PORT ELGIN, N.B. - Cottage owners could do little but look with amazement Sunday at the devastation caused by a storm surge that crashed in off the Northumberland Strait, lifting buildings off their foundations and flooding dozens of homes and businesses.
"It's turned completely around and lifted off its foundation," Terry Murphy said as he examined his small grey cottage in Upper Cape, in southeastern New Brunswick.
"I don't know if I'm going to be able to salvage it or not."
The cottage was placed only a few months ago on a new concrete block foundation near a timber and stone seawall.
Now much of the seawall is gone and the cottage was pushed back from the shore and spun almost 180 degrees by the force of the surging water late Saturday.
"My back door now faces the water," Murphy observed.
Neighbour Tom Jardine said he expected to find some water damage, but never thought he'd see his cottage torn away from its foundation.
"We've had a couple of hurricanes we've lived through and all they did was bring the water up to the front of the cottage, so this was worse than a hurricane," Jardine said as he and Murphy assessed the damage.
Murphy, who is chairman of the local emergency measures committee in nearby Port Elgin, spent all of Saturday night assisting other homeowners through their distress.
The rapidly rising waters and the storm surge forced local officials to declare a state of emergency for several hours.
"We had extensive flooding - a metre up the sides of some houses - and we've had to borrow pumps," said Judy Scott, mayor of Port Elgin, a tiny community of 500 people near the Confederation Bridge to P.E.I.
Police reported three deaths related to the massive winter storm that swept through the Maritimes on Saturday, dumping up to 30 centimetres of snow that was whipped by high winds that caused most of the damage.
Winston Fearon, 54, of Three Fathom Harbour, N.S., died in hospital Sunday from carbon-monoxide poisoning. Police said he and a 32-year-old woman had sparked up a generator after their power went out Saturday night.
In Cornwallis, N.S., an 83-year-old man was found dead in the snow next to his home. The RCMP said it appears the senior fell outside Saturday night and succumbed to the elements as the storm passed over the area.
In Stratford, P.E.I., a female pedestrian was killed Sunday afternoon when she was struck by a piece of heavy snow-clearing equipment in a parking lot.
Environment Canada said winds died down Sunday, diminishing the threat of further flooding.
"Gusts of 90 kilometres were a contributing factor last night but we don't have them any more," said meteorologist Andy Firth. "The winds won't be as strong and the water level shouldn't be as high."
Port Elgin fire Chief Steve Alward said his crews were up all night using boats and tractors to help evacuate people who were cut off by water levels that rose several metres above normal.
"Some people stayed in a nursing home overnight, some stayed with family while others were able to return home once the water started receding," he said.
"As far as we know, everyone's accounted for, but we still have to do our assessment."
Deputy mayor Val MacDermid was among those trapped by the surge that left her driveway and the road in front of her home under a couple of metres of water.
"I had a friend come down to get me but he couldn't get through because the water was just too high," she said when reached by phone on Sunday.
MacDermid said she wasn't even sure that the two-metre-high breakwater in front of her house was still there.
"Where my lawn slopes down toward it, the water is up over that and about three metres from the front of my house."
A little further south, the storm surge also sent water over the causeway linking Pointe-du-Chene, N.B., with nearby Shediac, isolating dozens of residents.
Firefighters took one elderly couple from their home due to safety concerns and took them to a reception centre operated by Red Cross volunteers.
Some places in Nova Scotia, including Clarks Harbour and Halifax, also reported storm surge damage.
Firth said some businesses along Halifax harbour were flooded by waves that were only slightly smaller than those kicked up by hurricane Juan a few years ago.
"The normal high tide would be about 2.1 metres. We got up to about 2.8 in the harbour last night, only 10 centimetres less than we had from Juan," said Firth.
Utility crews across the Maritimes worked Sunday to restore electrical power after the storm left tens of thousands in the dark.
At its height Saturday, almost 45,000 homes and businesses in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island were blacked out.
By Sunday evening, about 4,100 customers across New Brunswick were still waiting for the power to be restored while about 100 were off-line in Nova Scotia.