New Brunswick

Meet 'Uber Rob,' the Darlings Island flood hero

Darlings Island residents are grateful to a man many of them know only as Uber Rob, who has taken time off work to provide them with a free water taxi while their only road to the mainland is flooded.

Rob Dekany has taken time off work to provide a free water taxi to flood-stranded Darlings Island residents

Rob Dekany doesn't live on Darlings Island, but has been shuttling local residents in his motor boat this week after floodwaters covered the only road connecting the small community to the mainland. (CBC)

Most people know him as "The Darlings Island Hero."

Some call him "Mr. Rob," and others have dubbed him "Uber Rob."

If I was in this situation … I would want somebody to help me.- Rob Dekany

Rob Dekany has been using his powerboat to ferry flood-stranded Darlings Island residents to and from the mainland all week.

But unlike Uber, his water taxi is free.

"I do it because if I was in this situation … I would want somebody to help me," said Dekany.

"I had the means to help people, so this is what I'm doing."

Residents of the small community, tucked between Nauwigewauk and Hampton in southern New Brunswick, have been cut off from the mainland since Sunday, when floodwaters covered their only access road — Darlings Island Road — making it impassable for vehicles.

Dekany doesn't live on Darlings Island, but he grew up on the Hammond River and has never seen the water so high.

"This is crazy, isn't it?"

Record-breaking levels

The view of the submerged Darlings Island Road on Wednesday afternoon. (Jim Carroll)

On Monday, people could wade across in their rubber boots.

By Tuesday, they needed hip-waders to get through the cold, murky water.

And by Wednesday, people were forced to use chest-waders, canoes or kayaks.

Thursday is expected to be even worse.

The water level is forecast to reach 5.4 metres, well above the flood stage of 4.2 metres — and it doesn't stop there.

Emergency officials predict the river will continue to swell from spring thaw and rain, producing record-breaking levels of about six metres by Sunday, followed by three or four days of recovery.

'Above and beyond kindness'

Dekany has had a steady stream of passengers getting on and off his boat since Monday night. (CBC)

Dekany said he'll continue to offer his shuttle service for as long as people need it.

He has taken time off from his job and assigned himself two shifts per day. Today, he will start his river run at 5:45 a.m., until 10 a.m., and then again from about 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.

"He's a rock star," Kevin Marshall posted on Facebook.

"A mark of a true gentleman," agreed Barry English.

"Heart warming," wrote Tanya Johnston-Sullivan.

"Above and beyond kindness," said Beverly Sanders.

Rob Dekany takes people back and forth from the island to the mainland on his boat ... free of charge. 0:51

​The New Brunswick government used to run a boat shuttle for Darlings Island residents during flooding. But in 2015, the province announced it would no longer provide the service.

The province has confirmed it's now looking at raising the road but would have to acquire some properties. Negotiations with those landowners are expected to begin in the coming weeks, officials have said.

For now, it's up to residents to find their own way to work, school, medical appointments or whatever other business they might have on the mainland.

Dekany said manoeuvring through the trees and around the debris can be tricky.

Dekany estimates he transported about 40 people on Monday night alone and had a steady stream of passengers on Tuesday, including a woman in her 80s who had to go to the Saint John Regional Hospital that night.

"Other than the logs and whatnot it's actually been pretty good," he said. "The people are really appreciative of having me do this, for sure."

Dekany provides pickup and drop-off on the Darlings Island side at the covered bridge and about two kilometres away on the Nauwigewauk side of the road, where many people leave their vehicles parked.

He can take up to five passengers at a time in his 150-horsepower boat and greets them with a friendly, "How you doin'?"

He even supplies life-jackets.

Community rallies

Many residents have tried to offer Dekany money for ferrying them across the flooded Darlings Island Road, but he declines. (CBC)

"Thank you, Rob," one man said as he disembarked from the boat.

"Any time sir, any time," Dekany replied with a smile.

"He is an absolute godsend to us — we're so thankful for his selfless help," one person posted on Facebook.

Tasha Dawn was so grateful for her boat ride Tuesday night, she suggested taking up a community collection for a gas gift card for Dekany after he refused to accept any money.

"Boats are hard on gas, and with the amount of trips back and forth this is surely going to be expensive for him," Dawn posted on the Darlings Island Facebook group.

Dekany's 'water taxi' passes by the flooded covered bridge. (CBC)

"He is so amazing we would be more [than] happy to contribute," replied Chris Calder.

"Count us in," wrote Nancy McKiel. "Glad to know who he is! He took Dan across Monday night in the dark, and back over to mainland this morning."

"We definitely need to do something for him," agreed Flavia Clark.

If the gift card idea doesn't work out, Cheryl Campbell has another one.

"Found out Uber Rob loves sour gummie candy!"

With files from Rachel Cave