Flooding in Saint John could be worse than last year's record floods, and some residents could become cut off by flooded roads as early as tomorrow, making it difficult for first responders to reach them, warns the local emergency measures organization.
The St. John River reached 4.8 metres in Saint John on Tuesday afternoon, resulting in several road closures, and water levels are forecast to reach 5.7 metres by Friday — the same as last year's peak, said Kevin Clifford, the director of Saint John EMO and the city's fire chief.
"I worry that 5.7 might not be the worst of it," he told reporters during a news conference.
Flood stage in the Saint John area is 4.2 metres.
With the rain and snow melt continuing, it's difficult to predict how high the water levels will get, but Clifford believes the projections might be too conservative.
He is urging the estimated 605 people who live in the flood-impacted areas under the voluntary evacuation notice issued by the EMO Monday night to follow the recommendation as soon as possible.
"Yesterday we said we might get to 5.3 [metres by Friday], now it's at 5.7. Today's was forecasted to be 4.7, it's 4.8. Yesterday was forecasted to be 4.3, it ended up being 4.5.
"So I really do think people need to heed those forecasts, understanding that they are more precise [than last year], I believe, and if anything, they're slightly understated."
Plan to build up part of Westfield Road
The voluntary evacuation areas are located along the river and may become isolated because of flooding.
The EMO does not have the authority to issue a mandatory evacuation order for flooding.
Clifford could not immediately say how many people have left their homes to date but did say he thinks many people initially doubted the flooding would be as bad as 2018.
"You've got to remember that last year's event was the first of its kind in the history of our city. We're about to have it happen again."
Residents in South Bay, along Westfield Road, between Gault Road and Grenville Lane, should expect access to their homes to be cut off Wednesday, as water crosses the road near Grenville Lane, according to the EMO.
The city plans to temporarily build up the west end of Westfield Road, near Mellinger Crescent, to maintain access to the Ketepec-Belmont-Morna area. Engineers are working to determine the best course of action, and work is expected to begin by Thursday.
I hope the forecast is wrong. I don't think it is. - Kevin Clifford, Saint John EMO director
Based on current flood projections, residents living on Randolph Island can also expect to be cut off Wednesday as water crosses the bridge on Green Head Road.
Similarly, those along Ragged Point Road should expect access to homes to be cut off as early as Wednesday. Water will begin to cross the road near the beach and could cross the road near the large culvert just beyond the soccer fields on Thursday.
The voluntary evacuation notice also applies to Beach Road and other isolated areas along the river within the city limits.
The notice may be expanded to include other areas in the coming days, said Clifford.
"I hope the forecast is wrong," he said. "I don't think it is."
Suzanne Pelletier, who lives within the evacuation zone in Dominion Park with her husband, was playing solitaire on Tuesday, as water lapped her front lawn.
She said she's biding her time, hoping they won't have to leave their home again like last year.
"Even if you worry, it's not going to help. It's just sitting and waiting, that's it."
The Pelletiers have lived in their house for about 20 years. Last year, they had to stay at a hotel for two months while flood damage to their home was repaired.
Red Cross offers help
Residents who do leave their homes should register with the Canadian Red Cross by calling 1-800-863-6582.
Evacuees are asked to take identification, cash, keys, pets, and a week's worth of medications, clothing and pet food with them.
A reception centre will be open daily at 82 Market Place West for affected residents.
The Red Cross can help anyone who doesn't have a place to stay with family or friends.
Kevin Whalen, who put about 1,000 bags around his son's house near Dominion Park on Monday and planned to build another "small wall" on Tuesday, feels they've got the situation under control.
"If we didn't do this we'd have water in the house. We have four pumps going and all these sandbags to keep the water out."
The city has opened two sandbag distribution centres at the municipal salt storage building at 406 Bay St. and the municipal operations building off Boars Head Road.
City crews are packing the sandbags. Clifford estimates they've prepared between 10,000 and 12,000 so far. Of those, about 3,000 were distributed on Monday and up to 3,000 on Tuesday.
Although the city is still waiting for a component for the sandbag machine, Clifford is confident crews will be able to keep up with the demand.
The centres are scheduled to be open from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. Photo identification with a city address is required.
Emergency response units have been stationed in the Ketepec-Belmont-Morna area and will be conducting patrols so residents who leave can take comfort knowing their homes and valuables are being watched, said Clifford.
Firefighters have also been conducting boat operations training in advance of any major flooding.
Boats will be deployed "as necessary" to conduct wellness checks, transport and any required rescue operations, officials said.