Severe spring flooding that has forced thousands of residents from their homes in Canada’s eastern half refuses to let up in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.
Environment Canada has issued heavy rainfall warnings and special weather statements — with a mess of rain, sleet, snow and ice pellets possible across a wide section of the flood zones starting Tuesday night and continuing Wednesday.
Two thousand soldiers are deployed to flood zones where water has risen to historic levels in eastern and central Ontario, Quebec and along the swollen St. John River in southern New Brunswick, while annual flooding in the Kashechewan First Nation in northern Ontario remains a concern.
Another 1,500 have been authorized to be sent to Ontario to help with historic flooding along the Ottawa River and in central Ontario cottage country towns as Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes.
While many in these areas have been deploying sandbags to help cope with the flooding, researchers and consultants say they aren’t necessarily the best solution.
They say the sacks can be effective in flash floods or other situations where they won’t be in contact with water for too long, but that sandbags lose their effectiveness as soon as they become saturated with water, meaning they have limited impact during prolonged floods.
Here are the latest developments in each affected region.
The Ottawa River should start to peak in some areas west of Ottawa-Gatineau on Tuesday, according to the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board, which measures its water levels.
Some communities along the Ottawa River are already seeing waters higher than they saw in the 2017 flood.
An estimated one million sandbags are standing between the Ottawa River and residences and businesses in Ottawa, and more are in place across the river in Gatineau, Que.
But they may not be up to the task of holding back the water, which is expected to rise another 50 centimetres and not peak until later Tuesday or Wednesday. Municipal officials in Ottawa don’t expect to be near cleanup mode until the Victoria Day long weekend.
Watch aerial footage of the flooded Ottawa River:
Conditions could make things difficult for those working to shore up properties against the floodwaters on Wednesday. Ottawa-Gatineau and areas to the west as far as Algonquin Park on the Ontario side of the river are expected to get two to five centimetres of snow, mixed with ice pellets, then 15 to 25 millimetres of rain.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday these extreme weather events will happen more often, and the government is fighting climate change and investing in climate-resilient infrastructure.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada predicts the record flooding will push losses for homeowners from extreme weather to more than $1 billion this year.
Areas along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, which are seeing some flooding but not at historic levels, could get 20 to 40 millimetres of rain.
Some people will be able to return to their homes in Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, Que., on Tuesday afternoon after floodwaters breached a dike Saturday and forced about 6,000 to flee.
The evacuation order will be lifted in certain areas of the town located northwest of Montreal, and Mayor Sonia Paulus said residents from “these areas will need to present identification and receive clearance before returning home.” The order won’t include a section of Sainte-Marthe that remains submerged.
One resident kayaked through her home and shared emotional video:
The island of Montreal and Laval remain in states of emergency, a measure giving authorities the power to seize property and force evacuations, while officials in Quebec say the data available suggests the risk of flooding on several rivers across the province remains high.
The province reported over 6,400 flooded homes, a further 3,500 surrounded by water and more than 10,000 evacuees — most of them from Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac.
The St. John River from Fredericton to Saint John is still expected to be above flooding levels Tuesday, but the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization says the river is receding slowly.
Water levels might be receding, but there’s still no sign of when the Trans-Canada Highway will reopen between Oromocto and River Glade, N.B., according to the company that manages the stretch of highway. This is the second year in a row the major highway has closed due to flooding.
Canada’s defence minister visited the Saint John area yesterday to view the activities of military personnel helping in the response effort.
HarjitSajjan says if the impact of climate change disasters continues to worsen, he may have to increase the number of Canadian Forces personnel available.
Kashechewan First Nation
First Nations leaders called on the Ontario and federal governments Monday to help relocate the community of Kashechewan as it deals with annual flooding — a problem one said would have already been solved if it involved a non-Indigenous population.
Community members are set to rally Tuesday on Parliament Hill.
The northern Ontario community of 2,500 first flooded in 1976 and has been evacuated annually for the past several years while it waits for the federal government to fulfil its promises to move residents to a permanent new location.
“Both levels of government — Ontario and Canada — has allowed this to be normalized,” said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Derek Fox. “I believe personally that if these were non-native, non-First Nations people, action would have happened a lot sooner. I sincerely believe that.”
Central Ontario cottage country
Ontario communities already struggling with historic spring-flooding conditions may have to brace for continued high waters — and maybe even higher levels.
Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement for a large chunk of central Ontario, including the cottage-country communities of Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes that have declared states of emergency.
Another 20 to 40 millimetres of rain is expected to fall on the region starting Wednesday.