Harper tours flood zones in New Brunswick
Last Updated: Friday, May 2, 2008 | 8:53 PM AT
A truck becomes stuck in the flood water at Union and Station streets in Fredericton. (Submitted by Arthur Thomson)Prime Minister Stephen Harper toured areas of New Brunswick hit by the flooding of the St. John River on Friday, but said it was too soon to give a figure on financial aid to the region.
Harper arrived in Fredericton on Friday afternoon, where he boarded a military helicopter to survey the flood damage in the Maugerville area.
Speaking to reporters after the tour, Harper said a lot of houses appeared to be under water and people were upset but New Brunswickers were handling the flooding well.
It's a difficult situation, Harper said, but authorities are monitoring the situation and will continue to provide shelter and support to flood victims.
"There's a lot of flooded area," the prime minister said. "It's not massive, but it's large — a lot of homes are under water."
The federal government will likely announce a disaster relief package for New Brunswick next week, he said.
"The province and various agencies have been on top of it," Harper said. "So we'll get through this and then we'll get into all the business of the federal Emergency Act and disaster relief, but that's in the week to come."
Premier Shawn Graham had told New Brunswickers on Thursday that there would be an assistance package for people affected by the floods.
Neither Harper nor Graham have provided details on the funding or its criteria.
Harper was accompanied on his tour of the flooded areas by Graham and Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson, a local MP.
The prime minister was also scheduled to stop in Edmundston, in northern New Brunswick, before leaving the province.
There was a level of calmness in New Brunswick on Friday, Graham told CBC News.
Emergency organizations and all levels of government are working well together, Graham said. Many neighbours are also helping each other with sandbagging, sump pumps and the transportation of food and water.
But many people have lost valuables and their homes have suffered extensive damage, Graham said.
The provincial government will begin to assess the extent of the damage next week, Graham said, and start working to return people to their homes.
The top priority remains continuing to ensure the safety of New Brunswickers, he said.
Major flood warning continues
The ramps to the Westmorland Bridge remain flooded on Friday. (Submitted by Dannie Brown)New Brunswick's Emergency Measures Organization is continuing its major flood warning for all areas along the St. John River.
"It's always a critical phase when it's at these water levels," Andy Morton, deputy director for Emergency Measures, told CBC News on Friday.
EMO will be watching the weather closely this weekend, Morton said.
Morton said the weekend is expected to be dry, but temperatures will be warming up and may speed up the melt of the remaining snow in the northern part of the province.
Even a small change in the weather conditions in the province could have a significant impact on the river, Morton said.
Environment Canada is projecting rain in the province on Tuesday.
The 673-kilometre St. John River stretches from its headwaters in Maine to the port city of Saint John, draining 55,000 square kilometres of land.
The EMO updated its flood warning again on Friday night. The province remains on major flood alert.
Waters in Fredericton were beginning to stabilize on Friday and had receded slightly, from a high of 8.33 metres to 8.28 metres.
"But that's just here in the city of Fredericton," Morton said.
Waters are continuing to rise downriver from the capital. Maugerville, Sheffield and Jemseg were expected to be the worst hit, while the flooding stretches all the way to Saint John.
Houses marked to help authorities
Maugerville resident Janet Gautier tried to stay in her home but decided on Friday that it was time to leave.
"We've got no electricity," Gautier said. "There's nothing left and obviously it's going to keep going up."
As rescue boats comb the water to check on properties, homes are being marked so officials know which have been abandoned and which are still occupied. The Canadian military also was aiding in the evacuation of about 140 cattle from a dairy farm in the area.
Rescue officials from across the province have converged in Burton, where the command post will be stationed while the rising waters surge through the area.
About 350 people have left the Oromocto area as the water rises, Mayor Fay Tidd said.
Emergency response teams have done "wonderfully well" at aiding people in the community, Tidd said. "I can't imagine any community ever coming together any better than we have."
Water levels are no longer expected to reach the records set in 1973. In Fredericton, the flood levels reached 8.63 metres that year.
In the northern part of the province, water levels are also beginning to stabilize, Morton said. Madawaska County was hard hit by the flood waters after more than 100 millimetres of rain fell in the area earlier in the week and fed the St. John River.
Streets still under water in capital
A driver attempts to navigate the flooded streets in downtown Fredericton. (Submitted by Tyler Dunphy)NB Power has disconnected more than 760 customers across the province.
More than 80 sections of roads around the province are closed because of the flooding and more than 50 roads remain under water in Fredericton.
Officials are not yet speculating on when people who left their homes will be able to return.
More than 600 families registered with the Red Cross, which opened an emergency shelter at the University of New Brunswick's residences.
Dick Isabelle, the executive director of police, fire and emergency services for the Department of Public Safety, said the provincial government wants to get people back into their homes as quickly as possible but it may not happen for a while.
There is no point trying to move people quickly while the weather is still unstable, Isabelle said. If the water levels change too quickly, it may only mean having to ask people to leave their houses again, he said.
"Let's get people back to normal as soon as possible, but as safely as possible," Isabelle said.
Emergency officials are continuing to ask that onlookers not enter areas that are flooded or bypass barricades blocking roads.
People flock to riverbanks
Hundreds of people have been converging in Fredericton's downtown to photograph the river that has spread across parks, walking trails and some of the city's busiest streets.
The water is full of debris, running fast and cold, said Bob Martin, spokesman for Fredericton's emergency command centre. People should not be going near the water and especially should not be going into it in boats.
Despite the warnings, Giselle Savoie-Fortune said the flood represented a potentially once-in-a-lifetime event for her preschooler son.
"I wanted to take some pictures," Savoie-Fortune said. "Who knows if he'll ever get to see that again. He probably won't remember but at least he can say he was here."
Emergency Measures is forecasting the following water levels:
- In Fredericton, the water level is expected to recede to eight metres by Saturday. Flood stage is 6.5 metres.
- In Maugerville, the water level is expected to rise to 6.9 metres on Saturday before beginning to recede to 6.8 metres on Sunday. Flood stage is six metres.
- In Jemseg, the water level is expected to rise to 6.2 metres by Saturday. Flood stage is 4.3 metres.
- In Grand Lake, the water level is expected to increase to 6.4 metres by Saturday. Flood stage is five metres.
- In Sheffield-Lakeville Corner, the water level is expected to reach 6.5 metres by Saturday. Flood stage is 4.8 metres.
- In Oak Point, the water level is expected to reach 5.3 metres by Saturday. Flood stage is 4.7 metres.
- In Quispamsis and Saint John, the water level is expected to be 5.1 metres by Saturday. Flood stage is 4.2 metres.
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