Ottawa tornado victim braces for flood peak as river threatens rental home
To say Graeme Olmsted has had a streak of bad luck over the last seven months would be an understatement.
His home in Trend-Arlington was damaged extensively by the EF-2 tornado that tore through the west Ottawa neighbourhood on Sept. 21, 2018. Hours after, his mother had a stroke and went blind in one eye.
When repairs finally started on his wrecked home, an allegedly shoddy tarp job caused flooding from top to bottom during a heavy dump of rain a couple weeks ago. And now, he’s fighting a bigger battle against water damage: the swollen Ottawa River is on the brink of flooding the riverfront home he’s been renting with his wife and two children in Crystal Bay west of downtown.
“I don’t know what more could possibly go wrong,” a weary Olmsted said on Tuesday.
“Me and my wife and kids are all at the end of our rope.”
The water levels in the Britannia area west of downtown Ottawa are now at a record-breaking height and are expected to rise another 18 centimetres ahead of their projected peak mid-week, according to the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board’s latest forecast, released at 5 p.m. on Tuesday.
Olmsted spent all of last weekend fortifying his temporary home on Grandview Road with help from his friends, landlords and the Canadian military, building a sandbag wall that covers the back porch, snakes up the west side of the house and travels all the way around the front steps.
On Saturday, when Global News first spoke with Olmsted, water from the river had spilled over more than halfway across the home’s backyard. Water levels rose steadily over the weekend, and on Tuesday, the backyard was fully submerged. Water from the river has also overflowed onto the low-lying street.
IN PHOTOS: BEFORE AND AFTER
Olmsted said he and his wife are trying to build a contingency plan in case they have to evacuate. The couple broke the bad news to their children, for a second time, days ago.
“It was extremely difficult telling our daughter that, you know, pack a bag because we might have to get out of here very quickly,” he said.
“She was wondering where we’re going to go. At the time, I said: ‘I don’t know.'”
‘Three years, three disasters’
Olmsted is just one of many residents dealing with Ottawa’s one-two punch of natural disasters.
For the community in rural West Carleton, this year’s floods, in fact, mark the third major weather event they’ve had to reckon with since 2017, when Ottawa experienced what were then record-breaking river levels. Dunrobin was also devastated by a second, more severe tornado in September.
“Three years, three disasters… we do what we got to do,” Dunrobin contractor Matthew Bowen told Global News on Monday as he worked to save a customer’s house in Constance Bay, one of the communities hardest hit by this spring’s floods. “We are strong people. It’s giving us a chance to prove it, I guess.”
“There’s a lot of devastation and a lot of upset people and a lot of trauma,” he said.
After days or weeks of back-breaking work this month, many residents remain determined to do everything possible to protect their homes but say they’re hitting a point of exhaustion, both physically and mentally.
Olmsted, for his part, said his family isn’t sleeping or eating well at the moment.
“We’re a close family, but this is very, very hard,” he said.
Mayor Jim Watson told reporters on Monday he’s aware that the back-to-back floods and tornadoes have placed a significant amount of stress on Ottawa residents.
“It’s really tough on the people and it’s tough on the infrastructure, and we have to build to a higher, more resilient standard,” he said. “It’s pretty devastating for the people that are affected because they just got their lives back together.”
Over the next 24 hours, Olmsted said there’s not much else to do but wait and keep an eye on the pumps in the basement, which he said are his biggest concern. He had to swap out a couple yesterday, which left the basement a bit wet. If the pumps die altogether, that’s going to be “a big problem,” he said.
So long as it doesn’t flood, Olmsted said he and his wife plan to stay in the Grandview Road home until they can move back to their house in Trend-Arlington. If they have to up and leave, he said they have family and friends they can stay with for a week.
In the face of so many challenges, how does he maintain hope?
“I look back to about six months ago, and things were great. You think, ‘I’m gonna get back there sometime soon,'” Olmsted said. “That’s about it.
“We’ve got our fingers crossed that all is going to go well. And we’ll have a party taking the sandbags out of here.”
—With files from Mike Le Couteur, Rebecca Lindell and Christopher Whan
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.