by Kevin Bissett
FREDERICTON – New Brunswick residents have begun the long, messy business of cleaning up sodden homes and cottages — including one runaway cottage left bobbing in lake waters after floating seven kilometres away from its perch.
As residents began returning to homes, sloshing through watery basements and loading trucks full of sodden garbage, federal politicians landed in the area for tours.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Oromocto, N.B., late Friday afternoon with Premier Brian Gallant, stopping in a command post to look at maps of the flooding, then getting in a boat to view Saint John River communities affected by flooding.
He toured a few kilometres of the Saint John River to see the flood damage in the communities of Oromocto, Maugerville and Sheffield.
“It was a real opportunity to see the extent of the damage,” he said after returning to shore.
“Even though the water is lower, you know that there has been tremendous flooding and a tremendous number of people impacted. And of course the work on the cleanup is going to come in the coming weeks and months.”
Elsewhere in the province, municipal governments were organizing volunteer efforts to help homeowners who face the daunting task of emptying basements and taking away thousands of sandbags to landfills.
The prime minister praised the efforts.
“The response of people who stepped up, the response of the community, the first responders is always extraordinary. It’s a real strength of community when people pull together like this,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Armed Forces said it was deploying 60 members to assist provincial authorities with assessments.
The soldiers are from 4 Engineer Support Regiment based at 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown. Rear-Admiral Craig Baines, Commander Joint Task Force Atlantic, said the mission is a “bit more personal” for the team.
“They’re deploying to help their neighbours, and the communities close to where they live. Many of our members have been volunteering in recent days, like many community members have, at night and on the weekends to help their neighbours.”
The federal response came as flood waters continued their long-awaited retreat, two weeks after they swept through Fredericton and went on to swamp several communities along the swollen Saint John River.
The expansive cleanup could be most daunting in the Grand Lake area outside Jemseg, where many cottages either collapsed or were relocated by surging waters and powerful winds.
Delberta Flood, who lives in the lake’s Youngs Cove, said she was stunned to find a whole building resting just down the shore from her home, which was not affected by the flood.
She was out walking last weekend when she spotted something quite a distance from her home.
“I got as close as I could and it was a house or a camp — a one-and-a-half storey camp sitting upright, still floating but caught up in a tree,” she said with a chuckle.
“It had curtains in the windows and just looked like it was supposed to be there!”
Flood took photos of the structure, posted them to a Grand Lake Facebook page with the message that it had washed up on her shore and quickly heard from the owner, who asked where it was.
She told him and asked where it had come from, expecting it was just around the corner.
“He said it came from Princess Park and that is seven kilometres across the lake. So we were really surprised it floated that far and stayed upright and didn’t break apart,” she said, adding that the slightly tilted cottage no longer has a door and is filling with water.
Flood said all matter of items have floated past her home in recent days, including a submerged sailboat detectable by its mast, lots of decks, sets of stairs, a kayak, two life-jackets and a soccer ball.
The cottage, however, stands out.
“We saw some pretty weird things float by, but that’s the weirdest,” she said.
The military said that since the flooding began, liaison officers had been monitoring developments with provincial authorities and providing advice on the best support it could provide “if provincial resources and capabilities were exceeded.”
The Trans-Canada Highway between Fredericton and Moncton reopened just before noon Friday after being shut for a week, but it is reduced to one lane in each direction in one portion.
“The water is down across the board,” Emergency Measures Organization spokesman Geoffrey Downey said Friday afternoon.
“Fredericton is now, for example, below flood stage and according to the five-day forecast every community but two should be out of flood stage as well by Wednesday.”
Downey said water levels were still forecast to persist at Jemseg and Sheffield-Lakeville Corner, south of Fredericton.
Federal data indicate water levels in Fredericton receded to about 6.4 metres above sea level early Friday, putting the city below the flood stage. Levels have also gone down to about 4.8 metres in Saint John, which remains above flood stage. Downey said it’s expected to drop to below flood level by Sunday.
“It’s obvious that the river is down but that doesn’t mean the threat to your home is gone. There were all kinds of contaminants in the river and people are going to have to clean their homes and property very carefully,” Downey said.
He cautioned that people should enter their homes only after they’ve ensured it’s safe to do so.
Downey said patience is also a key for a process that will take weeks if not months because what’s happened to many people’s homes is “just awful.”
“I did a helicopter tour over the weekend down toward Saint John and the damage is heartbreaking with some buildings in low-lying areas where the water was up to the roof,” he said. “This is going to take time and I think it’s important for everyone to remember that.”
About 60 roads remained closed and Darlings Island was still cut off Friday.
— With files from Alison Auld, Michael Tutton and Keith Doucette in Halifax