Brantford residents defy evacuation order to protect their homes
Nearly 5,000 people from homes surrounding the Grand River were under an evacuation order Thursday
Peter Ward sits in his Brantford, Ont. basement, hunched over in a chair. A cigarette hangs from his lips, trailing smoke into the air.
He looks weary — and so he should. Water is pooling around his ankles. Ward has been awake for almost 24 hours straight, pumping water out of his home, as Brantford endures some of the worst flooding the area has seen in decades.
"It just keeps coming. The water's not leaving. It just won't stop," he said. "We pump it out, and it just keeps coming back in, and we've got to pump it back out again."
The city remained in a state of emergency Thursday afternoon, with nearly 5,000 people in 2,200 homes surrounding the Grand River under an evacuation order.
Ward and his girlfriend, Bev Haydon, live on Jubilee Avenue — which is right next to the surging flow of the river, and firmly inside the evacuation zone.
But they weren't going anywhere. "Until they came and told us, I wasn't leaving," Haydon said. "Nobody came to the door, so we weren't leaving."
The couple feared that if they left their home, the water would overtake the entire basement, and destroy their furnace and hot water heater. So they're staying put.
"I'm supposed to get my 15-year service award [tonight] at work … and I don't think I'll be going," said Haydon, who works for Community Living Brant.
"I've got to man the pumps."
'It happened so fast'
Across the street, Tiffany Wilson is similarly soaked. She's a single mother with a three-year-old son and another baby on the way.
She also woke up Wednesday to a basement that looked like a swimming pool. Her sump pump is doing nothing to alleviate the issue — and the rising water has since claimed her water heater and furnace.
"It came so fast. It happened so fast," she said. "I was so scared."
She got out of the house, but came back to make sure she could save pictures of her late daughter. Save for a couple of naps on a couch, she had been up for 24 hours, too.
"I'm 23 and I feel like I'm 90 right now," she said.
Water levels in the Grand River have receded slightly from Wednesday's peak, but still remain high. Crews have roped off sections of the city near the river.
Rob Demers came down to the water's edge by the Lorne Bridge Wednesday morning to see the water's flow for himself. He said the situation is a stark reminder of nature's power.
"It's something that should be respected, and it's a reminder of just how powerful nature can be," he said. "It's scary, and hopefully people just stay away from it, and stay safe."
Michelle Copp came to Brantford from Paris, Ont. on Thursday morning, just to see the water. She said she hadn't seen a flood like this in Ontario since the mid-70s.
"It's flowing very fast, and there's a lot of very large debris. Some of the ice chunks are the size of cars," she said. "It's unbelievable."
Evacuees hunker down at community centre
About 40 people who were evacuated from their homes on Wednesday spent the night at the Woodman Park Community Centre. Kevin Jeffreys was one of them. He was staying with his girlfriend when he heard about the evacuation order.
"This place has been great. They're very accommodating … It's a bit cramped with 40 people in a gym, but we're all rolling with it and making do," he said. "Everyone's getting by."
The director of engineering at the Grand River Conservation Authority says the flooding was caused, at least in part, by an ice jam along the river.
"In some sections of the river, we're seeing ice that's two feet [thick], clear, blue ice, very strong ice," said Dwight Boyd, at a Wednesday news conference. "And that's why we're having difficulties with ice this year."
Boyd says an ice jam built up in Cambridge early Wednesday morning and then released a surge of water along with chunks of ice. The jam then compounded downstream in Brantford.
He says the thick ice has been caused by the sustained cold period Ontario endured in late December and early January, which he said hasn't happened for "likely a couple of decades."