FREDERICTON — New Brunswick’s capital is shifting to clean-up mode after extreme flooding, even as downstream communities including the industrial hub of Saint John prepare for unprecedented floodwaters still to come.
Greg MacCallum, director of the province’s Emergency Measures Organization, said his department is “highly recommending” that people in at-risk areas evacuate their homes.
“That’s because of the worsening situation in the south part of the river system. I don’t want people to underestimate the implications of that,” said MacCallum at a media briefing Friday.
“The communities in the southern regions of the province… should expect water levels to reach historic highs — and by historic highs, I mean at or in excess of the known flood of record: 1973.”
The Saint John River hit 5.43 metres above sea level in Saint John Friday, and EMO said it would likely exceed that on Monday when forecasts say it could reach 5.9 metres. Flood stage in that area is 4.2 metres.
By Friday afternoon, the entire ground floor of the Saint John Marina, about 5,000 square ft., was already covered in water.
“Two years ago we purchased it and then we did about $500,000 worth of renovations to the restaurant and the marina building and it is in about 18 inches of water now,” said co-owner and president Dick Hickey.
“It’s up to the window sills in the restaurant.”
Environment Canada was calling for 10 millimetres of rain for Saint John overnight Friday and into Saturday.
The Canadian Red Cross said 309 households — or 747 people — have registered to say they have evacuated their homes. There are others who have left but not registered.
The Trans-Canada Highway connecting Fredericton and Moncton remained closed to traffic because flood waters have crossed the four-lane highway in the Jemseg area.
Meanwhile, Emergency Measures officials in Fredericton said it appeared the flood waters on the Saint John River have crested, but warn they will remain high into next week.
Wayne Tallon, the city’s EMO director, said water levels were at 8.0 metres Friday morning — or 1.5 metres above flood stage.
“We anticipate those levels to remain for the next three or four days, simply because the lower basin — all the way to Saint John — is full and exceeding flood levels there,” said Tallon. “Right now, our water has nowhere to go.”
Tallon said the city is starting to shift to clean-up mode.
The flood waters have deposited tonnes of debris, including logs, wood, even household items such as propane tanks, on some city streets, the riverside green space and residential properties.
“The water is dirty, absolutely,” said MacCallum of the overall river system.
MacCallum said there were overwhelmed sewage lagoons throughout the water system as well as “things washing into the river you normally find along its banks.”
“If you are wading through it, dress for the occasion and be extremely careful, and I wouldn’t recommend people wade through water very deep,” he said.
Water levels were continuing their steady rise in the Westfield Road area in Saint John, where the NB Southern Railroad established a free one-way shuttle evacuation service to a group of isolated residents on Thursday.
Mike Carr of Saint John EMO said the road currently has “pockets” that are isolated and some residents can still get out by road — a situation that is likely to change.
“We are about six inches away from closing the whole Westfield Road and once that is done the only way out will be by train,” said Carr.
Hickey said he lives across the river from the Saint John Marina and his home is safe because it is on higher ground. Still, he said it’s difficult just to get to and from work because of numerous road closures.
“I have to have a car on either side of a road closure, so I can walk up a hill and over around a closure to get home,” he said.
Hickey added that with the Westfield ferry out of service a trip to the marina has gone from a 25-minute drive to about 75 minutes.
Hickey is also a co-owner of Hickey Bros. DKI, a business that specializes in restoration and reconstruction services for things such as water damage — the irony of which isn’t lost on Hickey.
“We usually like looking after other people’s places not our own, but that’s the way it is,” he chuckled matter-of-factly. “Yeah it’s tough, but we’ll get through it and we’ll get it opened again.”
Many New Brunswickers have responded with such resilience, as well as with neighbourly kindness. Amid the chaos has risen local heroes like ”Uber Rob.”
Rob Dekany has since Monday been ferrying seven passengers at a time to Darlings Island, a Saint John-area island where the only access road has been submerged by the flood waters of the Kennebecasis River.
There’s even a schedule posted on a makeshift “Uber Rob” sign at the edge of the water. But Dekany has refused to accept any payment.
“He’s our saviour,” Patty Johnston said as she stood in the rain, waiting to cross choppy, debris-filled waters to get to her home.
He has made the trip a few times an hour to get people off the island in the mornings, then returned them each afternoon and evening. Dekany said the profits he makes from a lucrative worm business allow him to give back to the community.
Doing it makes him happy, he said.
“As you can see I’ve got a bunch of good people here and thought I’d give a hand in good faith and as a good Samaritan,” Dekany said as he prepared to take another load of people to the island.
— With files from Aly Thomson and Keith Doucette in Halifax
Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press