Ottawa

Volunteers pitch in to save Constance Bay restaurant from rising waters

Sandy Zhang and her husband Honggao Ji are inexplicably upbeat, considering both their restaurant and home in Constance Bay have fallen victim to the rising Ottawa River.

Flooding is threatening the Lighthouse Grocery and Restaurant

Sandy Zhang and Honggao Ji are the owners of the Lighthouse Grocery and Restaurant in Ottawa's Constance Bay neighbourhood. The community has been scrambling to stave off rising waters on the Ottawa River. (Laurie Fagan/CBC)

Sandy Zhang and her husband Honggao Ji are inexplicably upbeat, considering both their restaurant and home in Constance Bay have fallen victim to the rising Ottawa River.

"It's sad, but it could [be] a lot worse," said Zhang, as she cheerfully offered canned pop and bags of potato chips to the volunteers who piled sandbags around the Lighthouse Grocery and Restaurant Sunday afternoon.

The 50-seat restaurant and grocery store, which they've owned for the past four years, is located on Bayview Drive — one of the hardest-hit streets in the rural neighbourhood about 40 kilometres west of downtown Ottawa.

Zhang and Li closed the restaurant on Friday, and by late Saturday night the water had risen to the top of the basement crawlspace, a mere eight inches beneath the ground floor.

"I didn't know what to do," said Zhang.

A friend suggested they post a plea on Facebook asking if anyone had a pump to loan the couple. Within an hour, two people showed up — each with a pump and willing to help out.

"One came from Kanata and one from Fitzroy Harbour," said Zhang. "They were complete strangers, but they came to help us. It's so kind."

Floodwater threatens the Lighthouse Grocery and Restaurant in Ottawa's Constance Bay neighbourhood on May 7, 2017. (Laurie Fagan/CBC)

Home also in danger

The couple are not only facing costly damages to their business, but also to their home on the 700 block of Bayview Drive.

"The first floor is covered in a foot of water," said Ji, using his fingers to mark on his leg how deep the water was.

The electricity and gas have been shut off to their home, he added, so they can't pump the water out. 

"We looked in the window and saw our furniture wet and some [of it] floating," said Ji.  "But the second floor is dry."

Ji said they haven't had time to find a gas-powered generator so that they can pump the water out of their house. While two pumps were draining water outside the back door of their restaurant Sunday, Ji said the water seems to be rising back up just as quickly as it drains.  

The couple said they've piled all the groceries in the store up as high as they can, in case the water rises further and floods the main floor. Rows of sandbags are also nestled around the store.

Barely slept Friday night

On Sunday, a truckload of volunteers showed up at the store to hand out sandwiches and juice boxes. The food is being prepared at the Royal Canadian Legion on nearby Allbirch Road — one of three emergency centres the City of Ottawa has set up during the flooding — and made with ingredients donated by residents of Constance Bay and surrounding neighbourhoods.

Ironically, Zhang and Ji may be eating food they themselves donated when power was cut to their shed behind the restaurant.  

"Our two freezers in there were full of food, and we didn't want the food to go bad" said Ji. "So we donated it to the legion as it started to thaw."

Volunteers pitch in to help the owners of the Lighthouse Grocery and Restaurant in Ottawa's Constance Bay neighbourhood on May 7, 2017. The riverside community is one of the hardest-hit areas of the city during the spring floods. (Laurie Fagan/CBC)

Zhang and her husband are now staying with her mother in Ottawa, and Zhang said she barely slept Friday night worrying about the flooding. 

The insurance company, Zhang said, has already told her they aren't covered for flooding damage to their home. She said she'd be talking to the adjustor on Monday to see if any damage to the business, which employs eight people, will be covered. 

Then, as the sun broke though the clouds, Zhang smiled.

"Maybe the rain is done."

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