Flooding grows along Saint John River: 'I see nothing but water'
FREDERICTON -- Floodwaters were expanding their reach Tuesday and washing through several communities along the Saint John River, stranding residents, soaking basements and making islands out of homes.
"I see nothing but water," Earl LeBlanc, a 76-year-old widower, said from Maugerville, about 20 minutes south of Fredericton. "It's just a real mess."
Government officials said Maugerville, Jemseg, Sheffield, Grand Lake and Oak Point had all exceeded flood-stage levels and were seeing extensive flooding, much like Fredericton has been experiencing since Friday.
The New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization (EMO) warned residents along southern regions of the Saint John River basin to be on "high alert" as water levels were forecasted to increase in several areas including Quispamsis, Saint John and several smaller communities.
It said residents who have experienced flooding in the past "should expect to experience similar or worse conditions over the next few days."
"There is still snow in northern regions, which will contribute to sustained flows as it melts," officials said.
Later in the day, the city of Saint John issued a voluntary evacuation notice for residents living near the river.
Emergency access and local traffic to the area is now limited and is expected to be completely cut off due to increased flooding, the city said, adding the evacuation notice affects an estimated 1,900 people.
Meanwhile, LeBlanc said his home was surrounded by about 1.3 metres of water washing in from the river and a nearby stream. Unlike many of the homes in the area, the water hadn't gotten into his home but had left a snowblower and tractor in his shed under water.
His neighbour, Kent Shaw, also had a yard full of water and was using his canoe to survey the scene and possibly help people out of their homes.
He made the offer to LeBlanc, who instead decided to venture out onto his flooded road in hip waders after having a bad boating experience during the region's last big flood in 2008.
"I won't get in it," LeBlanc said. "In 2008 I upset twice -- it was right up to my neck -- and I swore I would never get in a canoe again. The guy paddled over here this morning and said, 'Get in the canoe,' and I said, 'Nope, I ain't getting in no canoe."'
Geoffrey Downey, spokesman for the Emergency Measures Organization, said the Red Cross is reporting an increase in evacuations in Maugerville and Grand Lake, with a total of 33 homes being evacuated, affecting more than 70 in the province since flooding began Friday.
He said one family in Sheffield asked for help evacuating Monday night after water was coming up through their floorboards and they couldn't reach their vehicle.
The City of Fredericton said Tuesday water levels went up to about 8.24 metres, but government offices would reopen after some were shut down Monday as parts of downtown were under water. Justice officials said the courthouse in Fredericton would remain closed for the rest of the week.
Water levels reached about 8.36 metres during the 2008 floods.
Later Tuesday EMO said water levels in the Fredericton region were forecast to remain at their current levels, but the organization added those elevated levels were expected to continue over the coming days "without significant signs of receding."
Shaw said he has been watching the waters rise steadily since Saturday morning, when he put a stake in the ground. Since then they have climbed by about 30 centimetres and left almost three centimetres of water in his basement, where he was using a sump pump to try to clear it out.
Waters have swamped roads leading into the area, cutting off access routes to Fredericton, he said. But he says he and his wife have gone through floods before and were ready for this one.
"We're prepared for five to seven days just in case because we know from past experience that once the flood stops it will be at least 48 hours before it drops enough before we can get into civilization," he said with a laugh.
"But the water came up extremely quick this year."
The Saint John River, swollen from heavy rains in addition to the snow melt, has also cut off access to Darlings Island near Hampton.
Angela Boudreau said she, her husband and their elderly dog were hunkered down on the small island, along with the roughly 500 to 600 other residents who decided to remain there after a barricade was put up on the only access road on Sunday.
"The situation could be worse. We're fortunate that the homes are well out of the water," she said. "But the situation to us represents a vulnerability because we could be facing an emergency of some sort and have absolutely no way to get medical care."
She said the walk across the causeway was dangerous because it was under about 0.9 metres of water and was buffeted by a strong current.
- By Alison Auld in Halifax