Photos by Tim Murphy, Independent staff
Bloated from Monday’s rain, unprecedented snow pack and rapid melt, the Nith River spilled its banks late Tuesday and early Wednesday, washing out roads, carrying away property and flooding basements in what some are calling the worst flooding in over 50 years.
Waterlines on streetlight posts and shelves of ice jutting out from front porches told the story Wednesday morning as residents began the cleanup following a desperate attempt to save property from the unrelenting flow of water.
Some homeowners on Jacob, Asmus and Grace streets in New Hamburg are calling Wednesday’s flooding the worst since Hurricane Hazel in October 1954.
People watched as skids full of potting soil and mulch from the nearby Sobeys grocery store floated down the street and into backyards before spilling into basements.
Rob Decaire, who moved into his home on Jacob Street with his wife Kelsea 18 months ago, said over three feet of water filled his basement. He managed to save his washer and dryer by stacking them on top of his freezer. “The freezer was floating,” he said, adding the flood punched a hole in his basement foundation.
Homeowners along Grace Street gathered in the streets Wednesday morning as the water began receding and firefighters offered whatever help they could.
“I remember sandbagging behind the fire hall one time, but nothing like this,” said New Hamburg fire captain Mark Murray. Firefighters were busy pumping out basements in the Jacob, Grace and Asmus street area. One call came in after a sump pump burned out, filling a home with smoke.
“If they knew what they know now, they probably would have been sandbagging out back,” Murray said.
Asmus Street homeowner Bruce Doering pointed to a home on Grace Street he helped build and said most newer homes in the floodplain were constructed without basements and likely didn’t suffer as much damage as the older homes. His basement was completely filled with water.
But the severity of the flood didn’t come as a complete surprise.
Doering was monitoring the GRCA website river flow data Tuesday afternoon and anticipating the worst before he received the warning from police.
“If I would have been thinking yesterday, I would have been clearing out my basement,” he said, adding that he began bailing shortly after midnight, but gave up when he realized there was nothing he could do to stop it.
Terri Taylor has lived at the corner of Grace and Jacob streets since 1985 and says she’s never seen the river this high.
Holding a photo of Hurricane Hazel flooding, taken at the corner where her house is, she said the water level is at least comparable. “It’s the worst in all the years we’ve lived here,” she said, recalling some spring floods when the backyard flooded, but never the basement. The sump pump couldn’t keep up as water rapidly filled the basement, covering the furnace and water heater. Outside Taylor’s car was in the path of the water. It will have to be towed and assessed for damage after water filled the cab and back seat.
“We’ll get a dumpster and start cleaning out,” she said.
“I’m upset the mayor was on tv last night saying everything was under control,” said a woman named Michelle. Her Jacob Street basement was flooded with over a foot of water and she received no warning it was coming, not even a pamphlet in her mailbox.
“Our guys are looking at what happened,” said Dave Schultz, GRCA Coordinator of Communications, estimating the peak flooding exceeded the GRCA gauges that showed readings of 225 cubic metres per second. “We think it was probably higher.”
Staff was sent out to look at debris lines and water marks on buildings to assess the full extent of flood damage.
“At this point they’re thinking it’s the worst since 1986.”
The GRCA will compare their findings to historical data to determine if Wednesday’s flood is in fact the worst New Hamburg has seen in over 50 years.
Most damage was limited to property loss, but one incident related to the flooding almost claimed a life.
Police and paramedics were called to the Concordia Club Campground yesterday afternoon after a kayaker challenged the raging waters of the Nith and took a beating. The 46-year-old Kitchener man launched his kayak from Carmel-Koch Road wearing no life vest, no helmet and with no skirt on the kayak. The kayak began to fill with water and capsized near the campground where the man managed to swim to the shore, cling to a tree near the bank and lift himself out. The man called 911 after finding a working pay phone. He was assessed for injuries at the scene and released.
“I can’t imagine someone doing something like that. I think they were lucky to get out with their life,” said Wilmot fire chief John Ritz, who was busy preparing for the inevitable flood yesterday afternoon.
Ritz said police received a list detailing which homeowners to warn based on the GRCA’s predicted river peak level of 250 cubic metres per second. Ritz said he called the GRCA Tuesday afternoon to ask how confident they were with their prediction and they said to go with the list. But Ritz wanted to err on the side of caution, so a few homes were added as police made the rounds. An auto dialer normally used to get the flood advisory out wasn’t functioning properly.
Ritz said he toured the river area around dusk and from what he saw he said he couldn’t have anticipated what would happen later that night. A few people were missed as warnings went out.
By 2 a.m. firefighters were getting calls to help bail people out and making sure everyone had safety in mind. “There obviously wasn’t much we could do,” he said.
Officials were still assessing what happened with the warning system Wednesday morning but Ritz said everything will be taken into account for next time.
Ritz says his biggest concern at this point is the potential for it to happen again as the weather warms to melt the remaining snowpack in the northern portion of the watershed. “There is great potential for this to repeat.”
Police are warning everyone to avoid the riverbanks. “Obviously the message we want to get out is for God’s sake don’t go near the water right now,” said Sgt. Don Scott.
Ritz says it will be a couple of weeks before anyone can say we’re safely say we’re out of spring flood season.
The forecast calls for colder temperatures to persist until Friday when more rain is on the way. GRCA officials are watching the radar closely and waiting for a snow survey to determine if flooding could come again this weekend.
Jacob Street homeowner Terri Taylor holds a photo showing flooding in her home and street from October 1954, the year Hurricane Hazel blasted through Ontario causing widespread flooding. She said the water level in the photo rivals what she witnessed when she looked outside Wednesday morning.
Rubber boots became a necessity for residents of New Hamburg on Wednesday morning.
Sump pumps were working overtime to clear the flood water from basements.
Three year old Cole Taylor got all dressed up to help fire fighters battle the flood waters.
New Hamburg fire fighters were busy helping pump out basements on Grace Street and Asmus Street.
New Hamburg water flows peaked at well over 200 cubic
metres per second late last night. Full water flow details are available here.
Send us your photos of the flooding damage in New Hamburg.