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For Durham, Ont., residents, COVID-19 pandemic presents flood preparation challenges

Durham residents prepare for flooding during pandemic
WATCH: As flood season quickly approaches, communities that border Lake Ontario are preparing. However, physical distancing is making the process much slower. Brittany Rosen has more.

As Lake Ontario water levels continue to rise, communities in Durham, Ont., are preparing for another flooding event this spring.

However, physical distancing measures are making it harder to prepare. This year, tasks like sandbagging have changed drastically.

“With that and with staffing levels and recreational facilities closed due to [COVID-19], we were able to re-purpose some of the community services staff and through some social distancing measures, we’ve used them to build some bags,” said Clarington fire chief Gord Weir.

READ MORE: Durham, Ont. homeowners voice concerns following province’s flooding strategies announcement

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Weir says over the past couple of weeks only four other staff members have been able to help fill sandbags, forcing them to work longer hours to fulfill demand.

It comes at a time when the province has issued a flood watch with severe weather expected in late May.

“If we do get a very wet spring, we could see levels compared to what we had last year,” says Alana McDonald, an environmental engineering technician with the Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority (CLOCA).

READ MORE: Flooding reported in parts of southern Ontario as ‘massive’ storm moves through

Meanwhile, residents in Oshawa who live along the Lake Ontario shoreline say they’re facing an emergency and they’re not able to get the support they need to prevent further damage.

“It’s been concerning,” says nearby resident Sylvia Rhodes.

“Everyone is concerned with health and when we start to think about how we’re going to protect our shorelines, we’re stagnating right now.”

Residents voice concerns ahead of flood season
Residents voice concerns ahead of flood season

Rhodes says the community is afraid of losing even more of their property due to a constantly-eroding shoreline.

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READ MORE: ‘It’s deja vu’: Durham Region on high alert as Lake Ontario water levels rise

“We can’t get the necessary approvals in place to proceed with the work,” Rhodes said.

“At the moment, I believe we’re waiting on the final approval from CLOCA to implement our plans.”

Rhodes’ neighbour Mark Starling says “as a group of residents, we’re extremely frustrated because we have eight houses in a row now that have lost a substantial amount of land.”

“I have a tree I’m holding up with another tree at this point in time with straps and chains so it doesn’t fall into the lake.”

Neighbours are calling on all levels of government to take action and protect their properties from flooding damages.