Deer Lake, N.L., holding off on evacuation order after water levels dip, but more ice is on the way

A dip in water level could hold off an evacuation order for Deer Lake, N.L., but mayor Dean Ball says over 25 kms of slab ice is heading toward the town.

Mayor Dean Ball says town is still ready to evacuate affected neighbourhoods at moment's notice

Float plane hangars were partially submerged in rising waters of Deer Lake on Wednesday. (CBC)

Town officials in Deer Lake, N.L. are hoping to make it through another night without issuing an evacuation order, as the waters of the nearby Humber River have again dropped slightly.

But with more ice heading toward the town, the relief could be short lived.

"It's a waiting game for us. It's not easy to watch," Dean Ball, Deer Lake's mayor, told CBC News on Wednesday evening.

The town has been under an evacuation warning since Monday, when the Humber spilled over its shores, threatening to reach homes. The town sits at the mouth of the river, where it flows into Deer Lake, which has been jammed with ice after a weekend of flooding across western Newfoundland. 

Residents of the west end of the town were told Monday afternoon to pack up and prepare to flee on a moment's notice. On Tuesday evening, water levels had dropped slightly, but went up again overnight.

Though water levels were down slightly Wednesday evening, there may be much more to worry about in the coming days.

Deer Lake Mayor Dean Ball says town officials will be busy on Wednesday monitoring water levels in the area. (CBC)

More ice coming

Ball spent Wednesday afternoon in a helicopter, surveying the ice in the Humber River system.

"The ice issue is only going to get worse," he said.

In the air, the mayor said he could see more than 25 kilometres of slab ice coming down the river — stretching from its mouth to just below Sir Richard Squires Memorial Park.

Ball says slab ice is packing from Sir Richard Squires Memorial Park to the point where the Upper Humber River connects with Deer Lake. (Google Maps)

"We know now over the next day or two, that slab ice will be down in our river stream," he said.

It's unclear how that will affect water levels or for the community.

"We're not out of the woods yet," he said.

More damage

In the meantime, damage in the town of Deer Lake got worse over the course of the day, said Ball.

There are more cracks in Pine Tree Drive, a road in the west end of the town which is close to the river, and the water is now starting to wash the road away.

"The side of our road, we're going to lose that now," he said.

Two new hydro poles, installed just yesterday, are also in jeopardy.

The deck from a house or cabin is seen floating in the Humber River near Shellbird Island. (Brandon Sparkes)

No stranger to floods

The fear of flooding is more familiar to some residents than others. 

"I know what it is to lose those lifelong things like your pictures and your photo albums," said Angie Moss, whose Deer Lake home backs on to the Humber River.

Moss's childhood home was destroyed in devastating 2003 floods in the central Newfoundland town of Badger. That event forced 1,200 people out of their homes, and wrecked houses and infrastructure.

Moss packed up the photos in her Deer Lake home first — "things that you can't get back, that money can't replace," she said.

"But hopefully we won't have to go there."

Angie Moss lost her childhood home to the 2003 floods in Badger, N.L. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

As of Wednesday afternoon, water from the swollen river had taken over the land between the back of her house and the river, and pools were forming right beside her deck.

With her pumps "working overtime," she didn't have any water in her home — just as fast as it's coming in, they're pumping it out."

Moss said the river tends to flood a bit in the spring, but she's never seen anything like this in the winter. 

"It makes it more unfamiliar," she said.

This is what Moss's yard looks like when the Humber isn't flooding. (Angie Moss)

Breaking up the ice jam

Ball told the Corner Brook Morning Show the town is also exploring ways to break up the ice jam and get water flowing again into the lower Humber.

"Dynamite is not an option for us. An excavator on a barge is what we need, but we need the barge to be able to move on its own, so we need a boat big enough to tow a barge around."

Ball said Deer Lake is used to rising water levels during spring, but with the ground frozen and unable to absorb the water as it comes up on the land, this is an entirely new and worrisome situation.

"We are used to high water — what's different this year is we are dealing with it in January, and not April," he said.

"This is not the norm. We should have seen a crest yesterday, but hopefully this morning we are going to come up with some good news."

CBC's Ryan Snoddon explains how these ice jams formed in the area, and what we can expect in the coming days.

With files from Corner Brook Morning Show and Chris O'Neill-Yates and Peter Cowan