Financial help is on the way for the hundreds of victims of recent flooding across New Brunswick.
The Alward government has announced a federal-provincial Disaster Financial Assistance program for damage to homes, businesses and communities not covered by insurance.
"This program will allow hundreds of New Brunswickers, and the communities they live in, to get back on their feet by helping to pay for uninsurable damages and losses that threaten health and safety," Public Safety Minister Bruce Northrup said during a news conference Friday at Kingswood University in Sussex.
The maximum assistance for structural repairs to private residences damaged since April 15 will be $120,000 — a 50 per cent increase from the previous cap of $80,000.
"The $80,000 amount was done back in the early '90s. And obviously a lot of things have gone up in price since the early '90s and we're into 2014 now," Northrup said.
"We worked with the housing industry to see what the appropriate amount would be."
The maximum allowable amount for damage to small businesses and not-for-profit organizations is $500,000, he said.
The program will also offer a buy-out of up to $120,000 in cases where structural damages exceed 80 per cent of the appraised value of the property.
Estimated damage of $12M
At least 540 homeowners and businesses have reported flood damage to date, primarily in the Sussex and Sussex Corner areas on April 16.
In total, damage to homes, businesses, and public infrastructure is estimated to be about $12 million, said a teary-eyed Northrup, who represents the area as the MLA for Kings East.
He could not say how much money the federal government will contribute. It will be based on a formula and will depend on the final damage total, he said.
For example, if the total damage is $10 million, the cost-share would be about $7.5 million federal and $2.5 million provincial, said Northrup.
“If it gets higher than that, then it may get up to the percentage of 90 per cent federal and 10 per cent provincial. But we don’t know that because claims are still coming in, people are still registering.”
The deadline to apply through Service New Brunswick is May 15.
Sussex resident Don Dupuis estimates the damage to his home could be up to $100,000 if a new foundation has to be installed, which he suspects will be the case.
"As we were leaving I could see [the water] coming up and it actually came up to the first — the door there — and it was flowing down in the basement when we left," he said.
The days afterward were an awakening, said Dupuis, with complete strangers offering to help.
"Everyone has already had help. I had some people from Walmart, the manager of Walmart —my wife works there — he sent a crew over, plus himself. They helped clean everything up," he said, fighting back tears.
Diana Jones, whose basement also flooded, says she has lost weight due to the stress of the ordeal and is down to just 89 pounds.
"Our whole basement is torn apart. We lost so much. We had to take the walls down, the carpets out. Everything downstairs had to be washed or thrown out," she said.
'When people's homes are devastated, every day seems like an eternity to them.' - Sussex Mayor Marc Thorne
"What came is was mud, it's all over the yard, it's all over everything. We're not allowed to flush our toilets or run water. We have to go elsewhere to use the washrooms, take baths."
Sussex Mayor Marc Thorne said he couldn't be more pleased or relieved about the financial help for his constituents.
"I think the announcement this morning is absolutely outstanding. The government has really done a lot of work in a short period of time," he said.
"When people's homes are devastated, every day seems like an eternity to them," said Thorne, whose home was among the hundreds that were damaged, although he says his was on the lower end of the scale.
He had previously described the damage in his town of 2,500 residents as "devastating." Flood water filled basements, submerged an RV dealership and forced the closure of several roads.
In neighbouring Sussex Corner, which has about 1,500 residents, Mayor Steven Gillies had declared a state of emergency. About 70 per cent of the village was under water and several people had to be rescued from their homes by emergency officials in boats.
Heavy rains and warmer temperatures caused a rapid rise in water levels and ice jams due to snow-pack melting and ice-cover deterioration in several river systems across the province.
Clean-up efforts continue.
Property owners who have not yet reported flood damage should call Service New Brunswick immediately to register for possible assistance, said Northrup. They will then be given the necessary paperwork to initiate a claim.
Once approved, an advance payment of up to $4,000 will be available, he said.
The deductible amounts will be $1,000 for homeowners and $5,000 for small businesses, but requests to waive the deductible will be considered from individuals experiencing financial hardship, said Northrup.
Special offices to open
The government also plans to open offices in Sussex and St. Leonard on Monday, which will be staffed by disaster assistance personnel who can help residents with the application process.
The Department of Environment will also conduct free well water bacterial testing for flood victims.
Water sampling kits will be available at regional Department of Environment offices, as well as Service New Brunswick centres, starting May 6.
Samples will be sent to the provincial laboratory in Fredericton for testing, and results will be provided to well owners.
But wells need to be chlorinated and flushed first, which should be done 10 days after flood water has receded, government officials said. Well owners should then wait another seven days before collecting samples.
Until testing indicates well water is safe for consumption and personal use, it should be brought to a rolling boil for at least one minute, then stored in clean containers, government officials advise.
River Watch officials expect the St. John River to remain below flood levels in Fredericton, Saint John and Quispamsis for the next few days.
Continued flooding is expected in Jemseg and Sheffield, however, while the water level of Grand Lake is expected to climb to flood stage on Friday and Saturday.