Premier David Alward outlined government aid plans Wednesday, then toured areas of southwestern New Brunswick that have been hit hard by rain and flooding in recent days, forcing people out of their homes.
Alward updated the legislative assembly on Wednesday morning about the flooding that has hit many areas in the southern and western parts of the province.
He said the government is extending various forms of relief to people affected by the rising waters.
"Last week's storm surges and this week's heavy rainfall have impacted a great many people in our province. Recovery can be a long and difficult process. But we are here to help," Alward told the legislative assembly.
The relief plan outlined by Alward includes complimentary reconnection of electrical services and free water testing. The premier said the government will also help with health and safety inspections.
Alward also said citizens can register for funding through the disaster financial assistance program by contacting Service New Brunswick.
"What a disaster assistance program does is provides for the basic necessities," said the province's Emergency Measures Organization director Andy Morton.
"That would include structural damages that may have occurred to the home, basic necessities for food, appliances and furnishings. It is not an insurance program. It is not a compensation program. It is an assistance program."
Disaster assistance will also cover damage from a storm surge on the north shore last week.
"It is always traumatic and stressful when people are affected by severe weather. There is never a good time to be flooded out of your home," Alward said.
"But we know that right now is doubly stressful at this time of year. That's why we are moving quickly to help people deal with the effects of the flooding. This is also a time for friends and neighbours to help each other out."
Alward offered his sympathies to those affected by the flooding. Once he concluded his morning address to the assembly, he left immediately to tour the flooded area in Charlotte County and to meet with affected residents and disaster volunteers.
Fleeing by canoe
Flood waters are still rising in the southwestern New Brunswick community of St. George, forcing dozens of people out of their homes.
Water from the Magaguadavic River was starting to hit the westbound lane of Route 1 in the St. George area, and a major stretch of Manor Road in the town was only accessible by boat Wednesday.
St. George resident Tom Wilkins only had time to collect some food and pack his family into a canoe before water entered his home. He said he's relieved everyone got out.
"I hear stories about really bad floods from back last century or something, but really wasn't expecting this, not at all," said Wilkins. "I worked yesterday, worked my full shift, never thought nothing of it.
"I actually went to Saint John last night, bought a snowblower that was on sale .… I was worried about getting rid of the snow this winter and, well, we got forced out of our home."
Wilkins said he now has to wait for waters to recede before he can assess the damage.
Alan Kinney, who has lived in the town his entire life, said he's never seen the water this high.
'It is always traumatic and stressful when people are affected by severe weather. There is never a good time to be flooded out of your home.' — Premier David Alward
"My biggest concern is this close to Christmas and people with flooded basements and houses that are destroyed or in bad shape," said Kinney. "It's a bad time of year for this to happen."
Homeowner Mary Guitard said she's too afraid to go back to the home she's lived in for 40 years.
"I feel terrible," said Guitard. "It never hit me yet, but when it does, I'm probably going to cry for a long time."
Officials in the St. George area were uncertain when the river would finally crest.
Mayor Sharon Tucker said that while officials are taking precautions, they aren't considering calling a state of emergency yet.
"At this point in time, we have every resident housed, we have the ability to feed them, and we have access in and out of our municipality," Tucker said. "So … there [were] no criteria that would indicate the need for a disaster to be enacted."
The mayor added: "Emergency planning needs to go on all the time, whether you're in a state of emergency or not, so being good stewards — and certainly to ensure the safety of the residents of our municipality — we are in disaster mode."
The New Brunswick capital braced for flooding on Tuesday and Wednesday.
A recent deluge had caused forecasters to predict the waters would hit 7.6 metres in Fredericton on Wednesday, well above the 6.5-metre flood stage.
Karl Wilmot, an official with the EMO, said in an interview Wednesday morning the flood levels around Fredericton hit their peak at about 3 a.m.
"The situation is completely weather dependent. We are hoping this decline will continue," he said.
Wilmot said it is too early to estimate how much damage the flooding has caused. But he said he expects the dollar figure to be high.
Fredericton has warned that areas that should expect flooding include Lower St. Mary's, Barkers Point, Lincoln, Marysville, Waterloo Row, Point Saint Anne Boulevard, and Devonshire Drive, including ramps to the Westmorland Street Bridge.
City work crews have been monitoring the flood situation overnight.
Dylan Gamble, the manager of roads and streets in Fredericton, said the Westmorland Street Bridge was opened at about 6 a.m.
However, Gamble said the rain turned to freezing rain at about 4 a.m. and that has created dangerous driving conditions.
"Even though the water has receded, people should drive very slowly," Gamble said.
The city official said there are still roads that are underwater in the city. Gamble estimates the storm damage will cost the city at least $30,000 to repair washouts and curb damage.
Fredericton drivers have been asked to respect any barricade put in place for the protection of themselves and others.
The flooding is causing continued school closures in parts of the province.
The heavy rains that pelted the province in the last 48 hours forced NB Power to open the gates of the Mactaquac dam on the St. John River.
That decision means more water will be heading downstream likely bringing more flooding.
Communities just outside Fredericton, which are also along the St. John River, such as Durham Bridge, Maugerville, Jemseg and Sheffield will rise to just flood levels or below on Wednesday.
Wilmot said at one point there were about 50 people in shelters, mainly residents from communities such as Burtts Corner, Zealand and Bonny River.
Dan Bedell, an official with the Canadian Red Cross, said the impact from the flood damage seems to be passing.
"The worst seems to be over," Bedell said Wednesday.
District 10, which includes schools in the St. Stephen area, has said all of its mainland schools would remain closed Wednesday.
In District 14, Keswick Valley Memorial School, located in Burtts Corner, was also closed.
Meanwhile, NB Power reported 134 customers still without power, mainly in the Sussex area.
Poul Jorgenson, executive director of the New Brunswick Trails Council, said the rainstorm caused between $300,000 and $400,000 worth of damage to the province's trail network.
Wilmot said the hardest hit area of the province has been in Charlotte County. Environment Canada said 174 millimetres of rain fell in St. Stephen.
The flooding led to a dramatic rescue in southwest New Brunswick on Tuesday night.
At about 9:30 p.m., two people were driving along Route 770 in the rural community of Bonny River and were swept off the road and into the Magaguadavic River.
They hadn't realized flash flooding had washed away a section of the highway.
Fortunately for the couple, someone nearby saw the car's headlights disappear and alerted others.
They heard cries for help, and found the pair on top of the vehicle, which was being swept downstream. A boat was launched and the two were pulled to safety.
Other boats were also on the swollen waters as Bonny River was completely cut off on Tuesday. All roads and bridges leading there were either washed out or underwater.
Some Cooke Aquaculture workers used company boats to assist people living in the area.
Randy Griffin was at the helm of one of the vessels that was coming to the aid of people in southwestern New Brunswick.
"I was just going up to haul people back because I wasn't sure what kind of situation was up there, so just lending a hand," Griffin said.
Few people decided to leave the community, despite the flooding.
Several people are reported to be taking shelter at the Bonny River Fire Department.[GALLERY id=4229 cat= canada]