THUNDER BAY, Ontario, Jan. 11 (UPI) — The only major highway connecting eastern and western Canada is closed because of a two-foot split in a bridge caused by extreme cold.
Bolts holding a girder to an expansion joint snapped Sunday afternoon, pulling the bridge away from the abutment connecting it to the water’s edge and causing a large crack in the newly-built Nipigon River Bridge near Thunder Bay, Ontario. The eastern end of the bridge, which opened in November 2015, is now two feet higher than the western end, and Ontario Provincial Police closed the roadway for an “indefinite time due to mechanical issues.”
A witness, Ashley Littlefield, told CBC News, “As we turned, 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.”
The cause of the bridge shift remains unknown, but it occurred as the wind chill approached minus 19 degrees Fahrenheit.
“It’s not just us. 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. My first thought was, Canada has been cut in half.”
Witnesses reported watching pickup trucks travel on the bridge at highway speeds and sustain damage as they suddenly dropped when they struck the crack in the road.
Police shut down Ontario Highways 11 and 17 leading to the bridge and officials declared a state of emergency. Harvey recommended drivers take alternate routes, several of them through the United States.
An identical bridge, adjacent to the damaged bridge, is under construction and is scheduled to be completed in 2017.