Sydney flood victims still dealing with trauma of loss

Homeowners in Sydney's so-called flood zone say a forecast of rain is enough to revive memories of the day their homes were flooded.

A simple forecast of rain revives homeowners' memories of Thanksgiving Day flood

Joe Sampson lives in Sydney's south end, one of the the areas hardest hit by Cape Breton's Thanksgiving Day flood last year. (CBC)

Joe Sampson's memories of last year's devastating Thanksgiving Day flood in Cape Breton are all too vivid.

Up to 225 millimetres of rain fell on parts of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality on Oct. 10, 2016. The deluge flooded hundreds of homes and businesses.

Sampson lives in south-end Sydney, one of the areas that was hit hardest.

Each time there's a mention of heavy rain in the forecast, he relives that day.

"It certainly gets your spider-senses tingling, that's for sure," said Sampson. "You watch the weather constantly, see what the radar reports are saying. Once you've been through this once, you're left with some form of post-traumatic stress. It only takes a weather forecast now to get you upset."

Reminders everywhere

At the height of the flooding, Sampson had more than a metre of water in his basement, and the front deck was swept off his house. He lost his furnace and a variety of appliances. His insurance company paid out the maximum under his policy, which he says covered about half his total repair bill. 

But Sampson says reminders of the flood are all around him.

Directly across the street, the Southend Community Centre has been torn down and replaced by a community garden. Several homes on his street were declared unfit for occupation and have been or will be demolished.

Some homeowners in Sydney say they worry that they'll be hit by flooding again, one year after last year's damaging Thanksgiving Day flood. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

There are lingering financial impacts as well.

The area where he lives has become known as the "flood zone."

"The biggest effects have been real estate values, and insurance has gone up by 100 per cent or so, 70 per cent for myself, I think it was," said Sampson. "That has put an extra stress on us, financially, for sure, and because of the area being termed that, the real estate values have plummeted."

'Huge trauma'

A couple of blocks away, Jean Hughes Doue says each time it rains, she rushes home to check her yard and her basement. She lives next to the brook that spilled its banks last year, pooling metres of water in the south end.

She and her husband had to leave their home for a month.

"It is a huge trauma to see all of your belongings in mush, soaking wet, in the back of a pickup going to the dump."

Jean Hughes Doue lives next to a brook in south-end Sydney that spilled its banks during 2016's flood. (CBC)

Doue says a year later, she's still waiting for the municipality to repair the section of the brook wall nearest her house.

"Living here by the brook used to be, you could sit here on the deck, listen to the ducks, listen to the water. It's lovely," she said. "It's not lovely anymore. It's just looking at that damn thing, wondering what it's going to do next time and wondering if you can even sell this place to get out of here."

What's next?

The councillor for District 6 of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, Ray Paruch, said the CBRM and the province must come up with a plan to guide future zoning and development in the flood zone.

​He says any discussions should include whether a section of the flood zone should be restricted from future development.

"Bring us back all the rules, all the regulations, all the intelligence that we need, to make an informed decision."

Mayor Cecil Clarke says extensive studies of flooding risk across the municipality are underway.

"When we have those studies and we make them public, it's not good enough to say we're aware of it. We actually have to make the investments in the infrastructure, with our provincial and federal partners," said Clarke.

The mayor says extensive work has already been done to clear some waterways, including the brook in Sydney's south end.