'Strongly recommended': Saint John N.B. EMO urges evacuation in flood zones
Water levels could reach 6.6 metres by Sunday and residents could lose water and sewerage services
Saint John EMO is warning residents in low-lying areas along the St. John River to leave their homes, adding that that they might lose water and sewerage services as floodwaters continue to rise.
Fire Chief Kevin Clifford, who is also the director of the city's emergency measures organization, told reporters Wednesday afternoon that "right now it's strongly recommended" for people to leave some areas of Dominion Park, Millidgeville and South Bay.
He said Saint Johners are resilient and many people may be thinking about toughing it out in their flooded homes, but "you can imagine how uncomfortable that will be" if they lose water and sewerage services for several days.
We think people will make the right choice.- Kevin Clifford, Saint John EMO
Mandatory evacuation is not being considered "right yet," but has not been ruled out.
"We take very seriously taking away people's liberty and freedom of choice," said Clifford.
"We're an intelligent community and we think people — given the data that you will not have water and sewage, given the data that you cannot move at nighttime because we will not support your move at nighttime, given the data that the … floodwater is increasing and you will be isolated with your family — we think people will make the right choice."
Clifford reiterated this could be the worst flood the region has ever seen.
Water levels have already surpassed what was forecast. The Emergency Measures Organization had expected the river to rise to 5.1 metres at Saint John and Quispamsis, but levels have already reached 5.18 metres, according to Environment Canada, which takes measurements in the old north end neighbourhood near Main Street.
The flood level for the region was 4.2 metres on Wednesday and levels were forecast to reach 5.4 metres by Thursday morning, 5.8 metres by Saturday, and up to 6.6 metres by Sunday.
"That's without the tidal impact," Clifford pointed out.
Bay of Fundy tides affect river levels in the area and could increase flood levels.
High tide is at 2:24 p.m. Wednesday and low tide at 8:32 p.m. before rising again overnight.
Geoffrey Downey, a spokesperson for New Brunswick's Emergency Measures Organization, said the St. John River is rising in the south.
"Residents in southern regions need to remain on high alert at this moment and anyone south of Fredericton is included in that," Downey told CBC on Wednesday morning.
30 families 'heed' message
About 30 Saint John-area families had voluntarily evacuated their homes by Wednesday afternoon, up from only about six people on Tuesday, said Clifford.
"Obviously, people are heeding the message."
As the flooding worsens and people realize the recovery period could extend to the middle of next week, he expects to get "significant uptake."
"There is still time to evacuate safely," he said.
Specific areas requested to evacuate include:
- Randolph – those living past the Randolph Bridge.
- The Westfield Road area (South Bay to Morna) – those living between the Gault Road and the eastern end of Mellinger Crescent.
- Ragged Point Road – those living past the St-Francois-de-Sales Church.
- Beach Road.
- Any isolated areas along the St. John River within Saint John.
Evacuees are asked to stay with family or friends.
An emergency shelter has been set up at the University of New Brunswick Saint John campus for anyone who can't find alternative accommodations.
1,900 people affected
Saint John Mayor Don Darling said 1,900 people live in the voluntary evacuation area.
"I just urge people to heed the warnings and know that it is very difficult to get people out in the middle of the night … it can be quite dangerous for first responders," he said.
At least 66 homes in South Bay are now isolated because of water over Westfield Road.
"We believe that this will be a much longer and much more significant event than what people who are very resilient are used to," said Clifford.
"I understand that they have endured and lived through flood situations in the past. We think this may be our worst and ask people to consider the recommended evacuation."
Clifford said EMO won't be evacuating homes at night.
"We want to evacuate under safe conditions [which are] daylight conditions."
Preparing for worst
On Wednesday morning Saint Johners were still trying to go about their daily routine, but it wasn't easy.
The rising waters caused at least one Saint John-area school, Morna Heights School, to close.
John Train, who delivers newspapers and flyers, said he decided to drive across a flooded road after seeing a smaller car able to make the trip.
"We've been dealing with this all day now and most of yesterday too," said Train.
Dick Hickey, who bought the Saint John Marina on Westfield Road two years ago, had workers removing furniture.
"(Tuesday) we came in and lifted everything up to about four inches, just to get through (the day)," he said.
"And we organized a crew today cause we think it's coming another three feet."
Jeff Ecstrom, who lives on Acamac Beach Road, was also feeling the pressure of the water closing in. He said he watched it creep a foot closer to his home within about 30 minutes.
"Water's right to our deck, right to our basement door now," he said as he unloaded sandbags from his truck. "And they're saying once the high-tide comes up, it'll go up five feet higher,"
Ecstron added he's "very stressed right now, because there's no way in or out of our road after tonight."
Roy Hobson said he lives on a higher elevation of Acamac, so only the lower parts of his property are directly affected by floodwaters.
Still, he may have to leave his home.
"They're saying we could be blocked off," said Hobson.
"We're preparing to evacuate, but we're hoping we don't have to."
Kennebecasis Valley affected
Ferries have also been affected.
The ferries at Westfield, Evandale, Belleisle Bay and Summerville-Millidgeville are out of service, and only one ferry at Gondola Point in Quispamsis on the Kennebecasis River is running.
Even that ferry, which runs to the Kingston Peninsula, had to be taken out of service for a time Wednesday so sand ramps could be added as the river level increased.
At Summerville, on the Kingston Peninsula, friends helped David Lomas empty his waterfront home. The water was already lapping at his deck on Wednesday afternoon and is expected to rise by a metre over the next three days.
"If you wait until the last minute, it's too late," said Lomas, who took the day off work and rented a moving truck so he could remove everything — furniture, clothing, even the dishes.
"You can't stop the water. I just made the call that we needed to pack up and get everything out."
"If [the water] gets up as high as it's supposed to, it's going to be well into the basement," said Beaupre.
He estimates he'll need about 600 sandbags to protect his home and spent much of the day trying to find them.
"So it was kind of nerve-racking. It was like, 'OK, we need sandbags and if we don't get them there now, we're not going to be able to sandbag, it's going to be too late because we're losing ground as it is right now.'"
The city has set up two sandbag-pickup locations on McIntosh and Bay streets.
For a complete list of road closures visit CBC New Brunswick's updated list here.
With files from Matthew Bingley, Connell Smith, Information Morning Saint John & CBC News Network