Approximately 40 of Fredericton's streets are expected to be swallowed by the flood waters of the St. John River, city officials warned Wednesday, as the city prepared for the worst flooding in decades.
By late Wednesday evening, 34 streets had been closed, the province's transportation department website said.
New Brunswick's Emergency Measures Organization announced on Wednesday afternoon that water levels are expected to reach 8.6 metres above sea level in the capital city by 7 a.m. AT Thursday.
The water may go higher than that and exceed the levels of 1973, when the river reached 8.63 metres above sea level.
Bob Martin, an official with Fredericton's emergency operation centre, said city officials are preparing for flooding on about 40 streets as well as the possibility of losing some of the ramps leading onto the Westmorland Street Bridge.
Police have asked people to avoid taking vehicles downtown, but many residents flocked to the area to take pictures of the flooding, CBC's Jennifer Sweet reported.
City projections show that flooding is expected to seep into the city from the Princess Margaret Bridge to the small-craft aquatic centre past Smythe Street if the river reaches eight metres.
The water is also anticipated to surge into sections on the north side of the river. The depth of the water will vary.
Roads expected to be hit by flooding include Waterloo Row, Saint Anne Point Drive and Riverside Drive.
About 350 people have already registered with the Red Cross because their homes along the river are flooded. More than 1,300 homes in the Fredericton area are expected to be affected by the flood water.
All schools in Fredericton will be closed on Thursday and will not reopen until Tuesday at the earliest.
Major flood warning along all of St. John River
The water levels of the St. John River will continue to exceed 1973 levels downriver in Maugerville in the next 24 hours before reaching the southern areas of the province.
EMO issued an alert to New Brunswickers on Wednesday afternoon that the river levels have reached a point requiring a "major flood warning to all areas along the St. John River."
The heavy rainfall over the St. John River basin has ended, but western parts of the province have received more than 100 millimetres of rain since Monday.
The water flows in the St. John River are increasing throughout the basin, with the greatest increase in the northern and middle portions. Rain from northwestern Maine and southern Quebec is expected to continue raising the downstream St. John River further over the next 24 hours.
"That water is already on its way," said Andy Morton, deputy director of EMO. "We know the water level is going to come up substantially. For people in flood-prone areas, if they were flooded in 2005, they're going to be flooded again and maybe even in a larger area."
Roads across the province were being engulfed by water on Wednesday, including parts of the Trans-Canada Highway in the Sheffield, Edmundston and Saint-Jacques areas.
Not a state of emergency: minister
Flooding in New Brunswick is of grave concern, but all levels of government and emergency organizations are working well together and there is not yet a need to declare a state of emergency, said Public Safety Minister John Foran.
In neighbouring Maine, Gov. John Baldacci declared a state of emergency for Aroostook County on Tuesday night. Flood waters caused by melting snow and heavy rain have prompted the evacuation of 40 homes in the Fort Kent and Wallagrass area of the state.
Foran said New Brunswick is monitoring the flooding in Maine and Quebec carefully and will adjust the province's emergency response level as the waters continue to rise.
Alberta and Nova Scotia are prepared to send help to the province, Foran said. The Canadian military is also on standby should there be a need for heavy vehicles or additional emergency support, he said.
Foran again urged New Brunswickers to heed the warnings of the province's EMO.
Officials going door-to-door
Emergency officials have been going door-to-door in Fredericton and its surrounding region to make sure residents are prepared for the flood.
Many people living in the affected areas are staying in their homes despite warnings that they may be stuck until the water recedes.
Emergency transport vehicles were being sent into already flooded areas around Fredericton on Wednesday afternoon to help residents who want to leave. Officials will try to persuade the ill and elderly in the areas outside of Fredericton to leave their homes, Morton said.
Once roads are closed to all traffic, officials will only enter flooded areas for emergencies, Morton said. Even then, it could take some time for officials to get to a flooded area, he said.
Officials had six boats in the water Wednesday to get to homes. Kayaks, canoes and Zodiacs are also sitting outside many homes in the low-lying communities to the southeast of the city.
NB Power is warning residents and business owners that as the waters rise, power will be shut off in flooded areas.
The power is likely to be turned off in downtown Fredericton along Queen Street and on streets along the river on the city's north side, officials said. Residents are being urged to anticipate outages that could last several days.
Residents are also being warned to take precautions if they get their water from private wells. The water should also be tested and disinfected after the river recedes, officials said.
People who leave their homes are being told to contact a Red Cross registration centre that is keeping track of where people are moving to wait out the flood. Centres have been established in Burton and at the University of New Brunswick's Fredericton campus and 325 people have voluntarily evacuated their homes.
The university has also opened its residences for any families with nowhere else to go and has the capacity to accommodate thousands of people.
Emergency Measures is forecasting the following water levels:
- In Fredericton, the water level is expected to exceed 8.6 metres by Thursday. Flood stage is 6.5 metres.
- In Maugerville, the water level is expected to increase to 6.8 metres by Thursday. Flood stage is 6.0 metres.
- In Jemseg, the water level is expected to reach 5.5 metres by Thursday. Flood stage is 4.3 metres.
- In Grand Lake, the water level is expected to increase to 5.5 metres by Thursday. Flood stage is 5.0 metres.
- In Sheffield-Lakeville Corner, the water level is expected to reach 5.6 metres by Thursday. Flood stage is 4.8 metres.
- In Oak Point, the water level is expected to reach 4.6 metres by Thursday. Flood stage is 4.7 metres.
- In Quispamsis and Saint John, the water level is expected to be 4.4 metres by Thursday. Flood stage is 4.2 metres.