New Brunswick

Get out while you can, officials tell residents along rising St. John River

Saint John and other communities along the southern reaches of the St. John River should brace for the worst flooding since 1973, emergency officials warned Tuesday afternoon.

Worst flooding since 1973 could hit southern reaches of river

Homes and cottages on Grand Lake are surrounded by floodwaters as the St. John River continues to rise. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

LATEST UPDATES

  • Residents in flood zones south of Fredericton should consider leaving home, EMO says
  • Floodwaters in Saint John region could reach 5.8 metres, above the 1973 high
  • Fredericton level hit 2008 mark Tuesday, will remain high until weekend
  • Northwestern communities to stay above flood stage this week

Communities along the southern reaches of the St. John River in New Brunswick should brace for the worst flooding since 1973, emergency officials warned Tuesday afternoon.

"The residents in those regions have to be on high alert," said Greg MacCallum, director of the province's Emergency Measures Organization.

Five days after the river swelled over its banks in Fredericton, water levels south of the capital are still going up.

They will continue to rise over the next 48 hours, possibly exceeding levels of 2008, when the last major flood occurred in the area, EMO said.

MacCallum urged residents in southern flood zones to strongly consider evacuating their homes while the roads are still dry.

Emergency workers have been rescuing people who thought they could wait out the rising river at home, he said.

Water was well above flood stage Tuesday morning throughout the lower St. John River basin and is expected to rise past the levels of 10 years ago in coming days, MacCallum said. The worst flood of the past 75 years in the lower basin happened in 1973.

A man paddles in front of a flooded home on Grand Lake, N.B., as floodwaters continue to rise from the St. John River on Tuesday. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

"Residents who have experienced flooding in the past should expect to experience similar and possibly worse flooding in those locations over the next few days," he said during a news conference in Fredericton.

Communities at risk include Jemseg, Gagetown, Hampstead, Belleisle, Grand Bay-Westfield, Quispamsis and Saint John.

"And, of course, all the smaller communities in the intervening areas in that region," MacCallum said.

Measurements from emergency officials and the River Watch monitoring system as of Tuesday afternoon. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

Lots of ice and snow remain in northern New Brunswick, he said. With rainfall in this week's forecast, plenty of water will be flowing downriver.

Saint John fire Chief Kevin Clifford, who also heads the city's EMO, said water levels in the region could reach 5.5 to 5.8 metres this week, surpassing the 2008 level of 5.2 metres and the 1973 mark of 5.4 metres. Flood stage is 4.2 metres.

"This could be the worst flooding we've seen in quite some time," Clifford said.

The city has opened a shelter at the Carleton Community Centre on the lower west side for displaced residents.

5 days after St. John River spilled its banks in Fredericton, water levels south of capital are still going up 1:00

Saint John issued a voluntary evacuation notice Tuesday evening for residents near Westfield Road (South Bay to Morna), the Randolph Bridge, Beach and Ragged Point roads, as well as any isolated areas along the St. John River within city limits. The notice affects an estimated 1,900 people. 

Elsewhere in the province

The situation in Fredericton remains grave but stable, with minor fluctuations in the water level.

Wayne Tallon, the city's EMO director, said the level matched the 2008 mark of 8.36 metres Tuesday morning and it's "expected to remain high into the weekend."

Streets on both sides of the river are flooded, and city hall operations have been moved from their riverside home, Tallon said.

Greg MacCallum, director of the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization, says there's been a 'dramatic increase' in river levels. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Communities just downriver from Fredericton — Maugerville, Sheffield and Jemseg — are forecast to approach or pass 2008 levels within the next 48 hours.

Margaret Arbeau left her home in Maugerville with the help of Red Cross personnel Tuesday, four days after her driveway was submerged and the residence isolated by water. 

"I was riding it out, hoping it would level off, but this morning was kind of depressing," Arbeau said.

Husband refused to leave. She said he's waited out previous floods and is concerned about looters stealing from the empty home — something the couple experienced in 2008, she said.

Another view shows the flooding in Grand Lake. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Red Cross said it has assisted 110 people from 46 homes.

The levels in northwestern communities like Edmundston, Clair and Saint-Hilaire remain stable but above flood stage.

The 2008 flood caused more than $23 million in damage. More than 600 properties were affected and about 1,000 people were displaced from their homes.

Road closures

More than 100 provincially maintained roads, bridges and culverts have been affected by flooding, according to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, and more road closures are expected.

In addition, dozens of municipal streets throughout the province, particularly in Fredericton and Saint John, have been barricaded.

MyNewBrunswick.ca took this video from the sky and it shows just how the flood has taken over downtown Fredericton. 0:40

About 40 streets and roads remain closed in Fredericton, and the city is also down more than 800 parking spaces because of high water.

Both the Westmorland and Princess Margaret bridges are open, but some off- and on-ramps are closed.

The flooding has cut off access to the Fredericton Food Bank. 

Ahmed Dassouki, operations director with the department, cautioned the public against ignoring the barricades.

"You can't know how deep the water is or what's underneath it," he said.

Ferry service has also been interrupted. The Evandale ferry is off its run because of high water, which has crossed the road approaching the ferry.

The launch to the ferry between north Saint John and the Kingston Peninsula was under water Monday night, suspending service.

Government offices were open Tuesday in Fredericton, but with large swaths of the downtown submerged, some have been temporarily relocated. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

NB Power has disconnected more than 100 customers affected by flooding, most of them in the Fredericton area.

The utility said it may disconnect sections of streets or subdivisions, including for unaffected homes, to safely resolve electrical issues.

Darlings Island road submerged

Outside Saint John, the small community of Darlings Island has lost access to its only road to the mainland, forcing residents to either wade through floodwaters or take a boat.

On Monday, peace officers were not allowing vehicles to cross because of concern the shallow water could conceal sinkholes or washouts.

Matthew Brown, who lives in the island community, said Tuesday afternoon that the flooding along the road has worsened and is now waist-deep for some people. His children had to stay home from school.

A Darlings Island resident wades to shore after water spilled over the only road from the island. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)

His home and neighbours' homes are fine, he said. The main concern is access to the road, especially for shift workers coming in late at night who "can't even see where they're going."

"I'm just afraid somebody's going to get seriously hurt or killed," he said.

The flooding of Darlings Island Road is an annual problem in spring. The provincial government has said that it's looking at raising the road, but that would mean acquiring some properties to make it happen.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton, Shaun Waters and Rachel Cave

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