WEST CARLETON – Frustration and stress levels are rising as fast as the water, as some of the lowest-level homes in West Carleton succumb to the Ottawa River despite the largest showing of volunteers yet yesterday (April 27).
“The frustration is taking a toll on everyone,” Coun. Eli El-Chantiry told West Carleton Online yesterday after the West Carleton community spends another long day sandbagging, wall-building and battling rising water.
Reports of the Ottawa River invading homes are starting to come in after more than a week of frantic preparations.
Coun. El-Chantiry reported 21 homes in West Carleton completely flooded yesterday. Six houses in the Dunrobin Shores area, six in Willola Beach and nine in Constance Bay. And West Carleton is still a couple of days away from seeing the peak of the Ottawa River.
“Today we are nine to 10 centimetres below May 2017 levels,” El-Chantiry said. “That’s without the expected rain or warm weather.”
But the biggest concern residents now have is news circulating Ontario Power Generation (OPG) will be releasing water from at least one of their dams along the Ottawa River.
Some area flood captains received a message from OPG manger work centre Chris Hamel that “OPG is preparing to open additional spillway gates at Portage-du-Fort on Saturday, April 27. As a result of these actions, you will see an increase in water levels and flows. These gates are expected to remain open until water conditions decrease.”
Hamel said the difficult decision was made due to the high volume of water on the river.
This has understandably made residents already battling high water, very nervous.
“That’s a concern,” El-Chantiry said. “It hasn’t happened yet (as of 6 p.m. yesterday).”
According to Deputy Mayor George Darouze, there have been 18 “self-evacuations” in the city. Officials spent Saturday going door-to-door doing 216 wellness visits (all of Ottawa) and asking people to prepare to evacuate. The city has said they can not force anyone to leave their house but more and more of those evacuation requests are expected to come today (April 28).
“I am asking as a friend, neighbour and councillor, if you have been asked to leave, please leave,” El-Chantiry said. “Your safety is the most important thing. Go to the community centre if you have to, they will take care of you.”
West Carleton Online spent about seven hours yesterday touring four of the hardest-hit areas in West Carleton. We visited, in order, Willola Beach, MacLaren’s Landing, Constance Bay and Dunrobin Shores. We were unable to get to Vydon Acres, but reports are circulating that many homes in that community are also feeling the stress of the rising river.
WILLOLA BEACH – It was a much different scene yesterday (April 27) than any other day of flood preparations so far.
West Carleton Online first reported on flood conditions in that area on Easter Sunday. At that time there was about 25 volunteers, mostly homeowners, sandbagging. From eyewitness reports, on Friday (April 26) there were only about five volunteers.
Yesterday, hundreds of volunteers descended on the area to help with sandbagging efforts. Area flood captain Patrick Garbutt credits a community press release for the reason Willola Beach had more visitors to the area yesterday, than in its entire history, possibly combined.
Cars had to park as far away as Canon Smith Drive and hike about two kilometres to the main sandbagging station on Moorhead Drive. Garbutt says there were between 300 to 400 volunteers furiously filling sandbags. Unfortunately, six homes had already been lost to the river.
“I got about two hours of sleep last night,” Garbutt told West Carleton Online at the end of a busy day yesterday. “We’ve lost a few homes now.”
Garbutt said his community was growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of volunteer support and resources the Willola Beach community was receiving up until yesterday – and that’s why they released their own media advisory. Garbutt said they were reassured by Coun. El-Chantiry’s office the army was coming.
“We were told they were dispatched,” he said. “Allegedly 10 showed up last night (Friday) and left after five minutes.”
He’s also frustrated with the lack of accurate water level prediction that has occurred.
“The question I have is why is it unpredictable?” he said.
Garbutt says he has family in Sudbury and was up there often over the winter.
“They couldn’t see this coming?” he said. “How could that be possible with the record snow we’ve had? What has the city learned since 2017? I don’t see it.”
With the news the dams may open to release water pressure, a community that is closest to the Fitzroy Harbour dam is concerned.
“We have questions about how the dam is being managed,” Garbutt said. “It’s privately owned now, and we wonder if they intentionally hold back water. Locals think the problem is with the dam.”
Garbutt says they will need the same number of volunteers to show up now until after the water crests.
“We’re situation critical down here,” he said. “We have a long wat to go. We needed this help for days. We need to keep those numbers going as long as we can. We can’t stop, we can’t lose ground now.”
Garbutt says he has seen a woman in her 80s and a pregnant woman “probably in her third trimester” sandbagging.
“It’s overwhelming,” he said.
This morning (April 28) 100 military personal including amphibious vehicles arrived in Willola Beach as well as several hundred more volunteers. Sandbagging operations have moved to Fitzroy Provincial Park to create space in the community. Reports of sandbag wall collapses are also being reported.
MacLAREN’S LANDING – Just down river a few clicks from Willola’s Beach is MacLaren’s Landing, another small West Carleton community desperately battling the rising river.
Flood captain and MacLaren’s Landing resident Shannon Todd says things are going well in her community, but it is still a challenge.
Around 20 volunteers are filling sandbags, making up the smallest group of volunteers West Carleton Online witnessed yesterday. But that’s the way this community likes it.
“We’re trying to keep it quiet,” Todd told West Carleton Online.
It’s also the only sandbagging operation that has a stockpile.
“The majority of homeowners here are in their 60s and 70s,” Todd said. “It’s a small retirement community. There’s 60 and 70-year-olds bagging their own sand and stacking their own walls. It very much is a challenge, but they’re getting it done. It has to get done. They want to save their homes.”
Todd says the community started sandbagging early, has a slightly smaller number of homes in immediate area and are fairly well prepared all things considered.
“It’s because we have 10 houses in the area that have been sandbagged,” Todd said. “We’ve been at it since last Thursday. So, Friday and Saturday we put the push on. We woke up this morning, there was a team that had been working here from 6 to 9 p.m., they left us 200 bags.”
Although they have a stockpile, there are plans to use that stockpile to help their neighbours in Willola Beach.
“We sent six loads of bags over to Willola Beach,” Todd said. “And then we just reinforced our own walls that were falling or worked on the height because we here the dam might be opening.”
Todd, who lives a safe distance above the river, says her flooding issues occurred last week.
“My home was threatened last week actually,” she said. “There are five homes on side streets that were flooded last week. The city was fixing a culvert. The water had flooded a field and then the water crossed the road and flooded five homes along the road.”
Todd is quick to point out her community isn’t out of the water yet though.
If the Ottawa River reaches its predicted peak “it will wipe out the houses we’ve already sandbagged.”
CONSTANCE BAY – The village hit hard in 2017 has become defacto Ground Zero for flood relief in West Carleton. The look and the feel of the community has already changed drastically since flood preparations began more than a week ago.
The NorthWind Wireless Fibre Centre, which serves as headquarters to flood relief, has grown each and every day. A huge sandpile, hundreds of volunteers. disaster relief agencies, lots of heavy equipment and military vehicles, emergency personal and officials have taken over the parking lot, the building and all other free space.
Len Purcell Drive was closed to all traffic except those needing sandbags. When West Carleton Online was there, there were more than 25 vehicles waiting in line to load up bags.
Across the village the landscape has also changed. Not just from the rising water, but because everywhere you look, you see military members and their armoured vehicles. A plethora of smaller sandbagging operations have been set up in river access roads, driveways and anywhere there is room to set up sand and space to shovel.
St. Gabriel’s Church has also been turned in to a large sandbagging operation with huge piles of sand, military presence, large sand-moving vehicles and more than 60 volunteers made up of soldiers, volunteer firefighters and community members.
Back at the community centre, West Carleton Online caught up with Kanata-Carleton MP Karen McCrimmon who was also filling sandbags.
“Look at this,” she said. “It’s really heartwarming to see the number of volunteers that come out, and right across the region, from as far away as Cornwall.”
McCrimmon, a retired and highly-decorated military veteran, says the boost the military’s arrival has brought to the community, is bigger than just the extra sandbags they are filling.
“I think at first, people were distressed of course because of the 2017 flood; 2018 tornado; 2019, really? Another flood?” she said. “Having the army come really gave people a lift. They came in here, they knew what they were doing, they respected the contributions of the local people and include them in the decision making and things are happening. So, people have confidence, but they are really worried about the rising water.”
A major focus of the military’s work yesterday was to protect the lowest-lying portion of Bayview Drive a major artery through Constance Bay. Soldiers are lining the section of 600 to 1000 Bayview Dr. with sandbags in order to keep a crucial roadway accessible. The city has already stated any roadway with 30 centimetres of water on it is no longer safe for the city’s vehicles to use.
“There are some houses that have been flooded,” McCrimmon said. “Down here, on Bayview Drive, it’s just heartwrenching.”
And it’s not over yet.
“This is going to be a long haul, it really is,” McCrimmon said. “It’s not going to be over anytime soon. My friends who are up snowmobiling near Maniwaki (roughly 200 kms north) said to each other, stay on the trail, if you leave the trail you are going to be up to your chest in snow. And that snow is fully saturated because of the rain. It’s going to be coming our way for a while. But yes, everybody has stepped up and that just really reinforces that community spirit.”
DUNROBIN SHORES – About 70 to 80 volunteers were hard at work around 3:30 p.m. yesterday, shoveling, coordinating, preparing food and doing everything they could to save those houses that haven’t been flooded yet.
Thanks to some very knowledgeable, and experienced community members, the large group of newcomers and residents are well organized.
One of those knowledgeable residents is Chris Burke, a retired firefighter who couldn’t quite give it all up and still volunteers at the Dunrobin fire station. He lives about a kilometre away from the main sandbagging station and has been hard at it for the last five days.
He says his home is very high off the water and, at the moment, is safe from the rising tides.
“The problem I am having is the shoreline is six feet high and its soil,” he told West Carleton Online. “Today there were three-foot waves were coming in and they are taking all the soil.”
Burke says the early warning has certainly saved several homes in the area although six have been lost to flooding as of yesterday.
“Kudos to, I don’t want to say the city, but to Eli and his team for getting this started a week ago,” he said. “I’ve probably been around here for five days and I remember the first time out here thinking, geez, it doesn’t look anything like it did two years ago, but I thought it’s good to be prepared. And then by Friday afternoon (April 26) when I was looking at where it is compared to last Monday, I was thinking, geez, this is moving in pretty fast. Between two days, there was one point where I said, this isn’t bad, in 2017 there was a lot over there that was covered with water and there was nothing then. And then by Friday afternoon it was covered.”
Burke gives credit to Dunrobin Shores resident and Ottawa firefighter Paul Asmis for the well-organized response to flooding in Dunrobin Shores. Asmis was West Carleton’s last fire chief before amalgamation with the City of Ottawa in 2000.
“Asmis deserves a lot of credit for being sort of the incident commander for all of us,” Burke said. “He’s taken that on by himself. Real good guy, a lot of talent, really smart. He was doing this on his own. Kudos to him because a lot of the coordination of equipment and resources, the day before the city started doing it, he looked after it. That’s why we got such a good jump on everything. He brought out two of the crews he works with to help out on their day off. It’s tremendous.”
Burke says about six homes have been abandoned “and a couple of others are starting to leave now.”
But there have been successes as well.
“That’s where we’re at,” Burke said. “We’ve made great in-roads down at the other end, in terms of what we could save.”
Burke says morale is high, but along with some victories have been the realities of the situation.
“I think a lot of thought ‘I’ll be able to save this,’ but then the reality sinks in when the water starts to rise to the extent we’ve seen and that’s the depressing part, because you really think you can salvage everything,” he said. “You get here with that gusto. So optimistic about the process, so it hurts when you lose something.”
In West Carleton, the Ottawa River is expected to hit its peak either Monday night (April 29) or Tuesday morning. Volunteers are still desperately needed in several locations around the community. The official West Carleton volunteer check-in centre has moved locations. Volunteers are now asked to head to the Dunrobin Community Centre at 1151 Thomas A. Dolan Parkway where there is more room for parking and coordination. Volunteer transportation will be provided from there. Reports from the field say more than 300 volunteers have already registered today (April 28).
Military members sent to West Carleton, some 220, are now being deployed outside of Constance Bay to assist in other areas of the rural community.
Major Cullen Downey gave a brief update yesterday on chain of command and morale.
“We rely on a lot of the knowledge of local city officials who have deliberate plans, as well, we rely a lot on the experience from the residents who went through this back in 2017,” he told reporters yesterday. “Canadians helping Canadians and my soldiers are very happy to be helping city officials and the residents of Constance Bay.”
Major Downey says they get their orders from thegovernment for this type of work.
We get priorities from the city and the Government of Ontario,” he said. “It’s been very positive, we couldn’t ask for a warmer welcome. Our government has set us up for success and the residents of Constance Bay continue to be very helpful and welcoming.”
Deputy Mayor George Darouze says it’s an emotional time, but safety is the first priority.
“Emotions are running very high and the water is getting higher,” he said yesterday. “We’re telling people, prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Our focus is to make sure our residents and our community is safe.”
El-Chantiry, who has been out day and night in affected communities since flood warnings began more than a week ago, says despite the frustration towards the city, it is doing what it can.
“The city has been doing as much as it can,” he said. “All the power I have is from the city.”
El-Chantiry then listed more than 10 organizations assisting with flood relief saying “overall I am grateful for everything.”
And at the top of his list, is thanking the volunteers.
“I’m paid to do my job,” El-Chantiry said. “Others are doing it for free. I’m grateful.”