FREDERICTON — More than 100 Canadian soldiers are being deployed across western New Brunswick to help residents threatened by rising floodwaters, which have shown no signs of letting up.
The soldiers from Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, a huge base in the southern part of the province, have been tasked with filling sandbags and, if necessary, evacuating homes.
"We do have some vehicles that are a little more suitable to going through deep water," Lt.-Col. Sean French, commander of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, told a briefing Saturday in Fredericton.
"We're here to help. We're here at the request of the provincial government."
French said the soldiers — part of an immediate reaction unit — are also prepared to conduct "wellness checks" in various communities.
"If people would like to leave, then we can definitely help them," he said.
Water levels in the Saint John River Basin are expected to rise significantly over the next few days, reaching or passing flood stage in several areas.
With heavy rain expected to continue through Saturday and overnight — particularly in northern New Brunswick — residents of 15 communities have been warned to remain on high alert.
Greg MacCallum, director of New Brunswick's Emergency Measures Organization (EMO), said no major flooding was reported as of Saturday afternoon, but previous experience shows the rising waters are sure to lead to road closures in several areas, particularly in Fredericton and communities farther south.
"The time for preparedness is now," MacCallum told the briefing. "If (residents) find themselves starting to get into difficult circumstances, they should be considering voluntarily evacuating their homes."
He said water levels in the Fredericton area had already surpassed flood stage at 6.5 metres, which means the Saint John River was already seeping into low-lying areas and was sure to block some roads.
Over the next few days, water levels in the Fredericton area could reach 8.0 metres, though that is not as bad as last year when it reached 8.3 metres, he said.
In general, MacCallum said the anticipated flooding might not be as bad as it was last year, when rising waters damaged about 12,000 properties between late April and mid-May, leaving dozens of homes and cottages beyond repair.
"The indications we have now are that we won't necessarily reach the levels reached last year," MacCallum said in an interview. "But we're trending in the direction where we'll be approaching those numbers in some locations."
The EMO is also monitoring other major rivers, including the Restigouche River, Middle River, and Tetagouche River, where ice jams and rising water levels could lead to localized flooding.
"Residents intending to relocate from their residences should be finalizing arrangements," the EMO said in a statement. "Flood waters may rise quickly limiting access and making evacuation more difficult by increasing risks to those involved."
In neighbouring Quebec, floodwaters claimed the life of a woman whose car fell into a massive hole caused by a washout near Pontiac, about 30 kilometres northwest of Ottawa. Her vehicle flipped early Saturday as it dropped into a swollen stream.
Regional liaison officers from the Canadian Armed Forces have been deployed in five districts in Quebec.
The province's public safety minister is urging residents exercise extreme caution as rising water levels continue to wreak havoc.
— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax
The Canadian Press