Windsor mayor seeks disaster relief funding after flooding hits thousands of homes

More than 2,700 basements have flooded in Windsor and Essex County following two days of record rains that forced businesses to close and saw motorists abandon their cars in roads resembling rushing rivers.

City has received 2,700 calls about flooded basements so far

More than 1,000 basements in Windsor-Essex were damaged after two days of heavy rain. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Mayor Drew Dilkens is asking the province for disaster relief after thousands of basements were flooded in Windsor following two days of record rains that forced businesses to close and saw motorists abandon their cars in roads resembling rushing rivers.

The number of flood calls to the city's 311 line rose steadily all day Wednesday and hit the 2,688 mark about 3:45 p.m. That number could still rise. More than 400 basements were flooded in Lakeshore and about 105 basements were flooded in Tecumseh. About 20 basements were hit in LaSalle.

Dilkens has asked the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to assess the damage and see if the city qualifies for Disaster Recovery Assistance, which would provide some provincial money to help residents recover from the flooding. The ministry is expected to dispatch an assessment team to the area Thursday or Friday.

"It's a funding program for significant weather events just like the one we experienced yesterday," said Dilkens. "It is an opportunity for those who don't have insurance or don't have enough insurance for these type of events to be able to get some funding to get their basements and their lives back together"

The city successfully applied for the relief when thousands of homes flooded last September but residents might be out luck even if the ministry agrees to help. Last year, 583 people applied for relief but only 122 received assistance for a total payout of $665,656. A total of 226 claimants were denied outright and a further 235 applicants were denied after an inspection. 

An estimated 100.4 millimetres of rain was recorded at the Windsor Airport between Monday and Tuesday, while 165 mm was measured in Essex and a whopping 169.4 mm and 290 mm came down in the Riverside area and LaSalle respectively.

Those numbers washed away previous rainfall records for the area, including the previous standard of 43.2 mm that fell on the airport on Aug. 28, 1961.

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      "These are really large numbers," said Environment Canada meteorologist Mark Shuster, adding the exceptionally high amount of precipitation was caused by a string of localized storms that hung over specific areas for long periods of time.

      "There just wasn't a lot of wind in the upper atmosphere to move the storms along," he said. "When a thunderstorm formed it barely moved and that same area just got hammered for hours."

      'It was devastating'

      As Nabeel Qureshi's basement started to flood on Tuesday, he went to help an elderly woman inside her vehicle that was stuck in waist-high water on Longellow Street.

      "It was getting colder, so I told her to come inside and just short of chill for a bit," said Qureshi. "I felt like we should all do something here."

      Once the woman's vehicle was towed away, he started to take stock of how badly his newly-renovated basement had been hit.

      Nabeel Qureshi's said he found his diplomas floating in his basement after it flooded Tuesday. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

      "It was devastating," he said, describing water up to his knees that lifted couches and soaked carpets. He quickly grabbed tax paperwork, his passport and some electronics, but later found degrees and diplomas floating on top of the water.

      "I really felt helpless," said Qureshi, who is spending Wednesday with his brother emptying out the basement before mold sets in.

      He called the city's 311 line multiple times on Tuesday but couldn't get through.

      "I do hope that the city is a little more responsive to its residents needs," he said. "It seems to be from talking to the city so far that the response has been 'Well, every one is dealing with this' and I don't think that's the best response."

      On Wednesday city officials said the 311 system was experiencing extended delays because of the sheer volume of calls and city officials implored homeowners to instead file their reports online, by going to www.311online.ca.

      Hit And Run Occurred At Height Of Storm

      There were no serious injuries reported as a direct result of the flooding but Windsor Police are seeking a hit-and-run driver who struck an 18-year-old near Drouillard Road and Reginald Street during the height of the storm. The teen remains in critical condition in hospital. 

      Tuesday's flooding, which followed a record rainfall Monday night, washed out streets and forced the closure of Devonshire Mall. Windsor Regional Hospital declared a 'Code Orange' and diverted patients and the afternoon shift at Chrysler's Windsor Assembly Plant was sent home.

      The closures and cleanup continued Wednesday as residents trucked their waterlogged belongings to the curb. 

      The Budimir library on Grand Marais Road West and the Riverside library branch on Wyandotte Street East are closed Wednesday through Friday because of "severe flooding."

      Sixteen public schools experienced flooding damage as water rushed up from floor drains. Three schools were hit in South Windsor, four were hit in east Windsor and two schools in LaSalle were dealing with leaking rooves. The most significant flooding was at the public school board's "facilities services site" on Eugenie Street.

      Ten schools with the Catholic board were hit with flooding. Most are cleaned up though officials expressed concern about the wooden gym floor at Brennan High School. 

      Meanwhile, the basement gymnasium at the Windsor Mosque also filled with water.

      "Basically the gym just looked like … a shallow pool," said spokesperson Lina Chaker. "If you were to stand in it, it  would almost reach your knee."

      The water level dropped overnight, and members are working to clean up the damage, she added. At this point, an Eid celebration dinner planned for the weekend has been postponed. 

      Hundreds of Lakeshore homes swamped

      More than 400 homes were flooded in Lakeshore, which was pounded heavily on Monday night but spared the worst of the storm on Tuesday.

      "We're drying out now but it certainly was not a good one," said Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain.

      Bain said the municipal systems are simply not designed to handle the massive amount of rain that pummeled the region in such a short period.

      "Our systems were all based on the 1-in-100 year storm and now we have to go back and take a look," said Bain. "We've had two such storms within two years so we've got to go back now and see if we need to change that design system."