Floodwaters in southern N.B. 'heavily contaminated,' emergency officials warn

The New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization is warning residents in flooded areas that the floodwater can be "heavily contaminated' with sewage and pose health risks.

Water levels expected to rise with up to 20 mm of rain in the forecast overnight Sunday

Tony Palise, 76, wades waist deep in the floodwaters, trying to salvage what he can from his home, just off of Westfield Road in Saint John. (Mary-Catherine McIntosh/CBC)

Latest

  • EMO warns floodwater may be contaminated
  • Southern N.B. water levels expected to rise for several more days
  • Trans-Canada Highway between Fredericton and Moncton could be closed until next week
  • Up to 20 mm of rain possible for southern part of the province Sunday
  • Coast guard mobilized along St. John River, ready to assist in flood relief

The New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization is warning residents in flooded areas that the floodwater can be "heavily contaminated' with sewage and pose health risks.

Many sewage systems have been compromised by the unprecedented flooding in the southern part of the province, which started more than a week ago and is expected to worsen overnight Sunday with up to 20 millimetres of rain in the forecast, said EMO director Greg MacCallum.

"When they're overwhelmed, the sewage has no place to go but in the watercourses or to backup into houses," he said.

People need to be mindful that the water can cause sickness, such as gastrointestinal illness, and infections, and should take steps to protect themselves, such as wearing rubber boots and waterproof gloves. More information is available on the public health website.

The flooding has reached "historic levels" in the southern region and EMO continues to urge people in the flood zones to voluntarily leave their homes, said MacCallum.

The Canadian Coast Guard and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans can provide emergency evacuations for people who require medical care or are unable to safely evacuate the house on their own, he said.

The St. John River has now swelled to 5.69 metres — nearly 1.5 metres above the flood stage — and is forecast to increase to 5.8 metres over the next couple of days.

Edmundston could see flooding

The Madawaska River in Edmundston in the northern part of the province is also rising "not dramatically, but to some extent," due to an increase of water outflow from the Temiscouata Dam in Quebec and high levels of the St. John River system, MacCallum said during a 2 p.m. update Sunday.

"This increase may — and I emphasize 'may' — affect residents in the local service district of Saint-Jacques along Baisley Road."

As captured by CBC drone, flooded Trans-Canada Highway between Fredericton and Moncton could be closed until next week 1:33

The flooding has forced at least 975 people from their homes, as of Sunday afternoon, and closed more than 100 roadways  — including the Trans-Canada Highway between Moncton and Fredericton, and Route 10 between Fredericton and Chipman.

There is also an increased potential for forced electricity outages in some communities for safety and security reasons, officials said.

Premier Brian Gallant said Saturday he has not ruled out declaring a state of emergency or calling in the army to assist with flooding in the province, which is expected to continue for at least the next five days.

Army not needed

The provincial government continues to face criticism from the Opposition and on social media for not calling in the army sooner, but MacCallum dismissed any concerns.

"I am not in the business of being terribly concerned about opinions," he said. "I'm concerned with facts. I'm concerned with addressing the requirements.

The Canadian Red Cross is seeking donations to support ongoing relief efforts, long-term recovery, resiliency and preparedness. Anyone interested in donating can call 1-800-418-1111 or visit www.redcross.ca.

"And I can assure the public the requirements are being met," with help from the Canadian Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans, and Transport Canada in the form of boats, command and control personnel and aerial surveillance for planning purposes.

If that should change, additional assistance — whether it's military, or some other federal department or agency — will "of course, be requested."

Between 10 and 20 millimetres of rain is expected overnight in southern New Brunswick, prompting Environment Canada to issue a special weather statement.

Sheffield resident Harvey Thebeau's house is partially submerged in floodwater and his RV started to float away 1:02

"Any precipitation amounts is quite sensitive for New Brunswick at this time," Claude Côté, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, told CBC News.

"Water levels are still rising in the wake of the precipitation amounts that we received over the past couple of days, so any additional rainfall amounts would just exacerbate the flood situation," he said.

Côté said it's difficult to predict how quickly the impact of Sunday's rain will be felt.

Some of the tributaries of the St. John River, the smaller streams, respond very quickly, he said. Even just five millimetres of precipitation can cause the water levels to increase "almost instantly."

Rainfall in the upper St. John River area, which has to make its way through power generating stations, can take closer to 24 hours to have an effect, said Côté. The saturation of the ground along the watershed also plays a role.

Mother Nature hasn't been kind to New Brunswick. Sunday's rain comes on the heels of up to 30 mm of rain and scattered thundershowers over central areas on Friday.

On Saturday, high winds battered the province, whipping up waves and causing floodwaters to gush over protective sandbags, resulting in additional damage.

The wind gusts of up to 70 kilometres an hour also complicated evacuation efforts and knocked out power to thousands of homes and businesses, due to branches and trees coming into contact with lines and infrastructure.

As of Sunday around 9 p.m. AT, about 100 NB Power customers are still without electricity, down from nearly 7,000 Saturday night.

The grave markers at Maugerville Baptist Cemetery are almost completely covered by floodwaters. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

About 47 NB Power crews are working across the province to restore power to those hit by outages and to disconnect power in homes threatened by flooding, said spokeswoman Marie-Andrée Bolduc. Nearly 900 homes and businesses have been disconnected so far, she said.

An additional 29 crews from other companies in the province and from Nova Scotia are assisting with restoration efforts, she said.

Nearly 140 provincial roads, bridges and culverts have been affected by flooding, with more than 100 roads closed. Motorists are urged to respect road barriers for safety reasons, and to prevent creating waves that will push water into people's homes.

EMO has said additional road closures are expected as water levels rise.

Water levels on the rise

Water levels in the Fredericton area are forecast to remain relatively stable at around 8 metres, or 1.5 metres above flood stage, over the weekend.

They could then "start to slowly decline," said Jasmin Boisvert, a water resources specialist with the Department of Environment and Local Government.

As of Sunday morning, water levels in Maugerville, 21 kilometres downriver from Fredericton, are sitting at 7.3 metres. 

In Jemseg, water levels are at 6.7 metres and are expected to rise to about 6.8 metres. Those water levels are expected to decline later this week.

In the Grand Lake area, water levels are hovering around 6.8 metres, but are predicted to reach 6.9 metres.

In the Sheffield-Lakeville Corner region, water levels are at 7 metres and will start to decline throughout the week.

In Oak Point, water levels are at 5.9 metres and in Saint John, 5.7 metres.

Sandbags residents have already placed around their properties may become less effective as they become saturated, advised EMO.

Additional sandbags are available across the province. For an updated list of locations, citizens can call 1-800-561-4034.

Red Cross registering evacuees

Floodwaters continue to rise over the weekend as several homeowners fill sandbags in an effort to hold back the waves. (CBC)

​Officials are urging anyone in communities such as Grand Lake, Jemseg, Gagetown, Hampstead, Belleisle, Oak Point, Grand Bay-Westfield, Quispamsis and Saint John to be on high alert.

"People should continue to exercise caution living on the St. John River system," Berry said.

Earlier this week, Saint John issued a voluntary evacuation notice affecting about 2,000 residents in several neighbourhoods, and on Friday the province encouraged people to leave their homes before the weekend.

As of Sunday afternoon, 975 people from across the province registered as evacuees with the Red Cross. All evacuees are urged to register, even if they don't require assistance.

EMO said registration is critical because it doesn't want to direct responders to locations to check on people who have already left. The information is also helpful when it comes to disconnecting power in homes threatened with flooding.

A vehicle drives through a flooded road in Burton, N.B. (CBC)

Boats will patrol affected areas and provide security, officials said.

Starting May 17, water sampling kits will be available at Service New Brunswick centres for people with private wells. Residents must wait 10 days after water has receded from the well area before beginning the chlorination and sampling process.

Southern New Brunswick battles flooding with more rain in the forecast 0:48

With files from Blair Sanderson

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