State of emergency in Chatham-Kent, Ont. with floodwaters rising overnight

A state of emergency has been declared in Chatham-Kent and Thamesville, Ont., along with a request for voluntary evacuations as floodwaters continue to rise in the area and the Thames River approaches record highs.

John D. Bradley Centre in nearby Chatham is open as an emergency shelter

Jeff Hopman took this video with his drone on Friday as water continued to rise in Chatham-Kent 0:57

A state of emergency has been declared in Chatham-Kent and Thamesville, Ont., along with a request for voluntary evacuations as floodwaters continue to rise in the area and the Thames River approaches record highs.

An emergency shelter was opened at the John D. Bradley Centre at 565 Richmond St. in Chatham at about noon on Friday. The municipality said residents who want to use the shelter should call 519-360-1998 for details.

The Chatham-Kent Fire Department began shutting off gas to 430 homes and businesses in Thamesville as a safety precaution during the flood. The process of shutting gas off started at about 4:00 p.m. Friday.

Chatham-Kent fire chief Bob Crawford give an update:

Chatham-Kent Fire Chief Bob Crawford tells residents what to expect tonight. 1:11

Union Gas said the company sent utility service representatives to the area to shut off natural gas to homes that can be reached safely.

The Thames River in Chatham is expected to peak first thing Saturday morning, three hours later than what officials originally expected. Those projections came out at 6:00 p.m. Friday 

Chatham-Kent Mayor Randy Hope said the municipality has activated its emergency procedures and officials are working closely with police, fire and EMS sectors as well as the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority.

"We are recommending a voluntary evacuation and urging residents to prepare to leave as soon as possible," he said.

Hope said he wants people out of the community to "be safe and smart" and to prevent emergency crews from needing to do any rescues, especially in the dark. Even before the call for a full-scale voluntary evacuation, officials had been urging people with mobility issues to leave their homes ahead of the floodwaters expected to hit the town Friday.

Chatham-Kent Fire Chief Bob Crawford warned residents not to try to walk or drive through the water, which may be deeper than they realize.

He added everyone who is leaving should prepare to be out of their home for several days.

Here's a look at Thames River water levels over the past week:

Here's a look at the water levels. 0:26

"Plan to be out of the house for 72 hours, make sure you bring your medications ... some cash so you can purchase things, bring clothes ... and make provisions to your pets."

The Fire Department advised on Twitter that a community paramedic would be at the evacuation centre to assist with healthcare needs. 

High waters

The swollen Thames River is so high it's backing up tributaries and ditches, and officials are predicting Thamesville will be under a half-meter of water when the crest hits."We're very concerned," Hope said. "We're anticipating flooding to go into the main street which we haven't seen in many years."

Schools in Thamesville were closed Friday and buses cancelled due to the "strong possibility of flooding" as a massive amount of water from snowmelt and rainfall that has already swamped cars in London works its way down the Thames River and toward Lake St. Clair.

This is the Thames River in Thamseville on Friday. The river is expected to continue to rise throughout Chatham-Kent, reaching a peak in Chatham by mid-day Saturday. (Courtesy Chatham-Kent Police Service)

Bill Secord woke up to find water lapping at his front yard on Norton Line, just outside of Thamesville, Friday morning. He's lived in the home for almost 80 years and has seen the river flood in the past, but said he was surprised by how quickly it had risen.

Still, Secord said he wasn't worried about the state of emergency and had no plans to evacuate the area.

"I won't have to take bath on Saturday," he joked, with a sweeping gesture at the water rushing across his driveway. "It's waterfront property."

Hope said the municipality is already using sandbags in some areas, but the peak water level isn't expected to hit Chatham, which is about bout 20 kilometres down river from Thamesville, until Friday night or Saturday morning, but the surging river has already flooded low lying parks and parking lots.

Tell officials if you plan to stay

Environment Canada is also predicting another 15 to 25 millimetres of rain could fall on the municipality by Sunday, which Hope said gives residents "little comfort."

Bill Secord, 83, has lived on Norton Line in Thamesville for decades. He woke up to water lapping at lawn on Feb. 23, 2018. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Business owners in Chatham's downtown core, which backs onto the river, are being warned to prepare for basement flooding.

"If you don't have a sump pump, the time has come to move things out of the basement," said Crawford.

Hope said anyone in Thamesville who is planning to weather the flood should tell officials where they are.

"We just need to know where people are because if we do have to do evacuations … it's easier than knocking on doors."

with files from Windsor Morning