CITY OF KAWARTHA LAKES, Ont. – Several Ontario communities were on high alert Sunday as they worked to contain rising water levels that drowned out roads and forced dozens of residents from their homes.
The City of Kawartha Lakes and the towns of Bracebridge and Huntsville — all part of the province’s cottage country — remained under a state of emergency as they grappled with floods following heavy rain in recent days.
Meanwhile, the province’s Ministry of Natural Resources issued flood warnings for parts of northern Ontario, including the areas of North Bay and Parry Sound.
It’s unclear when the water will recede and the ministry’s statement warned snowmelt and runoff may cause waterways to continue to swell.
“We’re not sure whether the water level is going to rise at this point anymore but it’s already at a significantly high level,” said Kawartha Lakes spokeswoman Brenda Stonehouse.
The city’s last major flood was in 1998 and this year’s water levels have already matched it, she said.
The city issued a statement advising residents to leave the flood area, which includes the Burnt River, Black River and Gull River watersheds, but Stonehouse said it wasn’t yet known how many had left their homes.
A spokesman for the Red Cross says 14 people have been put up in hotels while a number of others were staying with relatives.
Volunteers were sandbagging high-risk areas throughout the weekend and firefighters Sunday checked in on residents within the affected zone, helping at least three families trapped in their homes to leave by boat, she said.
In Bracebridge, the worst was expected to hit late Sunday or early Monday, officials said.
While the weekend’s cool, dry weather has helped limit the swell, “the main flood flow, or the peak flow, is not anticipated to make its way through the system and hit Bracebridge until late tonight,” deputy mayor Rick Maloney said.
Low-lying areas near the junction of the Muskoka River’s north and south branches have suffered the most, beyond the light flooding typically expected in the region at this time of year, he said.
In some areas, the water has made roads “impassable,” and a bridge over the Black River has been washed out, leaving residents stranded on the other side, he said.
Rising waters also threatened a bridge over the Big East River in Huntsville, about 40 kilometres northeast, town officials said in a statement.
Water levels were at the highest level ever seen in Huntsville and were expected to continue to rise, the statement said.
Officials in Huntsville estimated 125 people from 70 homes have been forced from their residences.
“The Salvation Army working closely with the Town continues provide interim housing for those displaced by the flooding,” said town spokesman Kelly Pender in the statement. “Various other community and government agencies are meeting with Town officials to assess the requirements of the community.”
People in all affected communities were being warned to stay clear of open waters, creeks and rivers.
Ontario’s minister of community safety said on Sunday she had spoken to a number of mayors of communities affected and offered government support.
“Emergency Management Ontario field officers have been in contact with these communities, and, in the hardest hit areas, field officers have been deployed and are working to ensure municipalities have the support they need,” Madeleine Meilleur said in a statement.