New Brunswick

Greater Saint John area homeowners, municipalities face daunting flood cleanup

Floodwaters in the greater Saint John area are slowly starting to recede, revealing the devastating damage left behind, including contaminated basements and washed-away roads.

Red Cross offers free cleanup kits, city expects to announce plans for contaminated debris disposal Friday

Ryan Whalen is waiting to hear how to dispose of the hundreds of contaminated sandbags piled around his Green Head Road home. (Rachel Cave/CBC)

Floodwaters in the greater Saint John N.B. area are slowly starting to recede, revealing the devastating damage left behind, including contaminated basements and washed-away roads.

Residents like Ryan Whalen, who scrambled to put hundreds of protective sandbags around his Green Head Road property and watched helplessly as the water encroached on his home, are starting to think about the daunting task of cleanup.

"It's gone down at least a foot for us right here, which is an incredible reprieve," Whalen said.

"At high water, you were up to your waist …. You can actually see the high-water mark."

Water levels along the St. John River hovered at about 5.1 metres above sea level on Thursday, down from an unprecedented peak of 5.7 metres on Monday. Flood stage in the region is 4.2 metres.

Officials have warned that floodwaters can contain a wide variety of contaminating material, including sewage, drowned animals, chemicals, pesticides and fuel.

Contact with the water can cause illness, such as gastrointestinal-related issues, and infections.

Restoration specialist Chris Long said so many homeowners have started calling in a panic, he's going to have to triage them.

Chris Long, president of ServiceMaster Restore in Saint John, estimates it will take up to five weeks for disaster cleanup crews to complete tear-outs and abatements for the up to 400 flooded homes between Saint John and Petitcodiac — even longer to 'put everything back.' (Rachel Cave/CBC)

"If it's somebody's permanent living arrangement, and they're in a hotel and they've got three kids, that becomes a priority," said Long, adding that seniors will also get priority.

Up to 400 homes have been affected in his service area, between St. Stephen and Petitcodiac.

Sandbag disposal dilemma

In addition to raw sewage, the floodwaters can contain other contaminants such as drowned animals, chemicals, pesticides and fuel, officials have said. (CBC)

The Department of Environment announced Thursday that sandbags cannot be emptied into or within 30 metres of any watercourse or regulated wetland.

If the bags themselves are "clearly contaminated," such as with oil, people are urged to contact one of the department's regional offices for more information.

Municipal officials are still working out a plan for how people should dispose of their contaminated sandbags and what they should do with the filthy, potentially hazardous debris floating in their yards.

Worried that contaminated material will be mixed with regular household trash, the Town of Quispamsis has dropped dumpsters at three locations along the waterfront.

"We want to just make sure that things to go into the landfill that are flood-related, to keep them separate, just to make it a little easier on [the] Crane Mountain [Landfill] so that they know which is which," said Mayor Gary Clark.

Extended landfill hours, waived tipping fee

As that cleanup moves into full swing, the landfill, which serves the Fundy region, has extended its hours. Starting on May 19, it will be open from 7:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. on weekdays, and 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

The tipping fee will be waived for all flood-related material to encourage people to properly dispose of waste, the Fundy Regional Service Commission said.

In Grand Bay-Westfield, contractors will be brought in to remove sandbags "for those who require it," according to a statement issued by the town.

Cleanup of homes and property will present numerous and serious risks to health as well as likelihoods of injury.- Troy Gautreau, Grand Bay-Westfield fire chief

Arrangements are also being made for contractors to pick up flood debris from affected properties. This will include debris washed onto properties by floodwaters, as well as flood-damaged furniture, appliances, carpeting, insulation and paper products, the statement said.

Registration will be required for sandbag and flood debris removal.

"Cleanup of homes and property will present numerous and serious risks to health as well as likelihoods of injury," the town's fire Chief Troy Gautreau advised in a statement.

Emergency operations centre personnel are also developing critical information kits which will be delivered by firefighters to the flood zones, he said.

Delayed garbage collection

The City of Saint John expects to release information about its plans for flood-related waste on Friday.

Special arrangements will be made for residential collection once floodwaters recede and the infrastructure of the roads is assessed.

Flood debris should not be put in the compost and should not be burned, officials said.

There will be no garbage or compost collection Friday in the following areas:

  • By Road No. 7.
  • Farry Cove Lane after civic number 16.
  • Lawrence Long Road.
  • Westfield Road from Grenville Lane to Gault Road.

Kits 'a start'

The Red Cross said the provincial government is covering the cost of the 3,500 flood cleanup kits available at its offices in Saint John and Fredericton. (CBC)

The Canadian Red Cross is now offering free flood cleanup kits at its office in Loch Lomond Place, at 120 McDonald St., from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, including the weekend.

The kits include a 20-litre bucket filled with items such as a mop, broom, squeegee, scrub brush, sponges, work gloves and latex gloves, masks, garbage bags and a bleach-based all-purpose cleaner.

"It's a basic residential cleanup kit, certainly depending on the level of damage and destruction within the home they'll need more than this," said provincial director Bill Lawlor. "But it's a start basically to get things underway for cleaning."

Within the first hour, more than a dozen flood-affected residents picked up kits and there was a steady stream of people the rest of the day.

Within the first hour, about a dozen flood-affected residents picked up cleaning kits from the Red Cross in Saint John. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Tanya Laskey was among them, hoping to at least save the contents of her Kennebecasis Island cottage.

"It's probably not going to be salvageable," she said. "But if there's anything upstairs that's still good, or things that we can wash down, this will be great."

There is a limit of one kit per household.

Residents are urged to contact their insurance company, document any damage and report it to Service New Brunswick before starting any cleanup.

Mother Nature was not kind to Ragged Point Road, and the city says the pavement on other roads might look safe but could be compromised underneath. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Some previously flooded roads and bridges have reopened to pedestrians only and remain closed to vehicles.

Although the water is receding and the pavement might look safe, it could be compromised underneath and will need to be assessed, officials advised.

Signs are posted, warning residents that the water that continues to flow over parts of the transportation network is contaminated.

Saint John police were on hand at the bridge to Randolph on Thursday to remind people to take precautions.

The bridge to Randolph has reopened to pedestrians only, but people should still exercise caution, officials said.

With files from Rachel Cave, Connell Smith and Brett Ruskin