SAINT JOHN, N.B. — Record-breaking floodwaters that have swamped homes, washed away cottages and submerged dozens of New Brunswick roads appear to have crested and are finally beginning to recede.
“I’m hopeful we’re on the way back to normalcy,” Doug Britton, 71, said Tuesday as water crashed over sandbags outside the window in his now-empty basement in Quispamsis, N.B., outside Saint John.
Britton’s hot tub drifted away from under his deck a few days ago, and is now floating metres away. Hundreds of sandbags are lined up against the back of his house.
Britton, who estimates the water level is roughly three metres higher than usual, has been feeding gasoline to four water pumps every hour to ward off floodwaters from the Kennebecasis River.
He said it’s been a tough couple weeks, but it does appears the water receded overnight.
Geoffrey Downey, spokesman for the Emergency Measures Organization, said Tuesday water levels from the swollen Saint John River have decreased by about 30 centimetres from eight metres to about 7.7 metres in Fredericton.
In Saint John, the levels were at about 5.6 metres — a drop of about 10 centimetres from Monday.
“It’s not disappearing overnight, but it’s a positive sign,” said Downey.
But he cautioned that it still could be days before things start a slow return to normal and that hundreds of people who left their homes could make their way back to them.
“Forecast-wise things look very promising, but that shouldn’t be mistaken as a call for residents to head home right away,” he said. “A lot of these places are still flooded despite the river dropping some. Their homes may not be safe.”
More than 80 roads were still flooded and some bridges are not passable, while the Trans-Canada Highway remains closed between Fredericton and Moncton. And the floodwaters have cut off all roads around the community of Chipman, though Downey said crews are working to upgrade a route so that emergency vehicles have access to the community.
Many roadways could also be compromised even after the water retreats since they have been submerged for days, he said, and may not be structurally sound.
Downey reiterated that people should stay out of the water and watch for debris floating past.
There is raw sewage and motor oil in the river, animals have likely drowned in it and there have been reports of propane tanks going down the river and discharging their contents, he said.
“There’s any number of contaminants in the river right now,” he said.
Downey said Saint John could be below flood stage by Saturday, but people may still not be able to get into their homes in areas further north like Grand Lake and Jemseg.
“They’re still above record flood stage in Saint John. It’s going down and that’s positive,” he said.
Downey said that if someone was flooded out in the early days of the deluge, it will take longer for them to get back in their homes.
Roughly 1,275 people have contacted the Red Cross indicating they have evacuated their homes, while others left but did not register.
The province also said Tuesday that it is looking at options when it comes to compensating people whose recreational properties sustained damage. Downey said nothing had been decided as of yet, but confirmed that officials are considering the possibility of offering assistance to cottage owners.
Some people were getting a look at the extent of the damage wrought by floodwaters that surpassed what had been the worst flood in 1973.
In Grand Lake, Jerry McFarland said his rustic cottage was in ruins, shoved off its foundation and torn apart on the weekend by rising floodwaters and lashing winds.
The 84-year-old Fredericton resident said what had been a family gathering spot for about 48 years was now ”just a pile of rubbish.”
With the flooding in central New Brunswick finally stabilizing after reaching record levels on the weekend, the extent of damage caused in areas cut off by rising water is starting to become clear.
Vanessa and Lonnie Clark, longtime residents of the Grand Lake area, said their home was intact, largely because it was built on a hill in the Sunnyside Beach area.
Lonnie, who has lived in the house for 51 years, said nearby beaches have been destroyed and local roads remain washed out.
“There’s homes lost, there’s vehicles lost, there’s camper trailers lost — there’s hundreds of years of memories of summers spent at the lake lost,” said Vanessa Clark. ”That’s the feeling when you drive around the lake — it’s just literally a hopeless, helpless. Oh my God, your heart is broken.”
The Red Cross has launched a fundraising campaign to help flood victims.