New Brunswick floodwaters to recede, but effects could last for weeks

New Brunswick communities affected by unprecedented flooding should expect water levels to recede in the next 48 hours, but emergency officials say the disaster is far from over.

Waters to recede in coming days, but the recovery is going to take time, emergency officials say

A Grand Lake residence is a wreck Monday after severe flooding pounded waterfront properties for several days. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Latest

  • Senior government officials mulling financial assistance for recreational properties
  • EMO says it could be days or even weeks before residents can return home
  • Water levels expected to recede this week but remain above flood stage
  • EMO warns floodwater may be contaminated
  • Trans-Canada Highway between Fredericton and Moncton is closed until further notice

New Brunswick communities affected by unprecedented flooding should expect water levels to recede in the next 48 hours, but emergency officials say the disaster is far from over.

The province's five-day forecast between Monday and Friday suggests levels will drop by about a metre in communities from Fredericton to Saint John. However, the lower St. John River is expected to remain above flood stage until at least the weekend.

For weary New Brunswickers, it's a glimmer of good news to hear the river is no longer rising, but the receding water will also uncover more of the damage left in its wake.

Cody MacLean was in Youngs Cove on Monday, surveying the wreckage along Grand Lake. He dropped by to check on his grandparents, whose home had survived, but most did not.

"There are very few along this shore," he said. "Out of maybe 30 camps there all together, there are maybe five left."  

The flood waters in New Brunswick have cause extensive damage. Few of the camps and homes in Grand Lake are left standing. 0:53

About 12 kilometres down the road in Mill Cove, Wilma Ledin spent her Monday morning making call after call trying to get enough workers to come into the Mill Cove Nursing Home. The nursing director said she's short on staff after severe flooding wreaked havoc in the Grand Lake area for more than a week.

Some staff have lost their homes to the flood, while others have a 2½- to four-hour drive just to reach the nursing home due to road closures.

"Presently we're just offering overtime for those who are able to come in and do it, and as of tomorrow, some staff will be coming in from those areas, if they can get here, and we're putting them up at a local hotel, to cover their shifts and to work any extra they can for us," Ledin said.

'Historic' flooding levels

Rain, strong winds and floodwaters continue to plague residents in the southern half of New Brunswick, as they are forced out of their homes and watch buildings wash away entirely.

Dam strains to hold back rushing water due to widespread flooding 0:32

Over the weekend, flooding reached "historic levels" in the southern region, and provincial Emergency Measures Organization officials are continuing to urge people in the flood zones to voluntarily leave their homes.

Water levels in Saint John were expected to hit "peak day" on Monday when the evening high tide rolled in, according to Mike Carr, who heads the city's EMO. From then on, levels in the lower basin are forecast to gradually recede this week.

Information provided by the provincial government. (Maria Burgos)

The Red Cross reported Monday that 488 households and 1,158 people have registered so far. Greg MacCallum, director of the provincial EMO, said that's only part of the overall number of displaced New Brunswickers, estimating it could be between 2,000 to 3,000 people.

"We won't know that for a while," he said.

Returning home

MacCallum said that in the coming days the focus will shift to the last phase of emergency management, the "recovery" stage, and officials and residents alike will examine what needs to be done to return to normalcy.

"This is a period of time when people do need to be patient; they need to understand that it is as deliberate of an operation to go back as it to go out," he said during a news conference Monday afternoon in Fredericton.

Simon Barton, left, and Chelsea Burley wear makeshift waders of garbage bags and packing tape as they cross a flooded road in Saint John on Sunday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

There is no timetable for when people could return home.

"When we talk about the water going down, that is not a trigger for people to go home necessarily," said MacCallum.

"In some cases, it may be a matter of days after water levels go below flood stage. In some cases, it will be weeks before people have a clear indication of what they can possibly do."

The EMO director also said it's "virtually impossible" to put a dollar figure on flood damage at this point, despite an early estimate of $24 million from a federal Fisheries and Oceans official last week.

Province mulling recreation property aid 

The provincial government has launched a financial aid program for people affected by severe flooding across the province. The program covers eligible individuals, small businesses and municipalities — but not recreational properties.

That may change.

The government has received several requests to include those properties since many cottages, particularly in the Grand Lake region, were wrecked by flooding, and MacCallum said senior government officials were discussing the matter Monday.

"This is a different scenario where many impacts are on recreational properties,'" he said.

"This is something that is under consideration by government. I do not have any indication what the intention is about that, but government is aware and sensitive to the magnitude of this issue."

The premier's office was not immediately available for comment Monday afternoon

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

5-day levels forecast

Water levels in Saint John will fluctuate around 5.7 metres on Monday and Tuesday before dipping to 5.5 metres by Wednesday and down to 4.8 metres Friday, according to the provincial five-day outlook.

Levels in communities down river from Fredericton — Maugerville, Sheffield, Jemseg and Grand Lake — are projected to drop by almost a metre over the next five days, but each community will remain more than a metre above flood stage until the weekend.

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

Fredericton levels are expected to hold around the eight-metre mark for the next 24 hours or so before the river begins to recede mid-week.

Wayne Tallon, the EMO manager for Fredericton, said that doesn't mean the roads will immediately reopen, while also preaching patience.

Contaminated water

On Sunday afternoon, EMO officials warned residents that the floodwaters could be "heavily contaminated' with sewage and pose health risks.

As New Brunswick moves into its second week of major flooding, water levels continue to rise in the southern part of the province. (CBC)

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 was expected to worsen with up to 20 millimetres of rain in the forecast overnight on Sunday.

"The river's been compromised with who knows what? Raw sewage, gas, oil, debris," said Geoffrey Downey, an EMO spokesperson.

Trans-Canada closure

More than 100 provincial roads remain closed, including the Trans-Canada Highway between Moncton and Fredericton. Route 10 between Fredericton and Chipman is also closed.

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

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

Thousands of NB Power customers were without electricity over the weekend. That number has since dropped to just under 100 customers as of Monday morning, when water levels were sitting at 8.1 metres in Fredericton and are expected to drop to eight metres.

The province has said 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.

The 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.

With files from Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon, Catherine Harrop and Shane Fowler

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