When will the water subside? Exhausted residents watch, worry over river levels

The Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board reported Monday afternoon that peak flood levels have now been reached for Ottawa and Gatineau and most of the surrounding region — from Mattawa, Ont., east to Hawkesbury, Ont.

Flood waters may have already peaked — but local rivers remain high

Gatineau firefighters help resident Richard Fairweather from a boat on Monday, May 8. Fairweather left his home on Hurturbise Boulevard after water breached the sandbags surrounding it. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Residents, volunteers and officials say they are feeling exhausted after days of battling rising water levels in Ottawa and Gatineau in what has become a "historic flood." 

"You know, you can only do that for so long. My hands are raw," said Gatineau resident Thomas Little, who has been laying sandbags around his home for the past two weeks.

"They work but I can barely open a doorknob. It hurts so much."

Homeowners hands are raw and bleeding after days of piling up sandbags in a desperate effort to save their Gatineau homes from heavy flooding. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

The wall of sand around his home wasn't enough to keep his basement from flooding.

The question on many people's minds Monday was when rising water levels would crest — and according to the authority that manages water flow along the Ottawa River, it may not be long before those levels begin to subside.

The Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board reported Monday afternoon that peak flood levels had indeed been reached for Ottawa and Gatineau and most of the surrounding region — from Mattawa, Ont., east to Hawkesbury, Ont.

The board said in its latest forecast that water levels are also expected to peak Monday at the Hull Marina in Gatineau, as well as in Thurso, Que.

"No significant precipitation is expected over the coming week and water levels will begin to slowly recede," the board said in its 3 p.m. statement.

Levels at Britannia in Ottawa reached their high point Sunday.

However, even when water levels start to recede, the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority predicts it will take several days for the river to reach a normal level. The authority is reminding people to be careful around flowing water.

St. Lawrence River could still rise

South Nation Conservation, meanwhile, said Monday that water levels on the St. Lawrence River could continue to rise and warned residents to stay away from spots where water flows are high and riverbanks potentially unstable.

The warning was targeted specifically at people living in the townships of Augusta, Edwardsburgh/Cardinal, and South Dundas.

Ontario Power Generation has also begun to increase the outflows of the Moses-Saunders Power Dam near Cornwall, Ont., said Rob Caldwell, manager of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Regulation Office.

That increase should eventually lead to lower levels on the river, especially near the dam, although they "may be slow to drop initially," Caldwell said.

A partially-submerged home on Bayview Drive in Ottawa's Constance Bay neighbourhood in Ottawa on May 6, 2017. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Earlier Monday, Anthony Di Monte, general manager of the City of Ottawa's emergency and protective services, said water levels seemed ready to peak in the west end but things remained less certain in the east.

"I think it's a bit of an art more than a science with all the variables that impact the water cresting," said Di Monte. "It may be today, it may not be today, it may be tomorrow."

In Quebec, water levels are expected to begin subsiding either Monday or Tuesday, according to Quebec's Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux. 

The Quebec government said nine dams in the Outaouais region are controlling about 40 per cent of the water in the river system.

More sandbags, relief funding on the way

The City of Ottawa has put in a formal request to the province of Ontario for disaster assistance funding to help those affected by the flooding.

As of Monday morning, 310 Ottawa homes have been affected by the flooding, and 75 families have been displaced.

Government officials from the Ontario's Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing will be in Ottawa on Tuesday to tell people how they can apply for help. 

People are exhausted from what's become a futile effort for many people trying to save their homes, Di Monte said.

"There are some, particularly in the Constance Bay area that are, if not completely underwater, [the water is] half-way through," said Di Monte. "So it is quite possible that after the water recedes that some [homes] may not be habitable at all."

Despite a wall of sandbags, water has still flooded this home in Constance Bay. (Laurie Fagan/CBC)

No formal reports of looting, Gatineau mayor says 

According to the latest numbers from the City of Gatineau, 443 homes have been evacuated.

The city said 794 people have left their homes and 763 are being supported by the Red Cross.

There have been rumours about people looting flooded homes, Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin told CBC's Hallie Cotnam on Ottawa Morning, but no formal reports.

He's urging anyone who sees anything suspicious to report it to police immediately.

Highway 50 still closed

Meanwhile, the mayor said work continues on Highway 50, which he described as the city's "most important road." Military and city crews have been working around the clock to repair the highway, the mayor said, which has been closed since Saturday.

"We don't want to lose it completely," Pedneaud-Jobin said.

Floodwaters in Gatineau have turned the Lac Leamy Park entrance — usually a picturesque spot for a picnic — into a swimming pool. 

The area around Lac Leamy in Gatineau also resembled a lake on Monday, May 8, after days of rainfall. (Giacomo Panico)

Traffic was slow but flowing on the busy boulevard Monday after the city spread gravel to raise the road level.

Government workers who normally cross the Ottawa River to go to work or whose offices are in Gatineau had been asked to stay home Monday to ease traffic congestion.

Late Monday afternoon, Treasury Board Canada announced that federal government buildings in Gatineau would remain closed on Tuesday. And federal workers who have to cross the Ottawa River on an interprovincial bridge were asked once again to stay home on Tuesday.

Quebec, Ontario premiers visited Monday

As residents wait for water levels to stabilize, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard visited Gatineau and met with residents at the site of the Quyon Ferry.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne also visited Ottawa and other communities in eastern Ontario affected by flooding on Monday afternoon.

- With files from Trevor Pritchard