Brantford homeowners say unfinished dike is the reason their street flooded

Brantford residents returned to their flooded homes after the evacuation order was lifted. Some neighbours on Grand River Avenue are saying their houses would have been fine if the city had put in a temporary dike in time.

'We thought the city was going to take care of us,' resident says

Leona Hielema is standing next to her rental car. She and her husband lost their two cars in the flooded street while evacuating their home on Wednesday morning. (Flora Pan/CBC)

Leona Hielema woke up on Wednesday morning to a police officer banging on her door telling her she needed to leave her home on Grand River Avenue in Brantford, Ont. On her way out with her two kids and husband, her family lost their two cars in the water.

Now they're back home, and Hielema's daughter is playing as usual. While their home was safe, others were not so lucky.

Just a few houses down the street, Aubrey Blank's basement was flooded with about 10 centimetres of water. He had stayed home with his wife while his kids were away at a friend's house so they could monitor the water at home.

"I've been here eight years, I've never seen it like this," he said. "We were one of the lucky ones."

Several of his neighbours on the corner of Grand River and Scarfe avenues were heavily affected. He said one home had nine feet of water in the basement and another had water on the entire main floor.

Terri Holmes says while the house is in poor condition, a lot of her father-in-law's antiques are fine. (Flora Pan/CBC)

Terri Holmes, the daughter-in-law of one of those homeowners, said her main concern was getting her father-in-law to a nursing home after he evacuated his home on Wednesday morning.

"He's too ill. He's 80 years old," she said. "He doesn't walk anymore, so he hasn't come back and seen it."

Holmes said the house is in terrible shape, and her father-in-law with mobility issues simply can't live there while they take months to fix up the place.

The dike is temporary filled in at times with a barricade made of wood planks. The materials are stored in a space several feet away with a grate opening.

Unfinished dike to blame, residents say 

Blank and Hielema are convinced the unfinished dike on their street was why the road flooded.

It could have absolutely been prevented.- Aubrey Blank, resident on Grand River Avenue

At the end of Grand River Avenue close to the intersection of Colborne Street, Icomm Drive and Brant Avenue, there is an unfinished dike next to the dike trail.

Blank and Hielema both said the city has always put up a makeshift barricade when they suspect a flood might be coming.

However, this time they didn't.

It wasn't until after the street starting flooding that the city put up a gravel barrier instead of the usual barricade.

Blank said if they had just put it up in time, the homes might have been kept safe from the water.

"We knew the rain was coming three, four days in advance," he said. "It could have absolutely been prevented."

"None of us would be in this predicament. Our neighbours wouldn't be paying for hotel rooms out of their own pocket or trying to find spots to live."

The unfinished dike before the gravel was put in place. (Courtesy of Max Beyer)

'Not the city's fault,' Brantford says

The City of Brantford's explanation is there was not enough time for them to put up the fixture.

Maria Visocchi, director of communications and community engagement for the City of Brantford, told CBC News that the city will take specific flood prevention actions with messages from the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA).

In this instance with installing the temporary dike, Visocchi said the flood warning they received prior to the one that prompted the city to put in an evacuation order "was not a flood message that required the city to take that action."

By the time the water started coming, she said there was not enough time for the GRCA to direct the city to put up those fixtures.

"Our staff started to build those areas with gravel as best as they [could] to prevent more of the flooding that did actually occur," she said.

"It's not the city's fault that this weather event happened, and we did absolutely everything in our power to mitigate the effects."

Mud and debris litter Grand River Avenue following the flood. (Courtesy of Max Beyer)

Emergency response

Brantford continued to have a declared state of emergency, and it will not be lifted until the water levels are stable for several days.

The temporary shelters at Woodman Community Centre and Assumption College School have been closed.

Lori-Dawn Cavin, manager of community recreation for the City of Brantford, said there were nearly 100 people using the emergency shelters.

"We really feel that we did the best job that we could to make sure we created a home-like atmosphere," Cavin said. 

On Saturday morning, there were firefighters inspecting homes and Salvation Army volunteers handing out supplies to those in need.

Visocchi said the firefighters are the city's "eyes and ears on the ground" to make sure people are okay.

Throughout the weekend, there are booths in the city to address insurance inquiries from those affected. Visocchi said the city will be inspecting 30-50 homes in the assessment area near Earl Haig Family Fun Park, including the Grand River Avenue neighbourhood, for water filtration.

Some homes may be eligible for the Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontarians program offered by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.

Aubrey Blank is standing near the pile of gravel used to fill up the unfinished dike. He says had it been filled in before the flood started, his neighbourhood wouldn't have been flooded the way it was. (Flora Pan/CBC)

Waiting for an apology

While Blank and Hielema have been happy to see the help available, they want an apology from the city.

"You put people's lives at risk, you put their livelihood at risk, and you can't even say you're sorry?" Blank said. "Something needs to be done."

Both of them want to sit down with their ward councillor to go over what happened and find out what the city will do in the future to prevent another street flood.

The city is currently focusing on response and recovery efforts, said Visocchi, but there are plans for a public meeting.

Perhaps the answer to Blank and Hielema's concerns lie in finishing the dike, but for now they just want to speak to someone.

"Maybe we lapsed in judgment. We thought the city was going to take care of us, and they didn't," said Blank.

About the Author

Flora Pan

Associate Producer & Reporter/Editor

Flora Pan is a multimedia journalist based in southern Ontario. She currently works out of Kitchener-Waterloo and Hamilton. You can reach her at flora.pan@cbc.ca or on Twitter @FloraTPan.