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Flooding, heavy rains prompt Bracebridge, Ont., to declare state of emergency

The small Muskoka community of Bracebridge, Ont., has declared a state of emergency following days of heavy rain and swelling rivers and lakes.

'We don't want anybody getting hurt,' Mayor Graydon Smith says

Bracebridge has declared a state of emergency to warn residents that the current situation is more than a typical spring thaw, Mayor Graydon Smith said. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

The small Muskoka-area community of Bracebridge, Ont., has declared a state of emergency following days of heavy rain that have caused rivers and lakes to swell.

Authorities in the cottage town, about 200 kilometres northeast of Toronto, say water volumes have ballooned beyond levels reached in 2013 — the last time a state of emergency was declared — due to wet spring weather.

"We don't want anybody getting hurt," Mayor Graydon Smith said in an interview with CBC Radio's Ontario Morning.

"We don't want anybody thinking that this is just another year where the water will come up and go back down because we see this sustaining over the next several days."

Smith told a news conference Wednesday morning that residents should not assume things will improve in the coming days.

He said emergency service workers would be canvassing in the Springdale Shores area, along the North Branch Muskoka River, to help people there leave their homes.

The flooding emergency was declared in order to get the public's attention and make it clear that the situation is more than a typical spring thaw, Smith said.

"This is something way outside the normal margins. Unfortunately, we thought 2013 was a 100-year event, and here we are six years later," he said.

Large volumes of water are collecting in low-lying areas in Bracebridge. Environment Canada predicts another deluge of rain will soak the region over the next two days. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

Bracebridge launched its emergency response plan on Tuesday at the recommendation of Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Large volumes of water are collecting in low-lying areas, the alert warned, pointing out that Environment Canada predicts another deluge of rain over the next two days. 

On Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford, whose family has a cottage in the area, joined Smith for a news conference.

Ford said the province will do everything it can to support Bracebridge, nearby Huntsville and any other communities in the Muskoka Region that experience flooding.

"We'll spare no resources to support the affected areas," said Ford. "But we're here to observe, not to interfere."

Officials warn of rapid melt

Bracebridge's move comes on the heels of a flood warning issued last week by the ministry for the Parry Sound District, which includes Muskoka.

While spring flooding is not unusual for this time of year, residents with homes in and around the Muskoka River and Lake Muskoka are being asked to take precautionary measures to protect themselves and property.

"Please ensure docks and waterfront structures are securely affixed to shore or removed, if safe to do so," the flood emergency stated.

"Please alert any children under your care to these dangers and supervise their activities."

Bracebridge is home to more than 16,000 people. Residents of the Springdale Shores area, which is often one of the areas hardest hit by spring weather conditions, are preparing to evacuate due to the the floodwaters, Smith said.

He added that a number of roads throughout already have experienced ponding or have been completely washed out.

A number of roads throughout the Bracebridge area have experienced ponding or have been completely washed out. (Makda Ghebreslassie/CBC)

Flooding sweeps other communities

Smith said the town is closely watching its neighbours to the north in Huntsville as water levels there continue to rise. He said that everything from Huntsville flows to Bracebridge through the north branch of the Muskoka River.

Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison also has issued a statement regarding rising water levels.

"There's a number of businesses that are closed and have pumps in the basement along our main street and a number of residents have been displaced from their homes in the north end of our community," Aitchison explained.

Residents in Bracebridge are being asked to take measures to protect themselves and property against flooding. (Domas Albavicius)

He said the difference between the flooding this year and the flooding in 2013 is that this appears to be a more prolonged, sustained event.

In 2013, the water came in fast and furious and caused a lot of damage quickly. Aitchison said the water flows are not quite as rapid this year, but it's lasting much longer.

Lower Trent Conservation also has issued a flood outlook statement that says water levels in the lake are well above seasonal norms from Grafton to Quinte West, and likely will rise further in the next two weeks.

With files from CBC Radio's Ontario Morning and The Canadian Press

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