Some Grand Lake cottagers won't be able to rebuild after flood, says MLA

It's been more than two weeks since the spring flood burst into homes and cottages along the St. John River — and residents are continuing to pick up the pieces.

MLA says rebuilding isn't financially feasible for some owners, especially some elderly

Flooding overran some longtime cottage communities on Grand Lake. (CBC News)

It's been more than two weeks since the spring flood burst into homes and cottages along the St. John River — and residents are continuing to pick up the pieces.

"I know there are some people that can't even come back to rebuild," said Pam Lynch, the Progressive Conservative MLA for Fredericton-Grand Lake. "It's not financially feasible for them."

Lynch has been travelling around flood-stricken areas, visiting people in the earliest stages of recovery. 

Cottagers along Grand Lake were among the people hardest hit by the flood. Some cottages were reduced to rubble when the water was at its highest and the wind came up.

Other cottages were shoved off their sites or severely damaged by the battering of waves and debris floating in from elsewhere.

"I don't know what people will do," Lynch said. "I know there are a lot of elderly people there that had cottages."

A lot of cottages were built long ago and have been passed down through generations of the same families, Lynch said, but it may be the end of the line for many owners.  

"They can't come back anymore."

Help for cleanup

The windows of this cottage were bashed by waves and debris when Grand Lake rose to record levels. (CBC)

On Wednesday, the Liberal government announced it will provide a maximum of $6,100 each to recreational property owners, but only for cleanup of properties, not for structural damage. 

Financial claims can be made for labour or contract cleanup costs. Lease-holders and people whose cottages floated away in the flood are also eligible to seek assistance.

The first week it was just utter shock and people were so upset they just didn't know what to do or where to turn.- Pam Lynch, Fredericton-Grand Lake MLA

About 2,000 recreational properties were affected by flooding. 

At a maximum payment of $6,100, that could mean a total cost of $12.2 million. It's too soon, however, to know how many people will apply or what portion of the maximum they'll receive.  

Cottagers looking to make a claim for financial aid should call 1-888-298-8555 to register.

Geoffrey Downey, with the Emergency Measures Organization, says people should register, photograph everything, and save receipts. Provincial health and inspectors will be disatched to properties but owners do not need to wait for an inspection before beginning their cleanup, he said in an email to CBC News on Thursday.

Total cost of flood still unknown 

Environment and Local Government Minister Andrew Harvey at a briefing on flood cleanup efforts Thursday. (Kirk Pennell/CBC )

On top of recreational properties, the province estimates that 10,000 commercial and residential properties may have suffered flood damage. 

While the province has an estimate for the maximum amount a flood cleanup could cost, based on how many properties they believe may have been impacted, it's still too early to say precisely how much the disaster will end up costing,  Environment and Local Government Minister Andrew Harvey said Thursday. 

"It's hard to tell the actual number until the uptake, because we really don't know," he said during a briefing. 

As of Thursday morning, 2,207 people have registered for the province's disaster financial assistance program.

'Utter shock'

While people are grateful for the help, they're anxious to move forward and get things back to normal, Lynch said.

"The first week it was just utter shock and people were so upset they just didn't know what to do or where to turn," Lynch said.

Some cottagers had converted their seasonal homes for use during more than just summer. Others counted on their cottages for their retirement.  

As cottagers and other homeowners affected by the flood wrestled with hard decisions this week about how to proceed and what to do in the meantime, the Nova Scotia government announced it will provide $100,000 to the Canadian Red Cross to support people affected.

"After record-breaking flooding this spring, many people who live along the river have lost their homes and personal belongings," said Premier Stephen McNeil.

Support for neighbours

Grand Lake washes over a road into Robertson's Point, near Jemseg. A lot of cottages around the lake are surrounded by water. (CBC News)

"On behalf of all Nova Scotians, we want to support our neighbours in their time of need." 

The Red Cross has worked with civil and provincial authorities to help people in need as a result of the flooding. The agency has registered evacuees, arranged emergency lodging and food where required and in some cases provided  financial assistance. 

As of Thursday, the Red Cross has received a total of $764,000 in donations for New Brunswick flood relief. This includes a $100,000 donation from the Nova Scotia government. 

Right now, the Red Cross is working on distributing $300 relief payments to households facing financial hardship because of flooding. 

Progress with city inspections

Crane Mountain Landfill has extended its hours and waived tipping fees to accommodate flood-affected property owners. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)

David McKinley, assistant deputy fire chief with the Fredericton Fire Department, has been co-ordinating health and safety teams in the capital city to help homeowners who have registered for disaster assistance.

"There are people who won't be inspected, particularly downriver, for close to a month," he said.

"There's a lot of places to do and only so many people to do it."

He said inspection teams made up of a fire, electrical, housing, health and environmental inspectors have been sent out to people's homes.

They're doing atmospheric testing, which include checks on oxygen, carbon monoxide, natural gas and sulphur dioxide, a chemical in sewer gas.

Getting people home

So far, about 250 people in the Fredericton area have registered with the assistance program for primary homes, and more than 200 have been looked after.

"We've been trying to get people home," he said.

Many of the homes the inspection teams have visited were prepared for the flood and removed belongings before the water came in, including items in basements or other things that would have been drenched.

"A lot of the people who we've been to, it's not their first rodeo," he said. "They've been flooded before."

With files from Sarah Petz