Safety hazards persist as floodwaters retreat, say EMO officials

From structurally unsound roads and bridges to dangerous fiddleheads, health and safety risks are abound as officials begin to discuss the recovery effort and more than 1,400 displaced residents eagerly await their return home.

Flood levels across New Brunswick will continue to drop into the weekend

Floodwaters were cutting access roads to Chipman, but there's some hope as water levels have receded for the second straight day. (Jamie MacKay/Facebook)

Latest

  • Water levels drop for second straight day
  • Trans-Canada Highway between Fredericton and Moncton could partially reopen for the weekend
  • EMO says it could be days or even weeks before residents can return home
  • Alert Ready test Wednesday evening unrelated to flooding
  • EMO warns floodwater may be contaminated

Water levels are gradually dropping across New Brunswick, with emergency officials warning the public against a variety of hazards left in the wake of historic flooding.

From structurally unsound roads and bridges to dangerous fiddleheads, health and safety risks abound as officials begin to discuss the recovery effort and more than 1,400 displaced residents eagerly await their return home.

"We continue to ask New Brunswickers to show the same patience and the same consideration that they've demonstrated since this flood began," said Greg MacCallum, director of the provincial Emergency Measures Organization.

A car is submerged in high water in New Brunswick's Belleisle area. Water levels are starting to drop across the province, but the impact from this year's flood is far from over. (CBC)

The St. John River has fallen for a second consecutive day, creating a considerable change in parts of Fredericton that were under water for a week and a half. About 40 roads were closed in the capital at the flood's peak, but that number is down to 10 and all ramps to Westmorland Bridge have reopened.

In northern New Brunswick, field inspection teams are finishing their work in Grand Falls and Miramichi and are beginning their damage assessments in the Fredericton area, according to the EMO director.

The flood isn't over for much of the lower basin, however. Every community between Fredericton and Saint John is expected to remain above flood level until the weekend.

"Response is still the theme of operations," MacCallum said during a news conference Wednesday.

As floodwaters crashed into her home, Mill Cove resident Dawn Burke recorded the damage in a video that's gone viral. 1:32

Evacuations are still occurring along the southern reaches of the river, and emergency personnel are present on the water and at barricaded roads. That won't change until the conditions do, he said.

The province's five-day River Watch forecast suggests Fredericton could dip below its 6.5-metre flood stage by Saturday. On Wednesday, the river along the capital city hovered just above seven metres.

Levels in Saint John are forecast to retreat below the 4.2-metre flood stage by Sunday, but the communities of Grand Lake, Jemseg and Sheffield are expected to remain above flood stage until next week.

Information provided by the province's River Watch system. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

Hazards

It's common to see fiddleheads being sold out of the backs of trucks on the side road following the annual spring freshet, but health officials say the furled fern and other edible plants may not be safe this season.

Boiling wild edible plants exposed to floodwaters could kill microbial contaminants but not chemical ones. A 30- to 90-day waiting period after the water is cleared is recommended.

Officials will also assess affected cropland to determine if any restrictions will be applied.

There will be restrictions placed on some roads and bridges, including the bridge in Chipman that's expected to reopen Wednesday but with a 12-tonne weight restriction.

An aerial view shows the closed Trans-Canada Highway between Gagetown and Jemseg on Sunday. (Trevor Lyons/Radio-Canada)

The Trans-Canada Highway remains closed between Fredericton and Moncton, but the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure said the section of highway could reopen with one lane in either direction on the weekend. Significant amounts of debris have been scattered across the highway.

Transport department operations director Ahmed Dassouki said once the water recedes they will know the full extent of damage and debris, and crews are clearing what they can.

Dassouki cautioned motorists against driving on closed roads even if the water has receded, saying the structural integrity of the road or bridge may have been compromised during the flood.

Ragged Point Road in Saint John crumbled because of floodwaters this week. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

More than 150 provincial roads have been affected by flooding, and the department's priority is restoring links to isolated communities, he said.

MacCallum warned boaters to stay off the river, because the water is unsafe and full of debris.

EMO officials also continue to warn residents that floodwaters could be "heavily contaminated" with sewage and pose health risks. Many sewage systems have been compromised by the flooding.

On Wednesday, the City of Saint John closed four public parks because of flooding and health and safety concerns.

"We're treating this water as contaminated," said Joe Armstrong, deputy director of the Saint John Emergency Measures Organization.

"Nobody's sure what's in it. There's no doubt some [raw] sewage in it."

Compensation program expanded

Cottagers whose properties have been damaged by the flooding could be getting some financial assistance from the province, given the economic impact of cottages and summer tourism on surrounding areas, Premier Brian Gallant said Wednesday.

Last week, the province launched a financial aid program for people affected by severe flooding this spring — a program set by the federal government, which pays for about 90 per cent of its costs.

Gallant initially said the disaster financial assistance program would be available for individuals, small businesses and municipalities that suffered property damage when water in the lower St. John River basin rose to historic levels.

Recreational properties, particularly in the Grand Lake region, were among the hardest hit residences in the past two weeks.

Cleanup effort

EMO officials say it could take months before life returns to normal for residents affected by severe flooding.

"The damage is going to be widespread. There's going to be a lot of it," said Geoffrey Downey, EMO spokesperson.

"Maybe your home wasn't flooded out that badly, but whatever might be in the water has created potential health issues that you have to address as well."

Debris from destroyed or heavily damaged cottages was thrown ashore by waves at the longtime summer community at Robertson's Point, near Jemseg.

Downey expects people forced to evacuate from their homes over the past two weeks will be returning soon, moving them into the recovery stage.

"There's a lot of people heading home soon to find their homes in an unbelievable state," he said. "The long arduous process of rehabilitating their homes will begin."

He said this could take time, depending on resources and labourers available to do the work.

Saint John Mayor Don Darling said this was likely the largest disaster in the province's history and there's a lot more work to do, including repairing roads, homes and infrastructure in the area.

"There's a lot to work through, and public safety will not be compromised," he said.

Health and safety inspection teams are being deployed across the province to assess damage and determine what repairs are required for residents to return home.

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