Ontario cottage country prepares for more 'tough days' as heavy rain aggravates floods
Rachael D'Amore, CTV News Toronto
Published Friday, April 26, 2019 9:17AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, April 26, 2019 6:42PM EDT
A large swath of Ontario is struggling to stay above water as heavy Friday rainfall exacerbates flood concerns in multiple regions.
Heavy rain started in Toronto and much of southern Ontario in the morning and stretched through the afternoon. Some areas could see the rain change to flurries overnight.
While Torontonians merely needed to pack an umbrella, residents about 150 kilometres north, in the towns of Bracebridge and Huntsville, are grappling with a more dangerous situation.
A state of emergency is in place for both towns, as well as Minden Hills, as severe flooding continues. Dozens of other areas in the region are also under flood watches or warnings.
Rainfall warnings were issued Friday for a band of central Ontario cottage country, including Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, Huntsville, Baysville, Port Carling, Port Severn and the town of Parry Sound.
Some regions could see as much as 50 millimetres of rainfall before the wet weather tapers off in the evening.
“The long and short of it is, we don’t expect the conditions to get better for some time,” Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith told reporters on Friday morning.
“We’re hoping for the best but we’re expecting a pretty tough day and some tough days yet to come.”
Fairy Lake and Mary Lake, which drain into the river that runs through Bracebridge, is at capacity, the mayor said, and heavy rainfall will strain the system.
He said water levels are expected to exceed records set during a major flood in 2013.
“If it’s raining at any point north of us, in the watershed, eventually that water comes to us. So people should expect water levels will rise,” he said. “We do not have a calculation of how much. Obviously this is going to sustain the event for some period of time longer.”
Snow and ice are still present in some areas near waterways, further stressing the system. “Huge amounts of debris” is also present in much of the flood water, Smith said, and is getting caught in chokepoints in the river.
Construction crews worked overnight to restructure flooded Beaumont Drive, which is the only roadway connecting the heavily-impacted areas of Beaumont Farms and Alport Bay area to the town. A “significant amount of large gauge aggregate” is being used to raise the road to a level that allows drivers the ability to discern “where the road ends and where the river begins.”
“We’ve got too many low-lying roads, that’s really what that says,” the mayor said.
“It’s tens of thousands of dollars in one shot, but it keeps people safe, so it’s worth it.”
Officials went door-to-door in some neighbourhoods of Bracebridge on Wednesday and urged residents to evacuate. In badly flooded areas, such as Springdale Shores and Cedar Shores, power has been cut off to some homes.
The mayor emphasized that residents still in their homes who change their minds and need help evacuating will be assisted at any time, simply by calling 211. People living near the South Branch of the Muskoka River – where floods have swelled rapidly – are being advised to call 211 to advise the town if they intend on staying put, as they could be virtually unreachable due to road closures.
“It could be days. Days. That’s why we’re talking about a 72 hour window for someone who might be on the other side of a road closure. We would hope they would have enough supplies to sustain them for a few days,” Smith said.
“I understand the desire of people want to protect property. Be very, very careful.”
However, some residents have chosen to ride it out.
“I have a cat at home and I just feel better about being around my house,” one woman told CTV News Toronto.
Crews also spent much of Thursday filling more than 3,500 sandbags. While many homeowners are doing what they can to protect their properties, Smith advised seasonal residents against checking on their cottages over the weekend.
“Don’t try and be a hero,” he said
“Closed roads are closed roads. There may have been someone that drove through yesterday, but we’ve got more water today and we’re going to have more water tomorrow. Just because you made it through once doesn’t mean you will make it through again.”
In eastern Ontario, rising water levels on the Ottawa River could reach records last seen during floods in 2017. A state of emergency is in effect for those living along the Ottawa River and other waterways.
A rainfall warning for Ottawa North – Kanata – Orleans was also issued Friday ahead of similarly heavy precipitation that could wreak havoc on already-flooded low-lying areas.
Premier Doug Ford toured a west-end area along the Ottawa River where rain is expected to take a devastating toll on already pinched systems and infrastructure.
“It’s absolutely heart wrenching,” he said. “It’s one thing to see it on the cameras, it’s another thing when you talk to the people face to face. It just rips your heart out.”
Ford said residents can’t be expected to go through floods like this every year. The premier suggested he is open to discussing the possibility of compensating residents who wish to move to higher ground in the future.
He pointed to climate change as one of the reasons for the floods.
“They say it was a 100-year storm, well, it’s a few years later and we’re back in the same boat,” he said.
“I’m a strong believer in that (climate change) and obviously you can see it. It’s as simple as when we went to school, snow used to be that high,” he said, motioning to his knees.
“Where’s the snow now? So something’s going on and we need to be conscious of it.”
About 400 Canadian Armed Forces members have descended on hard-hit areas of Ottawa to help residents with sandbagging.
Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick have all asked the federal government for assistance.
On Friday morning, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said aid is coming for the provinces.
He said the specifics of the funding will be worked out once the current situation has receded. Like Ford, Goodale also pointed to climate change as a factor in the widespread floods, calling the events “expensive lessons” for the country.
Bracebridge Mayor Smith said so far, the town hasn’t asked any other levels of government for help, but he anticipates that will change as the conditions change.
“We’re using what we have, I think, very well,” he said. “I think we’re getting through it, but that’s not to say we’re not getting through it without a lot of personal strain and property damage.”