Flooding puts New Brunswick communities on high alert, thousands without power
Up to 20 mm of freezing rain expected in north, 60 mm of rain elsewhere and 90 km/h winds along coast
Weather warnings are in effect for all of New Brunswick, with a mix of freezing rain, heavy rainfall and strong winds either occurring or expected Thursday night.
Environment Canada advises up to 20 millimetres of freezing rain is possible in the northern part of the province, creating a buildup of ice, before changing to rain around midnight.
The agency is urging people in the northern region to consider postponing non-essential travel until conditions improve. Area residents should also be prepared for possible power outages, it said.
More than 4,500 NB Power customers are without power, as of 9:30 p.m. The bulk of the outages are in Kings, Queens and Charlotte counties in the south and Victoria and Madawaska in the north.
NB Power said it has 130 crews ready to deploy across the province.
The rest of the province is under a rainfall warning, with 25 to 60 mm expected.
"Heavy downpours can cause flash floods and water pooling on roads," the warning states.
Flooding in low-lying areas is also possible because the ground is frozen and less able to absorb the significant amount of rain.
In addition, warmer temperatures are expected, reaching up to 9 C in the southern half and 6 C in the north, which will contribute to snow melt.
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Miramichi city police are urging people to stay off city streets because of "extreme flooding." The force said in a release that vehicles are stalling in "deep water" and blocking traffic. The King George Highway has been closed, and travel is not recommended on Route 8 from Miramichi to Jeanne-Mance.
In Sussex, the town's emergency measures organization said Thursday night the weather event has reached a "critical point" after heavy rainfall and officials are monitoring the risk of flooding.
"The Ice jams situation continues to be a concern, and our EOC Staff are monitoring this closely using electronic trending and visual monitoring of the Town's River gauge via video link," the town said in a Facebook post.
"The situation remains stable however our gauge levels have reached our concern level and seem to be trending over the last several hours maintaining those levels."
Meanwhile, the Fundy coastal region could see wind gusts of up to 90 km/h. A low-pressure system is moving northeastward across northern New Brunswick, bringing strengthening southerly winds that should diminish after midnight, Environment Canada said.
High winds can toss loose objects and cause tree branches to break.
Slow down, say police
New Brunswick RCMP are asking motorists to slow down. "Stay alert and drive to the road conditions," police tweeted just before the evening commute. "Remember the posted speed limit is for ideal conditions and not the weather we have currently."
SNC-Lavalin, the company that maintains Route 2 from Longs Creek to the Quebec border, reported localized flooding in various locations on the Trans-Canada Highway.
Geoffrey Downey, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, said they have received reports of communities seeking sandbags to divert water. He urged residents to help the cleanup effort by removing snow and ice from catch basins.
In Moncton, some streets have gone from ice-packed to water-logged. City crews have been responding to various localized flooding areas as they develop.
Brian Doucette and a co-worker found themselves up to their ankles in water, as they worked to clear a storm drain to keep a nearby building from flooding.
"I've been around Moncton for a long time and … I've seen a lot of snow before, but the ice and the rain that comes with it, no, I haven't seen it in a long time," he said.
In Saint John, Donna Thompson was doing her best to get around in her electric wheelchair.
"It's a little tough at times, but as long as you take your time like any vehicle, right? And just be patient and just pray."
Closed schools, affected travel
Earlier in the day, a mix of snow, ice and rain forced schools across the province to close.
Travel on the Trans-Canada highway between the Grand Lake area and the Gorge Road exit in Moncton was not recommended. Neither was travel on Route 10 between the Kings and Queens county line and Sussex.
MRDC manager Al Giberson said road conditions had improved since Wednesday but not enough to lift the recommendation not to travel.
"The snow we had last night combined with the ice pellets and freezing rain and rain aren't making conditions really great but the road is passable," Giberson said Thursday morning.
He said Thursday's warmer temperatures would give salt a better chance to eat away at ice clinging to road surfaces, but crews are being careful as the rain could wash it away.
Fredericton's roadway operations manager Mike Walker warned drivers that warmer temperatures may not be enough to clear snow and ice pack on lower-priority streets.
In Moncton, crews were out early, scraping streets, trying to keep up with the changing conditions.
"The anchor ice when it gets fixated on the asphalt it's like concrete; it takes a lot of effort to get it off," said general foreman Jeff Scott.
"We do have some flexibility with equipment like graters and excavators, but that's pretty tough on the road as well so we'll do that where we have to."
Most drains cleared earlier in the week have stayed clear, but people should report any street flooding to the dispatch centre, he said.
Scott suggested drivers and pedestrians should assume "the worst conditions so that you're not caught by surprise."
Kevin Clifford, Saint John's Emergency Measures Organization director, said people should put caution first if travelling Thursday and prepare for the possibility of power outages Thursday night.
Clifford also cautioned elderly people not to leave their homes and called for people to take care of each other and put a hold on unnecessary travel.
"We all need to be mindful of the loss of power, and we all need to have a plan be if we lose power."
With files from Angela Bosse, Shift NB, Information Morning Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John