Cape Breton prepares for more rain after historic flood

A special weather statement issued by Environment Canada predicts heavy rains could cause more flooding this weekend in areas of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality badly damaged by more than 200 millimetres of rain on Thanksgiving Day.

Major damage not likely, says CBRM's public works manager

A street sweeper preps for the expected rainstorm in Sydney this weekend. (Joan Weeks/CBC)

Cape Breton Regional Mayor Cecil Clarke says he's "petrified" of a looming rainstorm as the Sydney area continues to recover from severe flooding less than two weeks ago. 

A special weather statement issued by Environment Canada predicts heavy rains could cause more flooding this weekend in areas of the municipality badly damaged by more than 200 millimetres of rain on Thanksgiving Day.

It's not yet known whether the weekend storm will actually cause trouble in Cape Breton, but the picture will become clearer early Friday morning, Clarke said Thursday.

People, get ready

Public works crews are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. The municipality is asking people to prepare for more power outages and high water.

"Quite frankly, I'm petrified about the potential of a major weather event on top of what we've just experienced," Clarke said at a media briefing.

"If you get the level of potential rain of over 100 millimetres again, the water courses have been changed, in some places foundations are compromised, so even a modest rainfall could have a very much larger impact."

How much is too much?

John Phalen is the manager of public works for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. (Joan Weeks/CBC)

The municipality's public works manager, John Phalen, said everything depends on the amount of rain. 

"If we get 30 or 40 millimetres, we are very confident there will be no issues," he said. "[If we get] 100 millimetres in 12 hours, there may be."

Municipal infrastructure in still in pretty good shape, said Phalen, and all public works crews are ready.  

Crews have been cleaning catch basins and clearing debris from waterways. 

New furnaces coming

The mayor said with a cold spell predicted for next week, the priority now is to get heating systems into flood-damaged homes belonging to people with no insurance coverage.

The province is helping, he said.

"Already from the provincial government, they've offered assistance if we need to resource or source furnaces, not only sourced, but transported here if need be."

A backhoe clears the Wash Brook of downed trees and other debris in the area of Sydney hardest-hit by 200 millimetres of rain on Thanksgiving. (Joan Weeks/CBC)

Rebuilding: what makes sense?

Clarke said the municipality is still considering declaring a no-development zone in Sydney's south end, where at least 20 homes have been declared unfit to occupy after flooding.

 A decision will be made only in consultation with homeowners, Clarke said, but the result could be that their houses are demolished, the area remediated and a moratorium imposed on future development.

"Right now, my concern is the length of time, the cost of trying to assess environmentally, to look at the remedial work that's necessary," Clarke said. "And then there is also the emotional impact of people feeling that their home is not worth anything anymore and worried about future events."

Overall, between 2,500 and 3,000 people have been affected by the flood, along with as many as 1,000 pets.

"That's a lot of people and humanitarian interest that we have to take a look at," Clarke said.