'Everything's gone': Rising water levels force people out of their homes in Sussex area

·5 min read
'Everything's gone': Rising water levels force people out of their homes in Sussex area

When the rain started to hit hard, Kelsey Richardson's main focus was to make sure her kids were safe.

So, at around midnight, she packed them in the car and left her Sussex home.

"We hoped to heck we were going to make it to the end of the street," she said, as she held two of her children, Abby, 8, and Bentley, 4.

Richardson, her fiancé and her three children, including infant Cohen, live on Homan Avenue, one of the areas of Sussex hit hardest by Tuesday's rainstorm.

Gary Moore
Gary Moore

As she was leaving her home, which she rents, the water was almost to the hood of her vehicle, she said.

"We were lucky to get out," she recalled as her kids played in the water left behind by the storm. "I thought we were going to float away."

Richardson said she's distraught by the loss and didn't expect the water to ruin so many of her belongings.

She lost her couches, her children's toys, window screens and her daughter's kindergarten materials. There's mud and sludge all over the house.

The family was able to salvage a few teddy bears.

Gary Moore/CBC
Gary Moore/CBC

She doesn't have insurance. And doesn't want to think about Christmas.

"Everything's gone," she said, hugging her daughter.

Damages expected to be around $18M

Sussex Mayor Marc Thorne said people in the area were devastated by the downpourr, which he described as worse than the 2014 flood linked to a river ice jam that caused a state of emergency and forced neighbourhoods to evacuate from their homes.

"The water is a little dirtier and the damage a bit greater," Thorne said.

He said the 2014 flood caused about $18 million in damage.

Gary Moore/CBC
Gary Moore/CBC

"People are feeling heartbroken because they've been through this before."

Thorne said he visited some of the homes in the area Wednesday morning, some of which have water all the way up to the first floor. He said flooding in the area has always been "one of intensity."

"Many homes that had finished basements are destroyed."

WATCH | Footage from the 2014 spring flood in Sussex

At least 21 homes in the Sussex area have been evacuated as of 12 p.m. Tuesday because of the flooding caused by heavy rain Tuesday, according to Geoffrey Downey, a spokesperson for New Brunswick's Emergency Measures Organization.

Downey said a few of those families have been able to return home.

"There's certainly reports of up to several feet of water in some homes, including some sewage," he said. "So this is something that's going to be going on for a little while."

This week, Downey said the weather is favourable for recovery efforts. Temperatures are above freezing in the south and there's not much rain in the forecast this week.

"There shouldn't be anything in terms of the water rising anymore," he said. "It should just be consistently going down."

The Sussex area and Sussex Corner were the areas hit hardest by the prolonged heavy rain across the province.

"It's just like spring — there's not much you can do," he said Wednesday. "Once the water goes up, you just have to wait for it to go down."

Gary Moore/ CBC
Gary Moore/ CBC

So far, Downey said, people in the Sussex area are the only residents to report damage. However, there are some road and school closures in other parts of the province.

Downey said flooding can happen anytime of year, including early December.

"It just goes to show that people need to be ready for anything, essentially year-round," he said. "It's not just flood season anymore."

Visitors becoming an issue

Downey said municipalities are reporting disaster tourism in the area and he is encouraging people to stay home.

"Not only do they hamper any recovery efforts, they could end up causing problems where they need to be saved as well," he said.

He said many people are showing up at closed roads and taking photos.

"That's just getting in the way."

'It's getting so close to Christmas'

Scott Hatcher, chief administrative officer with the Town of Sussex, said 14 families in the Sussex area were forced from their homes late Tuesday night.

But he said hundreds of properties in the area were affected by the storm, and many had water in their basements.

Local fire departments were able to retrieve the stranded families with boats and bring them to shelter.

Gary Moore/CBC
Gary Moore/CBC

"We're getting too used to flooding, which is not a good thing," Hatcher said.

Trout Creek, which passes through the area, reached flood stage Tuesday night. Conditions didn't improve until about 4 a.m.

"It's getting so close to Christmas and with all of the extra precautions ... with the pandemic, it's just added a bit of angst in the community," he said.

"That's really just piled on when you didn't need it to be piled on."

Canadian Red Cross volunteers arranged emergency lodging for at least 16 residents from 11 houses in the Sussex area, said Dan Bedell, a spokesperson for the Canadian Red Cross. Regional emergency management coordinators are also there to make sure any needs are met.

Environment Canada issued a rainfall warning for most of the province on Tuesday.

Central and southwestern parts of New Brunswick saw between 40 and 120 millimetres of rain Tuesday into Wednesday morning, and some southwestern regions were expecting up to 180 millimetres.

Environment Canada showed 181 millimetres of rain in Mechanic Settlement, about 76 kilometres southwest of Moncton.

Tina Simpkin, a CBC meteorologist said heavy rain is still expected in the Acadian Peninsula down through Moncton and into northern Nova Scotia on Wednesday.

Power outages across the province

NB Power said more than 4,000 NB Power customers are without electricity.

That's after a peak of about 7,000 customers without power Tuesday afternoon.

Marc Belliveau, a spokesperson for NB Power, said trees falling over power lines were the main problem. About 20 crews were working overnight to restore power.

Belliveau said there was also a fire in a switch gear building in Bouctouche, probably because a piece of equipment failed.

No one was hurt, but the damage is being assessed and repairs could take a bit of time.