Communities in eastern Ontario declared local states of emergency over flood risks as water levels on the Ottawa River were expected to peak Thursday.
Whitewater Region Mayor Neil Nicholson said water was backed up along most of his township’s riverbanks and five private roads were impassable to first responders as of Wednesday, when he declared the state of emergency.
“There are approximately 100 homes that are cut off or surrounded by water, and in some cases water has now entered their living spaces,” Nicholson told a council meeting Wednesday.
Parts of the river basin were soaked with a month’s worth of rain over the weekend and into Monday, the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board said. That combined with the spring melt to rapidly increase water levels and raised the alarm of communities along the riverbanks.
Water levels were expected to peak Thursday, according to a forecast issued Wednesday evening by the river planning board, comprised of members from the Ontario, Quebec and federal governments.
Although the water level was about a metre higher on Thursday than the median range for early May, it was expected to stay below the historic highs recorded during the 2019 floods.
In Whitewater Region, Nicholson said the fire department was helping “mass produce” sandbags for the residents of the township, located about 120 kilometres downstream from Ottawa, and he was looking for support from volunteer disaster groups.
Further downstream, the town of Mattawa had declared a local state of emergency on Tuesday.
Mayor Raymond Belanger told a special meeting of council Wednesday “let’s hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”
The town said it had suspended sand-bagging operations Thursday, but said there may be a time when that would resume.
Meanwhile, Pembroke, Ont., said it had closed off its farmers’ market and shut down the marina launch, asking residents to avoid certain areas until the water receded.
In Ottawa, the city said staff would monitor the situation and work with volunteers to fill and distribute sandbags to any neighbourhoods that need them.
River levels and flow were anticipated to stabilize into the weekend and “should start to decline slowly into next week,” said the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board.
Parts of Quebec have seen devastating flooding in recent days. The bodies of what were believed to be two volunteer firefighters swept away during the floods in the province’s Charlevoix region were recovered on Wednesday.