Residents left to size up mess as floodwater retreats

As floodwaters finally subside, residents of the region's hardest-hit neighbourhoods are embarking on the difficult job of cleaning up the mess left behind.

Health concerns mount as flood victims survey damage left in contaminated water's wake

There are no signs that these were once the bedrooms of Ruth McKlusky's children, or that they were bedrooms at all. The basement floor has been ripped out and sections of drywall removed to reveal bare studs. Anything and everything that came into contact with the sudden deluge of brown water had to go.

McKlusky's is one of many Constance Bay homes where cleanup crews have already begun their grim work.

"It's surreal," said the mother of two. "My basement is toast. My well is contaminated. My septic is on the verge of failing, if it hasn't already."

The family still has power and gas, so they've decided to remain. Now, concerned about contamination and heeding warnings from public health officials, McKlusky wants the sodden detritus left in the flood's wake thrown out as quickly as possible. 

"My neighbour told me in her basement there was a metallic shine from oil or gas in the water," said McKlusky. "It's starting to warm up, so it's going to start smelling pretty ripe soon. I'm worried about the air quality."

As the flood recedes, restoration companies are being inundated with calls. When they arrive they encounter flooded basements, destroyed appliances and furniture damaged beyond repair.

Cleanup crews use pumps to empty basements, then tear out soaked drywall, flooring and door frames. They roll in large industrial fans to dry up any lingering moisture.

It's pretty much a disaster right now in people's homes in Constance Bay.- Deven Revel, PuroClean

"Anything that water has touched — your couch, your bed, your furniture — it's not salvageable," said Deven Revel, the general manager of Ottawa company PuroClean.

"It's all water damage. Unfortunately it's contaminated water.... It's pretty much a disaster right now in people's homes in Constance Bay," he added. 

McKlusky ended up with 15 centimetres of water in her basement, but she managed to save her furniture and valuables.

She carried them outside and shut them in her boathouse — which she had moved onto her lawn — then piled sandbags around the building's perimeter.

She doesn't know whether her belongings survived the flooding, and she's too afraid to open the boathouse door to find out.

McKlusky considered herself one of the lucky ones because her insurance covers flood damage, but she's since learned that she'll only see half of the $60,000 she's been quoted to get her basement back to normal. 

Despite the damage, McKlusky says she has no plans to ever leave this place near the river, this place she's called home for 22 years.

"It's where my children were born. I never want to move. They can carry me out in a pine box."

McKlusky says it's hurtful to hear others debating whether or not people living on flood plains should be compensated for their losses. 

"To me comments like that are kicking someone when they're down. It hurts."

Deven Revel warns homeowners to be cautious when cleaning up, and recommends hiring a professional. Hazards include hidden wires and concrete floors that need to be properly dried before they can be repaired.

"It's devastating to people's lives and that's what we're trying to manage right now," he said. "Trying to restore people's lives back to normality right now, it will take time."

McKlusky's insurance covered the first stage of her basement restoration, but with more rain in the forecast she's worried water could seep in once more, and she'll have to start all over again. 

Photos by Ashley Burke