Rising waters put New Brunswick capital on flood alert
Parts of Fredericton already under water with another rise in the river expected this weekend
The rapid rise of water levels in New Brunswick has closed roads, flooded homes and put emergency responders on alert for at least the next 48 hours.
The St. John River swelled past flood stage in the provincial capital Friday morning, leaving parts of some Fredericton streets under water, and government officials are forecasting "a gradual rise" over the weekend.
The city reported that water levels reached eight metres on Friday, 1.5 metres above the flood level. The river is expected to hit 8.3 metres before the end of the weekend — a mark last seen during the previous major flood in 2008.
Wayne Tallon, director of the city's Emergency Management Organization, said between 50 and 100 homes have been affected by floodwaters so far.
Riverside communities along the St. John River, which runs the length of the province, have either been affected already or are bracing for southbound floodwaters, according to Greg MacCallum, director of the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization.
"Everybody needs to be on alert now," he said.
"The river is rising rapidly and we want people to take whatever measures they can or need to protect their homes or personal property and ensure their personal safety."
'This is not over by any means'
Several communities near the Maine border in northwestern New Brunswick are expected to approach or surpass flood stage on Saturday, according to the province's River Watch surveillance system. The flood stage varies throughout the river.
Those communities include Clair, St. Hilaire, Edmundston and St. Leonard.
Low-lying areas in the capital region, like Maugerville and Jemseg, have already passed flood stage. Access to those communities has been restricted because the highway is impassable.
MacCallum said Hartland and some southern communities, such as Oak Point and Saint John, are also at risk of flooding in the coming days. The river has begun to creep up banks in rural areas south of Fredericton.
"This is not over by any means," MacCallum said.
"What you see now in terms of levels of the river are probably what you're going to see the next couple of days."
The power to flooded streets or subdivisions may be cut if necessary, he said.
The rapid snowmelt mixed with rain has raised water levels in several other New Brunswick rivers. The Nashwaak, Restigouche, Middle, Salmon, Tetagouche, Miramichi and Southwest Miramichi rivers are at risk of flooding, the province reported.
Flooding has closed portions of several highways in the province, and further closures are expected.
Ahmed Dassouki, director of operations for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, warned against driving through water-covered roads.
"You may think your vehicle can pass through," he said. "However, water levels can rise quickly and currents are very strong right now."
A 75-kilometre stretch of Route 105 between Fredericton and Youngs Cove is closed to all traffic, and Route 144 is closed from Edmundston to Rivière-Verte.
For a full list of road closures visit CBC N.B.'s story here. You can also check out some of the images captured around the Fredericton area Friday.
The weather outlook for Fredericton in the next few days shows the trend of warmer-than-normal temperatures continuing and rain is in the forecast.
EMO spokesperson Geoffrey Downey said the combination is intensifying the flood.
"We're getting a lot of melt right now and that's what's driving this rise in the St. John River," said Downey
"Spring arrived late and we've had some unseasonably warm temperatures reaching 20 C in parts of the province this week."
I want to emphasize: People need to exercise caution if they're going anywhere near water courses.- EMO director Greg MacCallum
He said the weather makes it difficult to say when the rivers will crest, but he expected them to continue to rise for at least the next 48 hours.
"It could peak on Saturday, it could peak on Monday. Right now, we just don't know," said Downey.
However, Downey said the low levels of ice in the rivers mitigates the chances of ice jams.
Health and safety risks
MacCallum reported many inundated basements and homes isolated by floodwaters, adding some residents have managed to cross the water while others required assistance.
He said emergency responders remain able to respond to any calls, and he cautioned the public against "disaster tourism."
"I want to emphasize: People need to exercise caution if they're going anywhere near watercourses," he said.
The Department of Health advised residents with flooded homes to call NB Power if the water comes into contact with outlets or electronic equipment.
The department said flooded private water wells are contaminated and must be disinfected since floodwaters contain much more than river water, including raw sewage.
Parts of capital under water
Meanwhile in Fredericton, crews were out on Friday morning putting up barriers around streets that were already under water or in flood zones.
Only access to Westmorland Street Bridge at this time is from Maple St. and Westmorland Street.—@CityFredPolice
Rising water levels flooded some parking lots in the downtown and cut off some ramps to the high-trafficked Westmorland Bridge to the city's north side, causing significant traffic delays.
If water levels rise above eight metres, flooding will reach farther into the downtown, said Tallon.
"We would see backups through the storm sewer systems," he said.
"The corner of St. John Street and King Street, the water would come up through the sewer systems and flood those different areas."
Tallon said the river is rising "faster than normal" and that people should fill up their vehicles with gas and have cash on hand.
The provincial EMO will continue to update its forecast throughout the week.
MacCallum said that while the river has reached 2008 levels, the monitoring and forecasting tools have improved significantly in the decade since, creating more accurate projection models
With files from Information Morning Fredericton and Shane Fowler