adventure highways in Canada," Woods said.

Jacob Barker/CBC

And what an adventure it turned out to be.

The duo is now waiting to figure out if their bikes can be helicoptered across the washout for cheaper than it would cost to turn around and go all the way back through the Maritimes — more than 2,000 kilometres to the ferry terminal in North Sydney, N.S. They would then take the ferry to Argentia.

The friend's wedding is in St. John's on Saturday. 

"If anyone out there knows a guy with a boat that's willing to take a few motorcycles over to Cartwright, give us a call," Matthews laughed.

Repairs underway, but no timeline

Work got underway on Tuesday afternoon, as water levels subsided enough to make it safe for the workers.

A four-metre-wide culvert allowed water to flow underneath that section of the highway, which connects Happy Valley-Goose Bay with a string of coastal communities.

But local MHA Perry Trimper said even that huge culvert wasn't enough to accommodate what he said was a "flash flood-type situation," after about 99 millimetres of rain had fallen in the area over a 24-hour period.

"It's a huge culvert — it's actually four metres deep and about six metres long, so it was quite robust, but it was not robust enough to deal with the rainfall and the runoff," Trimper told CBC's Labrador Morning.

Christopher's Trucking/Facebook

"Apparently one end of it is damaged, at least. They were hoping that it would be usable, and would just be a matter of filling it back in, but I think they're still looking at that."

While the permanent highway will need repairs, Trimper said crews will be coming up with a solution for temporary passage across the road.

However, Trimper said he's not certain yet what that would look like, adding that crews will determine what would work best, and whether that will allow for transport trucks to drive over it to deliver goods to communities.

"I'm not sure. They've got a bit of a plan; they're certainly the folks that need to direct this repair are on the scene, and they'll be working their way through it, but how successful they are will really depend on the conditions that they encounter at that scene."

People who were stranded on the side of the washout keeping them from returning home, and without enough gas to get back to the next closest community, were given the supplies they needed, Trimper said.

"There were some four tractor-trailers and a series of passenger vehicles that we needed to top up and make sure they could get back and wait out the repair."

In the meantime, Trimper said it's incidents like this that highlight the highway's importance, as well as a need to keep in mind environmental concerns when installing any infrastructure in the area.

"It underlines the importance of that highway, of the Trans-Labrador Highway. We've come to rely on it now as a connection within Labrador and down to Newfoundland," Trimper said.

"It's now a very important, vital link. We knew it would be. We are continuing to invest in it and we are making great progress; it's just every now and then Mother Nature throws a curveball like this one."

Davis said he trusted the government crews were doing everything they could to get a temporary fix done as soon as possible.

"It's just one of those unforeseen things that no one has control over. We just have to be patient and wait until they have it up and running again."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador