FREDERICTON — Water levels are starting to drop in flood-stricken New Brunswick, signalling the beginning of the end of the catastrophic natural disaster.
New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization said Saturday that water levels have already fallen below flood stage in many areas, and most affected regions should be under flood stage by Thursday.
While the worst is over, residents and volunteers alike are turning their attention to the debris and damage left by the record-level flooding.
“In terms of the water-level situation, it’s coming back to normal,” said Emergency Measures Organization spokesman Robert Duguay in a phone interview from Fredericton. ”It’s more an issue of recovery now.”
Thousands of sandbags need to be disposed of and sodden debris lining communities and homes need to be cleared as water levels continue their much-anticipated retreat.
The Canadian Red Cross is offering flood cleanup kits — containing squeegees, sponges, work gloves and other items — to New Brunswickers who can safely return to their homes.
Dunguay said 47 roads across the province remain closed as officials continue to survey roads, culverts and bridges for damage.
“Even if the roads seem to be dry, they still need to be inspected to make sure they’re safe for driving,” he said.
The Jemseg area is the only region where water is expected to remain above flood stage for the rest of the week, with federal data indicating that Jemseg was 1.11 metres above flood stage on Saturday.
Gerald Dykeman, who lives in Jemseg, said in he’s never seen anything like it in the 70 years he’s lived there.
While his part of Jemseg was spared from the torrent of water, he said a community of houses and cottages close to nearby Grand Lake were devastated.
“Some of them are off their foundations, and others are just gone,” he said, estimating that at least 30 cottages were destroyed in the disaster.
“It’s just unbelievable, the damage it did.”
He said many of them were summer homes owned by people in the surrounding communities.
Last weekend, the rising water levels were only made worse by tearing winds, whipping up waves more than a metre high.
Dykeman said some residents protected their cottages at Grand Lake by tethering the corners of the buildings to nearby trees.
Others couldn’t be saved.
“When the waves hit them last weekend, they just exploded and collapsed,” he said. “Even though some of them are summer cottages, they meant a lot to the people that owned them. Some were handed down from granddad, to dad, to the next generation.”
New Brunswick’s government website indicated that St. Leonard, Perth Andover, Simonds, Hartland, Woodstock, Durham Bridge, Apohaqui, Frederiction and Maugerville were below flood level on Saturday.
Homeowners affected by the flood are urged to contact their insurance companies before they begin cleaning their homes.
The disaster has attracted national attention, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visiting Oromocto, N.B., late Friday afternoon with Premier Brian Gallant to see communities affected by flooding.
The province has put out a call out to volunteers to aid in the massive cleanup efforts, and about 60 members from the Canadian Armed Forces were deployed Friday to help the provincial government with damage assessment.
Meanwhile, 738 households representing 1,688 people have been registered for evacuation with the Red Cross.