The City of Ottawa has declared a state of emergency as water levels along the Ottawa River are expected to rise above the flood levels in 2017 that were “devastating” to many communities bordering the river, Mayor Jim Watson announced on Thursday afternoon.
The municipality issued a plea for help to the provincial and federal governments after assessing new weather and river level forecasts for this coming weekend. Ralph Goodale, federal minister for public safety and emergency prepardnessO, confirmed Thursday evening the Government of Canada is sending help, “including support from the Canadian Armed Forces.”
Environment Canada earlier on Thursday issued a special weather statement warning of “significant rainfall” in the Ottawa area totalling 20-35 millimetres between Friday morning and Saturday morning. This heavy precipitation coupled with the spring snowmelt has the Ottawa River Regulating Committee forecasting peak floods reaching 11 centimetres above 2017 levels in the Britannia/Lac Deschenes area on Sunday.
While the city has enough sand and sandbags to set up around properties at risk of flooding, it no longer has enough manpower or time to meet residents’ needs in the face of the “worsening forecast,” officials said.
“Our staff and volunteers have been at it for many days now, but we can no longer do it alone,” Watson said.
The municipality hopes to have about 400 members of the military helping out on the ground, with the first troops arriving on Friday morning, city officials said.
The communities most threatened by rising water levels include Cumberland, located east of downtown Ottawa, and Britannia and Constance bays, located west of the downtown core.
As of 2 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, the city had received a total of 180 service requests from homeowners — about 60 a day — according to senior staff.
As recently as Wednesday morning, city staff felt they had enough resources to cope with the rising water levels along the Ottawa River — but, with the new forecasts, the flooding situation changed “almost in the blink of an eye,” city manager Steve Kanellakos told reporters.
“The requests for help is increasing and the flooding threat is imminent,” he said.
Kanellakos couldn’t say how long the City of Ottawa will be in a state of emergency, which gives the municipality the authority to approve spending for emergency purposes without going through the normal tendering processes.
“If the flooding is severe, there could be weeks of recovery operations, but our commitment to residents is the city will be there to help,” Kanellakos said.
The mayor and city staff thanked the more than 1,200 volunteers who have “tirelessly” helped fill sandbags and supported other flood preparation efforts over the past week. They said the city still needs folks to lend a hand in the coming days.
“Ottawa has a lot of heart and these volunteers come out over and over again, just as recently as the tornadoes last fall,” Kanellakos said.
Volunteer check-in locations can be found on the city’s website. City officials urge residents to steer clear of volunteer and military operations over the weekend.
Watson said he spoke to both Goodale and Ontario Premier Doug Ford earlier on Thursday.
In a statement issued Thursday evening, Goodale said he had accepted a formal request for federal assistance from Ontario’s Solicitor General, Sylvia Jones.
“Citizens can rest assured that help will be provided,” Goodale said. “I strongly encourage impacted residents to follow the directions and advice of their municipal law enforcement and first responders.”
Ford, in a statement, said he will be coming to the national capital on Friday to tour the flooded areas and meet with residents.
“Anything Ottawa needs to help affected families and support city staff on the ground, the Province of Ontario will be there to support them,” the premier wrote. “My message to Mayor Watson and the people of Ottawa is this: together, we will get through this.”
Watson said it’s too early to tell how much the escalating flood response will cost the municipality, but staff said the city has already started tracking expenses.
“This is not the time to be the bean counter,” the mayor said. “We’re going to help the people first before we worry about the bills.”
Ahead of Watson’s declaration of a state of emergency, the City of Ottawa said it’s opening three emergency community support centres for residents affected by flooding in the Cumberland, Bay and West Carleton-March wards.
The centres will be staffed with representatives from Ottawa Public Health, the city’s community and social services department, the Salvation Army and the Canadian Red Cross, according to the city.
The West Carleton-March Community Support Centre opened earlier on Thursday afternoon and the Bay and Cumberland centres will open mid-morning on Friday.
Here are the three centres’ hours of operation:
The city says residents can find flood updates on the city’s website and can also call 311 if they have questions.
As for sandbags, the city’s general manager of emergency and protective services, Anthony Di Monte, said sand and empty bags are available across the city.
“We will continue to have ample stocks for residents,” he said on Thursday. “More than 200,000 sandbags have been made available as of this morning.”
In an update on Wednesday, the city said approximately 190,000 sandbags had either been filled or been placed outside at-risk homes.
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