Extensive flooding due to heavy rain has prompted the City of Thunder Bay in northwestern Ontario to declare a state of emergency, on the heels of similar announcements earlier today in Conmee Township and the Municipality of Oliver Paipoonge.
Pump failures and flooding at the Atlantic Avenue Secondary Sewage Treatment Plant prompted the state of emergency declaration at an Emergency Operations Control Group meeting Monday morning.
Homeowners are asked to avoid flushing or releasing any water down their drains for now. The plant has been flooded and the main pumping station is out of commission.
Darrel Matson, the manager of infrastructure, said he doesn't know how long it will take to fix the situation.
Thunder Bay-area schools that are closed include Crestview, Five Mile, Gorham and Ware, Kakabeka Falls, McKenzie, Nor'wester View, Valley Central, Whitefish Valley Schools and Thunder Bay Christian School.
All rural school buses have been cancelled. For Lakehead Public Schools, rural portions of school bus routes serving urban schools are not running, but staff from these locations are to report to an alternate location. All Thunder Bay Catholic and French Catholic Schools are open, but all rural school bus routes are cancelled for the day. Norwesterview School is open.
"Until we get everything pumped out and get our skilled crews in to do a damage assessment, we have no idea at this point of time how long that is going to take," he said.
"We … will know more in the next 24 hours. It's weather dependent … we are doing our best to get it emptied out."
Calling a state of emergency indicates to the provincial headquarters of emergency Ontario that the city may require help. It also confirms to the public service — including the Ministry of the Environment — that the emergency task team is on the job and the community's remedial plan is in action.
Thunder Bay fire Chief John Hay said the city has "significant issues, or the potential to have significant issues."
He said the province has asked if the city needs help now.
"And we've said we'll get back to you. We think we have things in hand."
Hay said a lot of what happens in the next 24 hours depends on if the city and region get more rain.
High rainfall recorded
Anywhere from 25 millimetres to more than 100 millimetres of rain have been recorded by the Lakehead Region Conservation Authority over the last 24 to 36 hours. In at least one case, 108 millimetres of rainfall were recorded. The highest amounts were logged in Thunder Bay and Oliver Paipoonge.
The authority is warning that water tables will continue to rise over the course of the day, as more rain is in the forecast.
Residents in both Conmee Township and the Municipality of Oliver Paipoonge are being asked to stay home if they can.
Thunder Bay OPP says some sections of Highway 11-17 west of Thunder Bay have reopened. But police still advise westbound motorists to use Highway 102 as an alternate route.
Highway 11-17 remains closed between Mapleward Road and Vibert Road, and between Highway 590 and Holland Road.
Police say Highway 61 remains open.
Elsewhere in the northwest, Highway 642 is closed at the junction of Highway 516. Sioux Lookout OPP say Highway 642 is washed out.
Conmee Reeve Kevin Holland says at least seven roads in his community are washed out, as well as about half a dozen others.
Earlier in the day, numerous roads were reported to have been washed out or have water running across them. The closures included several sections of Highway 11 and 17, Oliver Road, Twin City Crossroads, Fraser Road, Boulter Road, Poleline Road, Veley Lane, Maki Road and Mud Lake Road.
For the latest information on roads, people can call 511, the Ministry of Transortation’s Road Information Line, to find out about current highway closures.
In Thunder Bay, police said there is extensive flooding in the south of the city — including Northwood, the Intercity area, parts of Westfort, as well as James Street.
Many homeowners have reported flooded basements, and Thunder Bay Fire Service officials said they are getting reports of people with 1.2 to 1.5 metres of water in their basements. Residents are advised not to go into flooded basements, and not to call 911 unless it is an emergency.
One of the worst-hit areas is the city's east end.
Rob Brown, who has a home on McPherson Street, said he and his neighbours all have flooded basements.
"And that's what everybody else is dealing with," he said. "I'm worried about my furnace and everything else."
Brown said he estimates he has several feet of water in his basement, and much of it is sewage.
Widespread flooding in Thunder Bay means a busy time for city hydro crews.
Thunder Bay Hydro vice-president Tim Wilson said the utility has all available trucks on the road to perform disconnections.
Wilson said that so far, Hydro has had to cut power to about 50 homes.
"We'll pull the meter outside the house," Wilson said. "If the meter happens to be located in the house — in the basement for example — then we'll perform [a]
disconnect at the pole."
Wilson said people should stay out of their basements if water levels are approaching electrical outlets. Once power has been cut off, Hydro will not perform reconnections until basements are pumped out and an inspection has been done by the Electrical Safety Authority.
Other flooding notes
- The Northwood Mall is also reported to be flooded out.
- The railway underpass on South James Street is closed due to flooding.
- Police said most ditches in the Intercity area are overflowing and have begun to cover the roads. There are numerous vehicles stalled out in the roadways.
- People are also being asked to stay away from waterways on the Kaministiquia River system. The Ontario Power Generation said recent rainfalls have caused high water levels and fast currents.