Tragic floods hit Canada

Thousands of homes are damaged in storms.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | NOVA SCOTIA | April 7, 2003


Heavy rain combined with spring thaw caused severe flooding in Nova Scotia and parts of Newfoundland during the past week, according to emergency management officials.

The rain hit Nova Scotia early March 31, dumping nearly five inches of rain in some areas -- on top of creeks and rivers already flooded by melting snow.

The storm then moved east to Newfoundland by that afternoon and evening, causing millions of dollars in damage and leaving hundreds of people homeless.

Two people drowned in Nova Scotia when a car was swept away by floodwaters on March 31, and 47 bridges and more than 200 roads were severely damaged, said Ross MacLaren, a spokesman for Nova Scotia's Transportation Department.

Mike Lester, executive director of the Nova Scotia Emergency Measures Organization, said the damage to homes and business was at least $10 million.

"We're still underwater in a number of places, so we're working on estimates now," Lester said. At least 1,000 buildings were affected to some degree by the flooding.

Moreover, several dams came very close to cracking from the weight of the floodwater, he said.

"We did have dams running at maximum spill to keep them from breaching, so it was kind of touchy," he said.

About 150 people had to be evacuated from the small town of Truro, and the town of Oxford, as well as rural communities in the Annapolis valley, were also hard-hit.

"Some of the areas were hit with flashfloods,which is rather unusual" he said, since most spring flooding in the province is generally slow and gradual.

"This was anything but slow-moving," Lester said.

Newfoundland also saw its share of flooding, said Fred Hollett, director of the Emergency Measures Organization for Newfoundland and Labrador.

The worst flooding occurred on the western coast of Newfoundland, where damage to a bridge on the Trans-Canada Highway in Corner Brook basically cut off transportation between the western and eastern parts of the province for nearly four days. A temporary bridge was set up Friday.

"When the bridge went out, well of course that was it," he said. "There was no way around that particular wash-out. Everything was cut off."

The town of Corner Brook itself incurred severe damage: Hollett estimated that between 20 and 30 homes there were flooded out, and there were several mudslides in the area. Another small town, Cox' Cove, also took a big hit.

Hollett said damage estimates were still preliminary, but he was confident the total was in the millions.

"We have reason to believe that we may be looking at upwards of 2000 private residences that have been affected. It's a severe hit for western Newfoundland," he said. "Weather here in Newfoundland and Labrador is known to be extreme. I've wondered why my ancestors ever chose to live here."

The town of Badger, which was flooded in February by water that quickly encased the town in ice, was also hit by the recent flood. No new homes, however, were damaged this time around.

"They had about a foot of water come in early in the week, but nothing like February," said the Rev. Marvin Burton, pastor of the Evangel Pentecostal Tabernacle. Burton's church hosted some of the February flood victims for about a month, but the last of these guests left about three weeks ago, he said. The Windsor Pentecostal Church also hosted Badger residents, but it too has closed down its shelter.

The largest shelter, set up by the Salvation Army at the Old Carmelite Home, closed down March 28, said Major Roy Bridger. About 200 people stayed at the former retirement home.

Nearly 400 people were left homeless by the February floods. Bridger said these people have now either moved in with friends or relatives, or accepted temporary housing provided by the provincial government, which has also promised to reimburse Badger residents for the flood damage, provided that they don't move back into the flood plain.

Hollett said that so far none of the recently flooded towns had frozen over, but temperatures were plunging below freezing Friday night, and there was the possibility that more towns, like Badger, might be turned into massive ice cubes.


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