Rising water threatens New Brunswick legislature, homes, bridges
'It'll be as big as 1973 or the next best thing to it'
Marianne White and Bradley Bouzane, Canwest News ServicePublished: Thursday, May 1, 2008
EDMUNDSTON, N.B. - Flood waters spilling out over the riverbanks of the St. John River forced the closure of New Brunswick's legislature, shut down roads as well as an international bridge to the United States and forced dozens of people from their homes across the province.
In Edmundston, in the northwest corner of the province where the St. John and Madawaska rivers meet, flooding from the latter forced the evacuation of homes and closed streets Wednesday as the province was bracing for the worst flood in 35 years.
Local residents saw a house and a cabin swept down the St. John River Wednesday, uprooted from the American side of the river.
Still keeping a sense of humour, Wetmore's Nursery in Fredericton changed its sign Wednesday.
Rob Blanchard for Canwest News ServiceMore pictures: < Prev | Next >
"It's pretty surreal," said Mychele Poitras, a spokeswoman for the city near the Quebec border.
"It's like nothing we've seen before."
The pedestrian bridge that spans the Madawaska River was flooded, forcing streets to be closed and others to begin to crumble in the city.
Nearly a foot of water was still covering streets on the banks of the river Wednesday night.
Heavy rain and melting snow caused the Madawaska River to overflow Tuesday.
An emergency centre was set up Wednesday afternoon to help the some 25 families who were evacuated from their homes.
Emergency Measures officials said Wednesday the St. John River, which flows 700 kilometres from the Saint John Pond in Maine to the Bay of Fundy, is expected to reach or top the record 1973 mark in Fredericton and nearby Maugerville over the next 24 hours.
"It'll be as big as 1973 or the next best thing to it," said Andy Morton, deputy director of the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization.
In Fredericton, water levels were measured at 7.28 metres early Wednesday afternoon, but that will increase through Thursday and Friday to hit the 8.6-metre mark. The worst flooding in the region occurred in 1973, when the river was measured at 8.61 metres.
"I'm not in a full panic, but I'm starting to get concerned," said Fredericton homeowner Laurie Basque.
In neighbouring Maine, the state government has declared an emergency for areas of Aroostook County, which borders northern New Brunswick.
The International Bridge over the St. John River between Fort Kent and Clair, N.B. near Edmunston, closed Tuesday night over fears it could be damaged by the rising water. Streets near the bridge in Fort Kent have been evacuated over fears that if the bridge falls it could dam the river and flood them.
Mass flooding and mudslides are wreaking havoc for hundreds of people in New Brunswick, Maine and Quebec.
On Wednesday, the Maine section of the St. John River had reached nearly 8.2 metres, with cresting predicted to occur overnight Thursday.
In New Brunswick, the provincial legislature in Fredericton was closed Wednesday, while at the Crowne Plaza Beaverbrook Hotel in the city guests were being moved out.
People in Fredericton have been warned to expect power outages.
Roads in Bathurst, Miramichi, Saint John, Edmundston and Fredericton were flooded and parts of many highways were also under water.
"We're going to lose about 40 streets, as far as access through them," said Bob Martin, an official at the emergency operations centre in Fredericton. "We may be able to get down to them in four-wheel drives, but as far as a regular car that's going to be out."
Flooding also resulted in the closure of the Gagetown ferry.
Soldiers at CFB Gagetown were ready to step in if needed.
"We have a Bison vehicle -we'll use that possibly as an ambulance platform - and we've got heavy-lift trucks in case we have to move personnel into the affected area or if we're assisting to take civilians out of the affected flooded area," said Maj. Mike Gallant, base operations officer.
Fifty people were in official evacuation sites Wednesday and another 50 have left their homes to stay with relatives and friends in safer areas.
While most people who have sought refuge are from Fredericton and Maugerville, Jemseg and Sheffield, two families from Edmundston and another from the Darling's Island region near Saint John have also vacated their properties.
Meanwhile, across Quebec, the combination of swollen rivers and mudslides forced more people from their homes Tuesday, but water levels and evacuation numbers appear to have tapered off.
As of Wednesday morning, the Public Security Department listed more than 430 people evacuated across the province, with about 250 from the Quebec City area.
In Quebec City, where police officers were posted on some flooded streets to prevent thefts from evacuated homes, Mayor Regis Labeaume said Wednesday all rivers in the area have stopped rising.
While the situation is improving, command centres and call centres set up for flood emergencies remain in place as the situation is re-evaluated.
In all, about 2,000 homes across the province have either been flooded, are isolated by flood waters or face the threat of flooding.
At St. Alexis des Monts, west of Trois-Rivieres, about 100 people were still unable to return to their homes, which were evacuated this week because of flooding.
Threats of flooding have also prevented about 50 people in St-Andre-Avellin, 140 kilometres northwest of Montreal, from returning home.
In La Malbaie, in the Charlevoix region, 60 people had to leave three apartment buildings Tuesday because of mudslides.
Evacuation notices were sent to 45 residences in Les Eboulements and Petite Riviere St. Francois, also in the Charlevoix region, but many people refused to leave, Public Security spokesman Jean-Pierre Bazinet said.
In Maine, state offices in Fort Kent, Van Buren and Madawaska were closed Wednesday.
Waters are expected to continue to rise in the Fort Kent area until early Thursday and aren't expected to fall below the flood stage until Friday afternoon.
The Aroostook County Emergency Management Agency has been given authority to compel people to evacuate if it determines the action is necessary.
- with files from Global News