Thunder Bay was declared a disaster area by its city council at an impromptu meeting Wednesday night in the wake of a an unprecedented flood that left the region in a state of emergency.

The resolution allows the city to obtain funding from senior levels of government.

Mayor Keith Hobbs said he has already spoken with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, who "assured city council that the province will be there to access funds provincially, and to assist us with accessing federal funds."

A key theme of the meeting included the cleanup of homes flooded by sewage. Many councillors were concerned homeowners may not be able to afford repair bills, or have insurance coverage.

City manager Tim Commisso said administration is trying to find a way of ensuring homeowners have a safe place to live.

"I think the key is … ensuring that everybody's home gets cleaned up properly," Commisso said.

What the city is doing

  • Thunder Bay’s Emergency Operations Committee meets twice a day
  • The three-bag garbage bag limit has been temporarily removed for those cleaning up after flooding
  • The city has set up a telephone hotline at 98-FLOOD
  • The city will come by and pick up large items for disposal
  • An evacuation centre has been set up at the Neebing Arena
  • Portable toilets have been put out for residents to use, although there have been some complaints from seniors that they are located too far away in one location
  • Nine sewage pumps are in place at trunk lines to make sure sewage doesn't back up into other parts of town

The city is still trying to pinpoint exactly how many homes are affected by the flooding.

Manager of Infrastructure and Operations Darrell Matson said the best estimate, so far, is 1,100 homes.

He said the city will also do extra closed-circuit TV checks of sewer lines to see if there's any damage. Matson said some of that repair work could be covered by provincial disaster funding.

In the meantime, the city reports it's making progress with more sewage pumps that have been running around the clock.

"What we're seeing already is a decrease in the amount of water that is backlogged or flooding all of our trunk and sanitary and combined sewers throughout the community," Matson said.

He noted some homes in the east end had water pour back into the basement as fast as it was pumped out. Matson said that situation is improving, although some homes continue to take on water.

When the sewage plant is deemed safe, workers will try and figure out why the main pump failed, and fix the problem, he added.

During the meeting, Hobbs alluded to the fact the pump at the sewage treatment plant was overwhelmed with the heavy rain.

The effect of the heavy rains could have been greater, Hobbs said. He noted the floodway dredging of last year prevented the flood from being much worse, particularly in the intercity area.