Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he believes climate change is among the reasons eastern Ontario homeowners are trying to save their homes from flooding for the second time in three years.
Ford was in the rural west end of Ottawa Friday morning, touring flooded areas along the Ottawa River, where officials are warning a new rain storm will make water levels rise rapidly over the next few days, likely exceeding the levels seen during a 2017 flood.
Ford said that when you see the affected people face-to-face, it “just rips your heart out.”
“These folks can’t go through this every single year,” he said.
He said local officials desperately need volunteers to help fill and distribute sandbags.
The Ottawa River is just one of several rivers and lakes overflowing this week, forcing thousands of Canadians from their homes in Ontario, Quebec, southern Manitoba and New Brunswick, where the Saint John River is experiencing a major flood for the second year in a row.
In Quebec, officials said Friday morning 3,148 homes are already underwater and another 2,305 are surrounded by it, with 1,111 people out of their residences. In New Brunswick, 84 roads are closed because of flooding, including a portion of the TransCanada Highway.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency because of flooding Thursday, with another 20 mm to 50 mm of rain forecast to fall Friday and Saturday. A forecast by the interprovincial committee that regulates water levels in the Ottawa River says all that rain could increase its level near Parliament Hill by nearly a metre within a few days. Paths behind Parliament are already underwater.
Residents in several small communities on the eastern and western edges of Ottawa are sandbagging to keep their homes dry. About 400 soldiers have been deployed to the Ottawa area to help sandbag and assist with other flood operations.
Military members were deployed to Gatineau, Que., and in New Brunswick earlier this week.
Gatineau mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin said Friday morning that he expects river levels in his region to peak by Monday or Tuesday. But because snow melt from the north has not yet reached the area, he said water levels could remain at their peak for two weeks.
Pedneaud-Jobin said that, unlike Ottawa’s mayor, he has the power to invoke emergency measures on his own without formally declaring a state of emergency.
So far, he said, he has ordered up to $1 million in supplies and equipment to help residents affected by the flooding.
There are also flood warnings in several other areas of Ontario, including cottage country near Bracebridge, Ont., where lakes are going over their banks. Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith asked cottage owners not to come to their properties to check for damage this weekend, because there are a lot of roads closed. He is worried people will put themselves in harm’s way trying to get to properties.
“Don’t try and be a hero,” he said.
The rising Red River in southern Manitoba has forced some road closures and a small number of evacuations near the community of St. Jean Baptiste. Earlier predictions for major flooding between the U.S. border and Winnipeg haven’t come to pass because of less snowfall than expected in April and a slower than expected spring melt.
While touring flooded areas of Gatineau earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said communities across Canada have to be prepared for the impact of climate change, needing to adapt and mitigate knowing floods like this are happening more often.
Ford said Friday he does not disagree.
“They say it’s 100-year storms — well it’s a few years later and we’re back in the same boat,” Ford said. “Something is going on and we have to be conscious of it.”
Quebec Premier Francois Legault and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs are both talking about relocating homeowners permanently away from flood-prone areas. Ford said he is willing to sit down with the communities to talk about what is needed to protect their homes or offer compensation to move to higher ground, but didn’t say what Ontario might be looking at doing yet.
The Ontario government asked for federal help Thursday and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said that will come.
Officials in Quebec are also keeping a close eye on a hydroelectric dam, on a tributary of the Ottawa River west of Montreal, that’s at risk of failing.
The Chute-Bell dam has reached “millennial” water levels, meaning a flood that happens once every 1,000 years, but Hydro-Quebec says it’s confident the structure is solid.
Simon Racicot, the utility’s director of production and maintenance, told reporters Thursday that “we are entering into an unknown zone right now — completely unknown.”
—with files from Terry Pedwell and Kristy Kirkup
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press