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‘River is higher, water is flowing faster’: Ontario cottage country flooding worsens

Flood conditions in Ontario cottage country continue to worsen, and it’s not yet clear when water levels may begin to recede.

Graydon Smith, mayor of Bracebridge, Ont., said Saturday that flows in local rivers intensified overnight, threatening more homes and seasonal properties in the community about 150 kilometres northeast of Toronto.

A state of emergency remains in place and a group of reservists with the Canadian Armed Forces will be deployed to the area on Sunday afternoon. Smith explained that officials are worried that once the work week begins, volunteer support from residents will be considerably reduced. 

“The main concern is that the water is going up and nobody is able to say when it will stop going up,” Smith told reporters at a morning news conference.

“Even what it does get to a crest, it’s going to maintain for some period of time and then take time to again go down.”

The hardest hit areas in Bracebridge sit adjacent to the Muskoka River. The north branch of the river flows through the downtown core before meeting with the south branch and draining into Lake Muskoka.

‘A historical event’

Water levels in both branches of the river and in Lake Muskoka rose overnight, Smith said, breaking records set in 2013 — the last time the community dealt with a significant flood.

“We’re seeing some very dramatic flow rate increases from previous highs,” he explained. “It’s safe to say that what we are dealing with right now is a historical event.”

Smith noted at a later news conference held Saturday afternoon that water levels in the north branch seem to have crested, while the south branch continues to rise. 

During the 2013 flood, about 1,092 permanent residences and some 1,020 seasonal properties were affected by floodwater. Smith could not provide specific figures for the current flooding, but did say water levels are “likely higher than 2013” because of the extent of flooding around the mouth of the Muskoka River.

“River is higher, water is flowing faster. Every time that water goes up an inch someone’s house is being encroached on more and their personal property is at risk,” Smith said.

Smith initially said that officials were considering closing Beaumont Farm and Alport Bay roads, however he later indicated a decision was made to keep them open. 

He cautioned that there is still “lots of water over the road and it’s not easily traversible.” He asked that only local residents with homes in the area consider using the roadways, adding that authorities had dealt with several “disaster tourists” in the area earlier in the day. 

It is still possible that those roads will be closed in the coming hours and days; people who may require emergency assistance should pay close attention to conditions. 

“If you need first responder assistance, we can’t guarantee that assistance will get to you in a timely fashion,” Smith explained. 

bracebridge flooding muskoka river

The north branch of the Muskoka River runs through Bracebridge before meeting with the south branch and flowing into Lake Muskoka. (Jean-Francois Morissette/CBC)

While the extent of flooding is unprecedented, no injuries due to the rising water levels have been reported in Bracebridge. Smith said the town’s population has come together in the face of tremendous adversity.

“Our community is an amazing place and it is a resilient place,” he told reporters.

“Let’s hope that everyone continues to be safe, let’s hope that we all continue to help one another and that in a few days we’ll be through this. But it is going to extend for at least a few more days.”

No more rain is forecast for the area until Wednesday, potentially offering a chance for conditions to stabilize somewhat. Smith said that he recently spoke with officials in Huntsville, about 30 kilometres north and upstream of Bracebridge, and the flooding situation there has begun to subside, a potentially positive development for communities downstream. 

Those with seasonal residences in the area, however, have been warned not to try to check on their properties until conditions stabilize.

Other areas inundated

As Bracebridge deals with a deluge, Ottawa, Montreal and swaths of New Brunswick are also inundated by floods.

The Ottawa River is expected to continue to rise in coming days and officials in Montreal were forced to close the Galipeault Bridge, a major traffic artery, due to dangerously high water levels. More rain is forecast to fall on the Montreal area throughout Saturday. 

Further, according to the latest numbers from the Quebec government, 3,000 homes are flooded across the province and almost 2,800 are cut off by floodwaters, forcing about 1,800 people from their homes.

Hundreds of military personnel have been dispatched to help with sandbagging efforts in Ottawa and parts of Quebec and New Brunswick. 

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