New Brunswick

Trickle of flood evacuees may become surge as St. John River rises, say officials

Emergency officials believe more people threatened by the floodwaters of the rising St. John River will voluntarily evacuate and take advantage of the emergency shelter set up at the University of Saint John campus within the next couple of days.

Emergency officials expect the water level in Saint John to reach 5.5 metres on Friday

Markus Edison and Aylssa Mulrooney enjoyed a game of pool Thursday afternoon in one of the lounge areas of a UNBSJ campus residence-turned Red Cross emergency shelter. (Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon/CBC)

Aylssa Mulrooney and her boyfriend, Markus Edison have a two-bedroom suite, cable TV and internet service, prepared meals and access to a pool table and gym.

They never imagined staying at a flood evacuation emergency shelter could be so good.

"I couldn't ask for a better place to stay," Mulrooney, 19, said Thursday at her new temporary home — the Dr. Colin B. Mackay residence at the University of New Brunswick Saint John campus.

Edison, 20, said he agreed.

"Everything they've been doing for us so far has been absolutely wonderful," he said of the UNBSJ staff and Canadian Red Cross volunteers.

The young couple fled their Dominion Park Road apartment, along with Mulrooney's parents on Wednesday, as the St. John River rose to nearly 5.2 metres, well above the flood stage of 4.2 metres.

"It was crazy," recalled Mulrooney.

The water "went right up over" her mom's four-year-old Nissan Sentra and for a moment, it sounded like the car was going to stall and leave them stranded.

"Nerve-wracking," said Edison.

The river reached the 1973 high mark of 5.4 metres on Thursday and with overnight rain, it is expected to swell to 5.5 metres on Friday, and peak at 5.9 metres on Monday.

The Saint John Emergency Measures Organization has been urging about 1,900 people in specific low-lying areas along the river in Dominion Park, Millidgeville and South Bay to voluntarily evacuate their homes, warning they could lose power, water and sewerage.

"More residents will also be cut off and isolated as roads become impassable. First responders may not be able to reach those who require emergency services," EMO said in a statement.

Parts of Westfield Road are submerged and impassable. (Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon/CBC)

As of Thursday afternoon, only 116 people had registered with the Canadian Red Cross as evacuees, although more could have left their homes without registering because they don't require any assistance.

Of those registered evacuees, only 18 — including Edison, Mulrooney and her parents — are being provided with accommodations, officials said. The others are believed to be staying with family or friends, or in hotels.

"It's been relatively slow," said Bill Borland, a disaster management supervisor for the Red Cross.

He was volunteering at the registration centre set up at the Carleton Community Centre on the city's west side Thursday and counted only about 25 people by mid-afternoon. The two or three volunteers on-site often outnumbered the number of evacuees, he said.

"I think people are … doing a bit of wait-and-see, as to what happens with the water."

Bill Borland, a Red Cross volunteer disaster management supervisor, thinks there could be a 'surge' in registrations at the reception centre set up at the Carleton Community Centre within the next couple of days. (Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon/CBC)

Borland anticipates a turn of the tide as early as today, based on conversations.

"The people who have been there for a while are saying, 'I've lived in this area for a long time and I've never seen anything like this" in terms of the levels.

"I think that attitude, 'Oh I've seen the water go up and down before, I'm going ot be alright,'  — they're starting to wonder if they're going to be alright."

EMO recommends evacuation of the following areas:

  • Randolph, past the Randolph Bridge.
  • The Westfield Road area, including Morna, Morna Heights, Belmont, Ketepec, Acamac and South Bay.
  • Ragged Point Road in the north end, past the St-Francois-de-Sales Church.
  • Beach Road by Rockwood Park.
  • Any isolated areas along the St. John River.

Officials are asking all displaced residents to register with the Red Cross, even if they don't need assistance.

It doesn't take long to fill out the forms, said Borland. And once they're registered, their information is in the computer system, so if they do need help at a later date, it will help expedite the process.

The Dr. Colin B. Mackay residence typically houses 170 students in 85, two-bedroom suites, while the Sir James Dunn residence houses 68 students in super singles, large singles, singles and double rooms. (Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon/CBC)

UNB can accommodate between 40 and 60 people between its two residences, Dr. Colin B. Mackay and Sir James Dunn, said director of student services, Kevin Bonner.

"We could expand that as the need arises," he said.

Worried and tired

Bonner said staff are trying to "make sure they feel at home" and are aware of the campus facilities — everything from where they can find a cash machine, to a cup of coffee, to a gym where their children can run around.

He said he met a few of the evacuees Thursday and they're concerned about their property, concerned about how long the flooding will last, and about how long the clean-up will take.

"Many of them are tired so we make sure their rooms are available and clean and ready to go." The university is even bringing in some extra televisions for the rooms to help people pass the time.

Edison packed Mulrooney's television and his X-Box — some of his "bare essentials," he said with a laugh.

EMO recommends people bring a week's worth of clothing, medication, identification and keys. If they have pets, they should bring their food, carrier or at least a leash, and medical history/list of medications.