Several Ontario communities grappling with floods as rivers swell

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.

Huntsville was hit by flooding in 2008 and the community usually faces rising waters at least once every seven years, said Mayor Claude Doughty.

“It’s not a stranger to us in one sense, but it’s certainly unsettling especially to the people affected,” Doughty said in a phone interview Sunday night.

Doughty estimated 125 people from 70 homes were forced from their residences, but he expressed optimism that the floodwaters reached their crest Sunday night and no more evacuations would be needed.

”My take is that everybody that is going to be displaced has been displaced, I think we’re done,” he said.

Other communities that declared emergencies included Markstay-Warren, Minden Hills, South Algonquin and Bancroft according to the provincial government.

The province’s Ministry of Natural Resources also 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.

Brenda Stonehouse, a spokeswoman for the City of Kawartha Lakes, said her community’s last major flood was in 1998 and this year’s water levels have already matched it.

“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,” Stonehouse said.

The city issued a statement advising residents to leave the flood area, which includes the Burnt River, Black River and Gull River watersheds.

City and Red Cross officials said 14 people were put up in hotels while up to roughly three dozen others found refuge 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, Stonehouse 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.

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.

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