Minister tours flood-ravaged Chatham-Kent, but can't confirm disaster assistance

As the water of the Thames River drops in Thamesville and Chatham, Ontario's Minister of Municipal Affairs tours the area but can't promise disaster relief until the area is assessed.

Thames River in Chatham is receding, leaving behind mud, debris and damage

Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs Bill Mauro consults a map of flood-prone areas near Thamesville, Ontario during, while Chatham, Ont. Mayor Randy Hope, right, looks on. The minister toured flooded areas in Chatham-Kent on Feb. 26, 2018. (Municipality of Chatham-Kent)

Residents of Chatham-Kent returning to their flooded homes Monday still don't know whether or not they will receive disaster assistance from the provincial government.

Ontario's Minister of Municipal Affairs Bill Mauro toured flooded areas in Thamesville and Chatham Monday, but said he won't be able to determine whether residents will qualify for assistance until the water fully recedes and a disaster assessment team can evaluate the damage.

Joel Dube took a tour of his own Monday. The property owner was finally able to return to the basement of the home he rents out on Thames Street.

He found swamped flooring, soaked drywall and a furnace that might be too damaged to save.

"I thought the insurance company was going to take care of it but they're not," he said. 

Joel Dube said the damage to the house he owns on Thomas Street is too much for him to cover on his own. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

Dube had a simple request for Mauro and Ontario's government — "help."

"I just can't afford it," he explained. "It's just a lot on one person to try to restore this place."

Mauro, who has been visiting other areas affected by flooding in Southwestern Ontario, including Brantford, was hopeful an assessment team would be able to take it to Chatham-Kent in the coming weeks.

"They will be here soon, they will assess and then the work will begin and eligibility will be determined on a go-forward basis," added the minister.

If approved, Mauro said residents who experience flooding will be able to apply for the Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontarians Program, which covers essentials for flood victims including furnaces and fridges.

Mauro said municipalities across the province need to start looking for ways to be better-prepared for flooding.

"The storms are becoming more frequent and the storms are becoming more severe," he explained. "We need more money, more infrastructure and certainly better planning when it comes to laying out our communities."

Feds can do more, says minister

He also called on the federal government to play a bigger role in recovery on top of the National Disaster Mitigation Program, which offers municipalities a chance to apply for part of $200 million spread over five years.  

"It's not a criticism, but simply to say I think the evidence is there, not just in Ontario, but right across Canada where municipalities and provinces are dealing with these issues and I believe the federal government has a role to play," he said.

A Chatham street lamp nearly submerged by floodwaters. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

The flooding was caused by the Thames River, which was swollen by snowmelt and rainfall, and peaked at more than 5 metres higher than its normal level on Saturday. The water submerged homes, businesses and streets in Chatham and Thamesville.

People in some of the hardest hit areas had to be rescued by the Chatham-Kent Fire Department's dive team, as the water quickly overtook their homes.

The Chatham-Kent Fire Department saved seven people from their flooded homes Feb. 24, 2018. Water levels rose before the residents evacuated. No one was injured.

The water had begun to drop by Monday, with Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority (LTVCA) reported Sunday night that the level was down 25 cm from its weekend peak.

As the flood receded it left a thick layer of mud dotted with debris in its wake.

Officials do not expect any serious flooding at Lighthouse Cove, near Lakeshore, as the water empties into Lake St. Clair.