Sussex flooding keeps grandmother trapped at home for 2 days

·5 min read

It's been two days since a Sussex-area woman became trapped inside her home after rising water surrounded her property earlier this week.

And she's still waiting for help.

"I have no way out of here," said Mary Ann Coleman from inside her house.

The 63-year-old lives on Creek Road in Waterford, about 90 kilometres east of Saint John. Her driveway, which links her property with the main road, was "washed out" by the heavy rains overnight Tuesday.

Submitted by Jessica Coleman
Submitted by Jessica Coleman

At around midnight Tuesday, the culvert a few metres from her house was dammed by fallen trees and debris, causing the area to flood and her bridge to float away, she said.

"The water levels were higher than I've seen. I moved here 40 years ago," Coleman said. "I'm in complete, complete, desperate situation here … I'm stranded."

Part of her driveway was made from the metal frame of a pulp truck and anchored with concrete abutments. It created a 20-foot bridge over Trout Creek.

Submitted by Mary Ann Coleman
Submitted by Mary Ann Coleman

Coleman said she only had two hours of sleep overnight Tuesday. She said the creek between her house and the road is about a metre deep, it's rushing quickly and is 20 feet wide.

"I had some rest last night but I'm still pretty anxious," she said Thursday afternoon.

Premier notes 'severe' damage in Sussex area

At a COVID-19 news briefing on Thursday, Premier Blaine Higgs used his opening remarks to address the situation in the Sussex region and offer his condolences to residents.

"My thoughts are with everyone who is affected by the heavy rainfall," Higgs said. "Thank you to the emergency services who have helped the people in need. I'm thankful for the unbelievable community spirit that the people of New Brunswick and emergency services have shown."

Higgs noted that the damage is still being assessed, but is "severe" in the Sussex and Sussex Corner areas.

He said 30 households have received accommodation and support from the Canadian Red Cross, which has also offered flood cleanup kits for residents.

Province isn't stepping in

Coleman said she called the Department of Transportation, which told her to call the Emergency Measures Organization, but EMO told her to call 911. She called 911 and was directed her back to EMO. She said she doesn't know what to do next.

"That's just stunning to me," she said. "I think everybody should be worried about that."

Geoffrey Downey, a spokesperson for New Brunswick's Emergency Measures Organization, said he couldn't comment on individual cases like this one.

Meanwhile, Department of Transportation spokesperson Mélanie Sivret said the department "recently became aware of this incident," and is looking into it.

Coleman, who describes herself as an active person and cycles every morning, has been trying to stay busy.

She's been working from home, talking to people on the phone and she's been trying to keep her wood fire going so she doesn't lose heat.

Submitted by Dianne McFarlane
Submitted by Dianne McFarlane

Luckily, Coleman grows some crops in her garden so she's been relying on vegetables for the past two days.

"There's not too much anybody can do."

Coleman said she believes the flooding was caused by a new culvert built by the provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, which was previously too big to be blocked by debris. It was rebuilt in 2019, she said.

Coleman said she wants the department to "take responsibility."

'It's my mom'

Coleman's daughter, Jessica Coleman, has been calling and texting her mom several times a day. On Wednesday, she went down by the river with her two kids to see her mom. The sound of the water rushing was so loud, all they could do was wave.

After this year, it's one of those things that tops the cake," she said. "I have no idea when she will be able to leave."

She said what's making it more difficult is trying to get answers and figuring out what can be done for her mother. She said she'd like to see a temporary walking structure put in place and a permanent fix after.

"It's my mom, and she's in her 60s, and she's there on her own."

Advice from EMO

The province's health and safety inspection teams are in the Sussex area and cleanup is underway.

New Brunswick's Emergency Measures Organization spokesperson Geoffrey Downey urged residents to clean up "as soon as possible."

"The longer it sits the worse the damage gets."

Although water levels have gone down, some roads in the area are still closed, and residents should only return to their homes when it's safe to do so.

Residents whose homes have been damaged should register with the province at 1-888-298-8555 to receive a free inspection. The damage report line program allows residents, tenants, small businesses and not-for-profit organizations to receive information and register their flood-related damage.

Damage assessments will be reviewed, and health and safety inspection teams may be dispatched if required.

Residents are also reminded to:

  • Contact their insurance companies immediately to report damage.

  • Take photos of damage to their homes or properties.

  • Keep receipts of any repairs and replacement purchases.

  • Log the number of hours of work undertaken for residents who are cleaning their own properties, or family members or those who have assisted in the cleanup of their property.