Weary New Brunswick braces for potentially 'significant' Easter weekend floods
FREDERICTON -- A year after history-making floods, people living along the St. John River are being warned to brace again for significant flooding over the Easter weekend -- even as some weary residents continue repairs from prior events.
"In a sense, the flooding has become a way of life," said Dawn McKay, whose home in a low-lying Fredericton neighbourhood has experienced extensive, overland flooding over the past decade.
McKay said she suffered more than $145,000 in damages from basement flooding last spring, along with emotional exhaustion as she rebuilt and organized repairs over the past year.
On Thursday, the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization warned of potential new trouble within days -- a gradual snow melt in the province's northwest is expected to accelerate rapidly.
Spokesperson Geoffrey Downey said in an interview that could mean the river is 1.5 metres above flood levels by Monday, a figure that will approach the high water mark of last spring.
"Be ready," he said in a telephone interview.
"We're confident flooding is on the way and it could be significant flooding in a number of places, including in Fredericton."
McKay said her situation is actually better than many of her neighbours. Determined to stay in the neighbourhood she grew up in, McKay carried out a costly project to raise her home over a metre higher to keep her main floor above flood levels.
"Unfortunately over the last 10 years ... it's becoming more of a burden because it's becoming worse and worse."
Her basement has again been emptied out, and she was again planning to take a truck load of belongings out of her garage to higher ground.
Julie Whitehall-Melnik -- a University of New Brunswick social scientist who studies the social impacts of flooding -- said recent focus group interviews with people flooded last year indicates lingering distress.
"A lot of them discussed that they were feeling stressed, overwhelmed by the repairs, or by decisions where they didn't feel they had the information needed to make decisions on what to fix or not repair," she said.
"There was a sense of exhaustion that came with that."
She also said the researchers found many residents were also fearful of a recurrence of floods and angry with the slow pace of government assistance.
A recent federal report on climate change has noted that if current global carbon emissions continue, Atlantic Canada will experience a 12 per cent increase in annual precipitation over the next century, and a 30 per cent increase in one-in-10 year storms that produce large downpours of rain.
Just weeks ago, it appeared the St. John River would be spared this year.
Earlier in April, the temperatures were below zero at night and above freezing during the daylight hours in northern New Brunswick -- leading to a gradual melting of snow and lowering the risk of flooding.
However, those hopes faded as the holiday weekend approached, replaced by forecasts for double-digit daytime temperatures and over 80 millimetres of rain in just three days in the province's northwest.
Downey said this potent combination means residents need to be ready for flooding in communities along the river from Edmundston to Saint John.
Wayne Tallon, the emergency measures co-ordinator for Fredericton, is noting that the water is expected to rise to 8 metres or 8.1 metres by Monday. That's just a centimetres lower than the high water mark in last year's floods.
Late Thursday, the Fredericton courthouse announced all operations would be relocated as of Tuesday until further notice due to the "severe flooding" expected.
Once again, flyers have been sent out warning people who work or live in over 800 buildings of the potential for flooding, said Tallon.
"The biggest issue is our transportation network is seriously impacted," he said, adding that the flooding closes off entrances to one of the two major bridges over the river.
Tallon notes the city's highest flood was in 1973, but the second highest was in 2008, and the third highest was last year.
"The 50-year floods have become the once-in-10 year floods and now a year later we're looking at the same level. There's change in the climate and we're going to deal with these events more frequently I guess," he said.
Last year, a rapid melt and two late storms that bought heavy, wet snow resulted in major flooding along the St. John River and its tributaries.
The province said about 12,000 properties were affected by widespread flooding between late April and mid-May last year, with dozens of homes and cottages beyond repair.
-- By Michael Tutton in Halifax.