New Brunswick

Floodwaters not waning in greater Saint John, but neither is kindness of volunteers

Devastating flood levels in the Greater Saint John area haven't waned, but neither has the determination of emergency crews and volunteers.

EMO continues to urge evacuations as St. John River hits 5.5 metres

Bertha Langille, 79, of Grand Bay-Westfield, said her neighbours are keeping a watchful eye on her during the unprecedented flooding. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Devastating flood levels in the Greater Saint John area haven't waned, but neither has the determination of emergency crews and volunteers.

The St. John River hit 5.5 metres — about 1.3 metres above flood stage — and water levels are forecast to rise to 5.8 metres over the next couple of days.

Bertha Langille, 79, of Grand Bay-Westfield said her basement is already flooded and sewage started spilling out of her toilet at around 5 a.m.

She lives by herself, but is far from alone. Neighbours have been keeping watch around the clock as the cold, murky water continues to creep toward her tiny home.

"I even had my minister here and eight volunteers yesterday," she said, adding she is grateful.

On the other side of the river system, Quispamsis Mayor Gary Clark said he has been amazed by the army of volunteers filling sandbags. Premier Brian Gallant was among those sandbagging outside the Kennebecasis Valley fire station at noon.

"They're out in full force," said Clark. "They want to help, they want to do whatever they can … to protect the residents," he said.

Worst of Mother Nature, best of human nature

Scott Schryer, of Quispamsis, was all smiles by mid-afternoon Saturday after his friends, 'the boys,' helped him catch up from his morning setback when high winds and waves knocked over his sandbags. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

High winds meant extra work for residents like Scott Schryer, of Gondola Point Road. He awoke Saturday to waves crashing around his home, knocking his early sandbag efforts back to square one.

"Oh the wind killed us. If it wasn't windy, we'd be alright," he said.

His neighbour Mark O'Leary, who was dealing with the same problem, was quickly put at ease.

"People just show up, they're driving down the road and they just show up and jump out of their car and say, 'Can we help?'"

Greg MacCallum, director of the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization, described the situation as "the worst of Mother Nature, but in many ways, the best of human nature."

People along the St. John River are ferrying each other to safety and delivering supplies. 0:48

Only  229 people had registered as evacuees with the Canadian Red Cross as of Saturday afternoon. Of those, 22 people were staying at an emergency shelter set up at the University of New Brunswick Saint John campus.

Nearly 2,000 residents live within recommended evacuation zones.

Based on an overflight today and a look around, if people have stayed in their homes, they're hardy souls, but … their challenge is not going to go away for some time.- Greg MacCallum, NB EMO

Art Sisk, who lives in the now cut-off community of Randolf, is among those staying put, despite the extensive damage the view from his boat reveals.

Water is splashing into the broken windows of abandoned homes that are submerged up past their doorknobs.

Still, Sisk said he and his neighbours won't leave until it's absolutely necessary.

"There's a perception that Toni and I are rebels. But we're staying with our homes. This is what we know. This is where we live. And there isn't an essential need to leave at this point," he said.

Mark O'Leary, right, was grateful for the extra hands that helped him sandbag and protect his Quispamsis home Saturday. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

EMO officials disagree.

"Based on an overflight today and a look around, if people have stayed in their homes, they're hardy souls, but they're  going to find — at least in the southern regions — that their challenge is not going to go away for some time," said MacCallum.

"And sometimes you've got to make the right call here, and that is the safety and security of you and your family. And that's why we're continuing to encourage evacuations."

Toilets starting to fail

Mike Carr, manager of the Saint John Emergency Measures Organization, said some people in Millidgeville, in the city's north end, lost the use of their toilets Saturday, and more people could follow as the flooding worsens.

Saint John Water crews built a clay berm around the Millidgeville wastewater facility on Friday to try to protect it, but 10 wastewater lift stations had to be shut off and the equipment removed to reduce damage, he said.

"Every effort is being made by water crews around the clock to ensure our drinking water and sewer services are maintained to customers."

Water continued to creep toward Bertha Langille's Grand Bay-Westfield home on Saturday afternoon. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Although EMO officials had warned Friday night that they might have to close all of Westfield Road on the city's west side, affecting about 1,400 residents, they found a temporary solution.

City crews, with help from Galbraith Construction, were using gravel to build up a 150-metre section of the road near Mellinger Crescent by about one foot in order to keep it open.

The work was expected to be completed by 8 p.m. AT.

"While the built-up road will allow continued uninterrupted access to the impacted neighbourhoods [including Morna, Morna Heights, Belmont, Ketepec, Acamac, and South Bay], there remains a risk of interruption of power, water and sewer services," Saint John EMO said in a statement.

"Therefore, SJEMO continues to recommend residents in affected areas evacuate until conditions improve."

Transportation affected

Randolph Bridge has been closed to all through traffic, and police are stationed at the barricade. Those in the area who want to evacuate should call 911, EMO advised.

Darlings Island residents remain isolated, with the single road leading to the mainland completely flooded.

But two of the seven coast guard boats deployed have been assigned to the area, officials said. When they're not assisting with evacuations or emergency support, they ferry residents safely across.

Forty crossings were completed on Friday and the service will continue to be provided, as available, in the coming days, officials said.

Emergency crews responded to a propane leak at the Saint John Marina on Westfield Road on Saturday at around noon. (Anais Brasier/Radio-Canada)

The Gondola Point ferry is still operating, but was reduced to one boat on and off throughout the day as crews worked to build up the landings with sandbags and dirt, said Dennis Raynes, a supervisor with the Department of Transportation.

Emergency crews were called to the Saint John Marina on the city's west side around noon, due to a leaking Irving propane tank.

The gas line to the building was turned off on Tuesday, but with the rising water and wind, the tank floated from where it was tethered and began leaking.

With files from Matthew Bingley and Shane Fowler