New Brunswick

Desperation turns to 'tears of joy' for rescued Grand Bay-area couple

"We wouldn't have lasted much longer,” Audrey Michaud said — but then help arrived at the Oak Point couple's doorstep.

Surrounded by filthy water and losing hope, the Michauds didn't know help was just around the corner

Audrey Michaud looks out at the flood waters with the family dog, Clementine. (Julia Wright / CBC)

With their sandbag wall crumbling, part of their barn gone, and water pouring in through their basement doors, Gerry and Audrey Michaud were almost ready to give up on their home in Oak Point.

The small Grand Bay-area community is one of the areas hard-hit by the 2018 flood in New Brunswick. On Monday, water levels were at 5.9 metres and expected to rise to six metres.

Over the weekend, "the waves were something we couldn't have imagined, crashing against the house," Audrey said.

With no power and no sleep, Gerry Michaud wondered what more he and his wife Audrey could do to save their home. (Julia Wright / CBC)

Despite the three pumps running in the basement, filthy water was steadily creeping into the home in which the couple hoped to live out their retirement.

"Every time a wave would come, there would be more water," Gerry said. "I said, 'I don't know what we can do.'"

"We wouldn't have lasted much longer," Audrey said.

The Oak Point couple didn't know that help was just around the corner — and that the most desperate day of their lives as homeowners together would become what Gerry called "a blessing."

Either give up, or go for it

St. Paul's Anglican, built in 1901, is a picturesque country church at the end of a lane in Oak Point Kiwanis Park campground.

The St. John River flooded the campground last week, damaging roads and dozens of RVs. On Saturday, Rev. Michael Caines rallied a crew to help shore up the church building with sandbags and plastic sheeting. Once they finished, the crew started to wonder if anyone nearby needed help.

Oak Point resident Glen Carson gestures toward the rising water levels at St. Paul's Anglican Church on Monday. (Julia Wright / CBC)

"Someone said we should go check on Gerry and Audrey up the street," said Rev. Michael Caines.

When he arrived at the Michauds' he found them in a "desperate" state.

"They'd been awake for two days at that point trying to fight the progress of the water," Caines said. "It was either give up, or go for it. They weren't sure what to do. The wind was out of their sails."

Calling in the cavalry 

Caines called his crew and told them to get up the road right away.

Over a dozen helpers arrived on the doorstep with shovels and sandbags. A dump truck came with more sand.

Crews worked for over 10 hours over the weekend to lay thousands of sandbags at the Michauds' home in Oak Point. (Submitted by Barb Richards)

Soon, as the word spread on Facebook and via text message, members of other church congregations showed up, including members of the Baptist church in Browns Flat, and Anglican Bishop David Edwards.

Gerry estimated as many as 40 volunteers laid about 2,500 sandbags over the course of 12 hours.

"We were resisting help for a long time," Gerry said. "What seemed to amaze me is that you didn't even have to ask for stuff … a month down the road, we will be looking at how much of a blessing this is.

"What seemed hopeless at one point completely turned around," Caines said. "We were able to save the house."

The barrier held tight on Monday, but 'the shifting nature of the flood means that a situation that can be very stable one minute can change very quickly,' Caines said. (Julia Wright / CBC)

'How can we ever repay?'

Gerry Michaud becomes emotional when he recalls the scene.

"Everyone carrying sandbags, older retired people here shovelling gravel, younger people, a fireman who brought his wife and children," he said.

Others brought over a pot of chilli, homemade baking, and water for the workers. When the power failed and the pumps stopped working, people brought over generators and fuel.

Many of the volunteers, Audrey said, were strangers.

The church is the people. There are times when it doesn't matter which one you belong to, you just get it done.- Rev. Michael Caines

"They're good people, good, salt of the Earth people," Audrey said. "Everyone has their differences, but all that is forgotten when there's a crisis. Everybody pulls together."

"We're kind of left thinking: how can we ever repay?" Gerry said. 

Crews of volunteers — including Anna Caines, Bishop David Edwards, and Rev. Michael Caines — worked to rescue the Michauds' house from the floodwaters. 'What seemed hopeless at one point completely turned around,' Caines said. (Submitted by Barb Richards)

Long road ahead

The immediate threat to their home has passed — but there's still a long road ahead for the Michauds, and for thousands of other New Brunswickers affected by flooding.

"The shifting nature of the flood means that a situation that can be very stable one minute can change very quickly," Caines said.

Audrey is already anticipating the work ahead once the water finally goes down.

Gerry Michaud stands behind the sandbag wall that members of the community built around the home he shares with Audrey. 'We’re kind of left thinking: how can we ever repay?' he said. (Julia Wright / CBC)

"We have a huge mess to clean up — getting the sandbags emptied, sorting out things from the barn. All that has to be cleaned up," she said, gesturing toward the jumble of household goods and debris covering their property.

Caines said he has faith the community will step up again.

"We're not done with this yet," he said. "The same people you see volunteering now are going to be there.

"The church is the people. There are times when it doesn't matter which one you belong to, you just get it done."

Gerry and Audrey Michaud of Oak Point were almost ready to give up on their home over the weekend - until help arrived from an unexpected source. (Julia Wright / CBC)

'Happy tears'

Thanks to the hard work of neighbours, friends and strangers, Audrey said, she and her husband have shed "not as many sad tears as happy tears."

"Yes, we've lost a lot here. We don't even know [all] the damage that's been done because it's under water."

"But no one was hurt, no one lost their lives, and it was the most wonderful thing to see the community come together in a crisis. I can't begin to tell you how heartwarming it is.

"Thank you to the community, from the bottom of our hearts."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julia Wright

Host, Information Morning Saint John

Julia Wright is the host of Information Morning Saint John on CBC Radio 1. She previously worked as a digital reporter focused on stories from southwestern New Brunswick. She has a masters degree in English from McGill University, and has been with the CBC since 2016. You can reach her at julia.wright@cbc.ca.

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