Full effect of flooding on Ottawa Valley homes, cottages still not known

Hundreds of homes and even more cottages in Renfrew County have been battling flooding for weeks, without an end in sight.

'Across the county,' says chief paramedic Michael Nolan, 'people are still up day and night'

Since flooding began, 60 homes in Horton Township have been affected. (Submitted by Michael Nolan)

As residents in Ottawa and Gatineau return to their homes to see the damage wrought by recent flooding, some rural Ontario communities are bracing for still more water. 

The County of Renfrew says at least 365 homes have been affected by flooding and many more cottages are likely inundated. 

"Unfortunately, I think we're still standing at the base of the mountain where this challenge is concerned," said Michael Nolan, the director of emergency services for the County of Renfrew. 

Paramedic chief Michael Nolan says homeowners are strong and optimistic, but frustrated. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

While those in the flood plain of the Ottawa River are seeing waters recede, Nolan says people affected by the Bonnechere and Madawaska rivers are still seeing water levels rise.

"People have continued to work day and night, in terms of trying to fortify their sandbagging efforts," Nolan said. 

"We're now hearing reports of peoples' sump pumps burning out because, of course, they've been going, in some parts of the county, for over three weeks."

Rural roads washed away

Rural communities face certain extra challenges, says Nolan, because of a lack of infrastructure. 

Emergency workers and volunteers have been going door to door trying to find people who have lost power and phone service, said Nolan, "and we've found a number of people who otherwise wouldn't have had access to the outside world." 
Paramedic Matt Hamilton and Eva Cohen, a visiting emergency worker from Germany, have been knocking on doors to look for people who might be stranded. (Submitted by Michael Nolan)

Last weekend, a number of cottage owners visit to try to check on their properties — without success.

"The waters are still high," he said. "The roads are still impassable." 

Even this weekend is too early for people to safely travel to their cottages, he says. 

"Many of the roads that we're dealing with to access the cottage lanes are private, are gravel, so it's very easy to have a road wash away," he warned.

"From what looks like a road, and where it used to be a road, [you can] go there and find yourself shoulder-deep or over your head in water."

If residents absolutely have to travel, Nolan says they should check the county's map of road closures first

Small town 'neighbourliness' shines through

Cory Nicholas, with the Arnprior Fire Department, said while flooding in the region has been "overwhelming," his community has been fortunate to escape the worst.

Several homes in Arnprior and Pembroke were hit by an earlier flood in April, but, for the most part, were saved from the historic Ottawa River flooding.

"Now, we're just working with the families," added Pembroke mayor Mike LeMay, "hoping the worst is over."

In small towns throughout Ontario, everyone from volunteer firefighters to school children have joined together to fight the deluge and save their homes — even travelling to neighbouring townships experiencing more extensive flooding.

"You're dealing with people you've known for years," Nicholas said. "Everyone is pulling together."

'Unfortunately I think we're still standing at the base of the mountain where this challenge is concerned,' said Renfrew chief paramedic Michael Nolan. (Submitted by Mike Nolan)

'Please keep your receipts'

This week, residents in Renfrew found out they're among the first communities in the province to be approved for funding under the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program.

Local politicians are trying to spread the word. 

"Please, keep your receipts," said Jennifer Murphy, the mayor of Bonnechere Valley Township. "[Keep them] if you've self-evacuated and gone to a hotel, if you've bought a toothbrush or some clothes."

LeMay also suggested photographing any flood damage.

As for those who "fought the good fight" and are now seeing water recede, Nolan is making a difficult request: leave your home. 

That's because the flood waters are bringing new challenges, including contamination from biological waste and overflowing septic systems.