Musquash, N.B., residents free to return home as dam's water levels recede

Musquash residents are expected to be able to return home after 8 p.m. Sunday night, after being ordered to leave their homes immediately late Saturday due to high water levels at nearby East Branch dam.

Crews said water levels at the dam were 'as high as they'd ever seen in their careers'

High water levels have forced some residents in Musquash out of their homes as local EMO officials keep an eye on a dam upstream. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

An evacuation order affecting more than 100 people in the small community of Musquash, N.B. is expected to be lifted Sunday night. 

Residents were ordered to leave their homes immediately late Saturday night due to high water levels at nearby East Branch dam. 

Robert Duguay, director of communications with New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization, said via email the evacuation order is expected to be lifted by 8 p.m. Sunday.

Neil Jacobson, director of Region 3 for the Department of Energy and Resource Development, said water levels witnessed by staff at the dam were "as high as they'd ever seen in their careers."

The dam is fed by two lakes and there are concerns that if there is a break, water could either flood homes or wash out the bridge on the highway. 

"Therefore, the evacuation was necessary," Jacobson said. 

By Sunday afternoon, water levels had receded by about a foot, he said. 

Emergency crews have been escorting people back to their homes if they need to quickly grab medication, but that's it, said Lt. Kirk Westfield, the Musquash Fire Department's public information officer.

Earlier in the day, Duguay said the dam doesn't appear to be damaged and crews were back Sunday morning to monitor the water levels.

A change in the weather forecast helped conditions, he said. 

"What changed the situation is the fact that Environment Canada removed all the warnings about freezing rain so with that change, that makes the situation less dramatic," Duguay said.

"We were very concerned that we could have even more power outages, and maybe some damage to infrastructure with the freezing rain."

Families left quickly

Police and firefighters went door to door around 8 p.m. on Saturday asking people to pack up and leave their homes. 

One of those residents was Sabrina Janes, who was about to go to bed when police knocked on her door at 10:30 p.m. 

Officers asked her and her family to leave their home "immediately" and pack a bag for a week, she said. 

Sabrina Janes said she and her family had to pack up and leave their Musquash home in 10 minutes Saturday night. (Matthew Bingley/CBC )

They packed up within 10 minutes and were in the driveway "when someone came up to us and said, 'You need to leave right now,'" she said. 

"And I said, we are!" 

Having to pack up everything and leave within minutes was certainly stressful, she said. 

"How do you pack within 10 minutes for a week? What's most important and what do you really need? Most of it doesn't matter anyway," she said. 

Brad Doyle was sitting in his home Saturday evening when he saw an RCMP officer "just fly through the driveway and I'm like, that's weird, no one called RCMP."

He said the officer told him and his fiance they needed to leave because the nearby dam was at risk of bursting. 

"That's all the info I really needed to hear," he said. 

He and his fiance are still in the Musquash area with their 11-month-old son but in a "safer spot" on higher ground. 

"The only thing was 'Let's get the boy and go' and we just wanted to get the hell out of there."

Put in up hotels, community centre 

Residents were told to leave the area immediately late Saturday night due to a risk of the Musquash dam bursting due to high water levels. (Matthew Bingley/CBC )

More than 110 people ended up at the Carleton Community Centre in Saint John, about 30 minutes away from Musquash, where the Red Cross set up a reception centre. 

Allie Murchison, disaster management co-ordinator with the Red Cross, said the organization put 87 people in a hotel in Saint John and the rest stayed with family and friends. 

Murchison said people came prepared and the Red Cross hasn't had to provide clothing or other essentials. 

"There's a lot of resiliency and planning at the personal level. A lot of families take that extra precaution of having a go-bag ready at their door should anything happen because growing up and living next to bodies of water, you never know what they're going to do," she said. 

Red Cross on standby 

Safety officials had blocked off the area Sunday morning. (Matthew Bingley/CBC )

The Red Cross is on standby in Moncton and Saint John, said Murchison.

There was also a voluntary evacuation for Sussex, but Murchison said people stayed in their homes for the most part, and a reception centre set up by the Red Cross was eventually closed when no one showed up. 

The Red Cross is encouraging anyone who needs assistance to call the Red Cross at 1-800-222-9597.

Much of the province is experiencing flooding after some areas received as much as 125 mm of rain on Friday and Saturday. There was widespread damage to roads and some bridges due to the rising water.

"It would be nice if everyone could go home today but we don't know, with all the rain that we accumulated, when people will be getting back to their homes," said Murchison. "We hope it's before the Monday work day but if need be, we will be continuing on into this work week."

With files from Blair Sanderson, Emma Smith, and Matthew Bingley