This couple stayed up all night to keep flood water out of their home

Al Graham and Charlene Zhang stayed up all night fighting the swollen Thames River, that was threatening to fill the basement of their Delaware home with water.

Al Graham and Charlene Zhang pulled an all-nighter and managed to keep most of the deluge out

'An inch higher and we would have really been in trouble," said Al Graham who stayed up all night running three pumps with his wife Charlene Zhang to save their house. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Al Graham's house is nearly a quarter kilometre from a bend in the Thames River, but that didn't stop water from lapping at his doorstep when the swollen waterway burst its banks this week. 

"An inch higher and we would have really been in trouble," he said of the worst flooding southwestern Ontario has seen in a decade. 

In fact, it was during the last big flood in 2009, when Graham learned he can't rely on chance alone to keep his house dry. 

"At that time, I lost my furnace, hot water heater, washer dryer and I had a faulty sump pump, but I know now that a sump pump would never keep up with it," he said. 

Three pumps to keep the water out

A makeshift dyke made of sand outside of Al Graham's house in Delaware kept the water from getting past this door. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

So, when the river began to burst its banks on Monday, Graham wasn't going to take any chances. He went to the local hardware store and bought a gasoline-powered pump as an insurance policy, in case the water started to push its way up through the basement. 

"I knew my two sump pumps would not keep up with it," he said. "With the three of them I was able to keep up. Maybe the most I had was three to four inches in the basement."

It's quite a feat, considering the water was lapping at his doorstep by Wednesday evening. 

'It was cold water'

"It was cold water," said his wife Charlene Zhang, who had come home from work to find her driveway had become a lagoon. She soon realized she had no choice but to brave the frigid waist-deep water to get in the door.

"I had never done that before," she said. "It was cold."

Across the street, the water was waist-deep too. The current was so deep and swift, it left large objects like garbage bins, tree branches, even a propane tank hundreds of metres downstream.

Derek Graystone describes the current of the flood waters that passed mere metres from his private school in Delaware, ON. 0:20

"The water wasn't coming anywhere close to the school, we were very lucky, but it was a bit of a distraction for the kids," said Derek Graystone, one of the administrators at Riverbend Academy, a private school on Delaware's rim. 

The school's 33 kids were sent home early, once the water looked as if it could threaten the building. 

"We figured we should get out here once the parking lot was covered," he said, noting the school wasn't damaged except for a couple portables out back. 

The church next door wasn't so lucky. 

Father Matthew Bedard notifies the community that Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Delaware will be closed due to further notice because of a flooded basement. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

It's why Father Matthew Bedard isn't smiling as he trudges over a thin layer of ice that still clings to the grass, trees and bushes, a vivid reminder of where the water froze before it receded. 

"I had barely any sleep last night because we tried to fight this off," he said as he deftly changes the letters on the sign in front of Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Delaware. 

"We had many volunteer parishioners who came out and tried to keep the water at bay and in that time we had they were able to move the most valuable pieces, such as files and records and pictures." 

While the sanctuary appears unaffected by the flood waters, the basement of Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Delaware is filled with water. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

While the parish fought a good fight, they couldn't win against mother nature. 

"The water came up to the church and flooded the basement," he said, noting that without proper facilities services will need to be held at the St. Charles Garnier Parish in Glencoe.

"We'll get through this together," he said.

A man loads a wet vac into a pickup after cleaning up some of the mess inside sacred heart. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca