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Flooding in Ontario cottage country 'not near the end' as more rain on the way

Record-high floodwaters in Ontario's cottage country are starting to subside, but officials say they are still on alert because more rain is expected to soak the region later this week.  

Between 25 and 30 mm of rain could soak Bracebridge on Wednesday, forecast predicts

Bracebridge resident Bill Petro spent his weekend pumping water from around his sandbagged house on the swollen Muskoka River. (Fred Thornhill/Canadian Press)

Record-high floodwaters in Ontario's cottage country are starting to subside, but officials say they are still on alert because more rain is expected to soak the region later this week.  

Bracebridge, Ont., has seen several days of intense flooding with the north and south branches of the Muskoka River rising to "historic" levels. The north branch flows through the downtown core before it meets the south branch and drains into Lake Muskoka. 

While water levels in the north branch have started to "dip quite a bit," Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith said it's not yet clear when the south branch may begin to recede. He hopes a "crest might be somewhere in sight" for the lake by the end of the week.

"From the mouth of the river, having visited that area last night, it is an epic amount of water that's fully around a number of homes there and quite deep as the lake level rises. It's causing a lot of problems," he said. 

Muskoka Lake has risen between four and five centimetres in the last 24 hours.

"This is still a multi-day event. We're not near the end but maybe the finish line is coming into sight for some areas," said Smith. 

About 45,000 sandbags have been filled and deployed to help residents protect their properties on the Muskoka River from rising water levels, Smith says. (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC)

Between 25 and 30 millimetres of rain is expected to fall Wednesday and continue into Thursday morning in the small community about 200 kilometres northeast of Toronto, according to Environment Canada. 

"I think, if we see a significant amount of rain in the next couple of days, we still wouldn't be back below the point when we declared the emergency," he said in an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Monday.

"The hope would be is that we don't see a big, big spike like we did with the rain on Friday where the system was completely saturated and full," he continued, noting more wet weather will prolong flooding.   

Muskoka River above 2013 peak levels

Flows in local rivers strengthened over the weekend, threatening homes and cottages in Bracebridge.

Water levels in both branches of the river and Lake Muskoka peaked on Friday, breaking records set in 2013 — the last time the community dealt with a significant flood.

"This is a historical event," Smith said. "There's no question about it, we've exceeded 2013 levels on all branches of the river and into the lake now, and the duration of [the flooding] is also expected to be longer than we've seen in the past." 

Bracebridge is one of several cottage country communities that have declared an emergency over the last week due to record-breaking flood conditions. The others include Huntsville, Minden Hills and Muskoka Lakes.

The mayor of Huntsville has said the situation there has started to improve, with several local lakes and rivers cresting. Downstream in Bracebridge, however, levels in the south branch of the Muskoka River continue to rise. 

Muskoka Lakes is the latest community to declare a state of emergency. It did so on Sunday when a worrying amount of water upstream moved down. Water levels in its namesake lake have risen by 12 centimetres over the past 24 hours since Saturday.     

Reservists from the Canadian Armed Forces landed in Bracebridge on Sunday afternoon to help residents battling record floodwaters. (Fred Thornhill/Canadian Press)

A group of reservists with the Canadian Armed Forces fanned out across Bracebridge on Sunday afternoon to fill and distribute sandbags, and help authorities travel across water-laden roads that are currently impassable to most passenger vehicles. 

"People are burnt out from working so hard that we felt we really needed to go one step beyond community support and call in the military who can provide sustained and ongoing support," Smith said. 

Currently about 60 troops are performing flood mitigation work in the town's hardest-hit areas that sit adjacent to the Muskoka River. 

Authorities are putting in a "big, big fight" to ward off floodwaters in this "trouble spot," Smith said. 

Despite a more promising forecast over the next two days, Smith pointed out there's already a troublesome amount of water upstream filtering down along the bloated Muskoka River.

"The water is still going up in the lake and affecting a lot of people there," the mayor explained. 

Those with seasonal residences in the area have been warned not to check on their properties until conditions stabilize. (CBC)

Some 45,000 sandbags have been distributed, so far, filled mostly by civilian volunteers from Bracebridge and the surrounding area.

Smith also cautioned that many roads in the community are washed-out. Seventeen local roads are currently completely closed to traffic.

"We're trying to assess and fix roads as quickly as possible," he said.

Thirty more reservists are headed to Bracebridge this afternoon to join hundreds of civilian volunteers in filling and stacking thousands of sandbags at properties threatened by floodwaters, Smith said during a news conference held Monday.

Residents are fatigued because many have been working around the clock to ward off rising river levels. 

"People are literally catching an hour or two of sleep at a time because they want to check on those pumps, they want to make sure the sandbags are holding, they want to make sure the water isn't coming up," he said.  

Smith said he doesn't anticipate that any more residents will be asked to leave their homes voluntarily in the coming days. 

With files from CBC Radio's Metro Morning and Ontario Morning

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