City lifts evacuation order

By Michelle Ruby, Brantford Expositor

A visibly relieved Mayor Chris Friel announced late Thursday afternoon the end of the threat of flooding that has gripped Brantford since Wednesday morning.

While a state of emergency will remain in place until its determined everyone is safe, the evacuation order of almost 5,000 residents of Holmedale, Old West Brant and Eagle Place has been lifted.

"We deal with flood every spring and fall," Friel said at a hastily called news conference. "But we're not used to what we just saw. This was a unique situation.

"It was very, very concerning for all of us. Even if you're not a person of God, in a situation like this you start praying."

Just a couple of hours earlier the city was holding in place its evacuation order called on Wednesday morning and the closure of bridges that was creating significant traffic woes for drivers.

Then, just around 2 p.m., the ice jam that was causing continued worry broke and started to flow.

It wasn't long before water levels fell from about 6.8 metres to 4.2, enough to remove the threat of more flooding.

The Ministry of Transportation inspected the Lorne and Veterans Memorial Parkway bridges and determined they were safe to reopen.

The city's public works staff will continue to monitor bridges and the river "in the event another extreme flow or ice event occurs and the bridge requires reassessment."

Friel said there were a number of factors that came together to create the emergency. A very cold December and January resulted in thicker and stronger ice jams. A lot of rain and warm weather earlier this week worsened the situation. The river was dramatically clogged with debris, including large trees.

Friel said the city's emergency operation centre, convened at 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday, has moved from response to recovery mode.

An evacuation area at Woodman Community Centre, used by about 100 people, will remain open while residents wait for hydro and gas services to be restored in their homes. That work was to begin Thursday night and is expected to be completed by late Friday.

Another evacuation centre set up at Assumption College closed on Thursday night.

Donna Chaney came out of the Woodman Centre Thursday morning for a cigarette and to check her pets - a mini Australian shepherd and an "overweight" pug - being housed in her van.

"I keep coming out every couple hours to turn on the heat for them. And the SPCA gave us some extra blankets."

The Aberdeen Street resident, living just three houses away from the raging river, said she was told to evacuate at about 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Chaney and her 13-year-old son spent the night at the emergency shelter where Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne paid a visit Wednesday night to offer support.

Evacuees slept on army cots well stocked with blankets and pillows. City staff and first responders were onsite and local restaurants supplied gallons of coffee, hot chocolate and pizza.

"It is being very well done by the city," said Chaney. "There is lots of food and they are keeping people updated."

Brantford fire Chief Shane Caskanette said people need to use caution when returning to their homes.

"Look for buckled walls or floors, which may be an indication that the building may not be structurally sound," he said. "Flood water can be heavily polluted and could contain other potentially dangerous debris."

Although a dollar value hasn't yet been attached to the damage, Friel said several homes closest to the Grand have sustained significant damage.

About 1,000 homes are without hydro and gas.

Chaney hasn't been back to check on the state of her home.

"It's a house," she said. "It can always be fixed. It's more about the safety of the people."

The city soon will bring in representatives from the Insurance Bureau of Canada so that affected residents can discuss their claims.

Dwight Boyd, director of engineering for the Grand River Conservation Authority, said an ice expert from the Canadian Centre for Inland Waters is expected in the city Friday to assess the situation and offer advice on "how to put measures in place and reduce the risk of this happening again."

When questioned by Coun. John Utley at a special city council meeting on Thursday afternoon, Boyd said flooding wasn't caused by structural damage to the dike but from ice forcing water over the concrete walls along the river.

"Dikes reduce the risk of flooding but it doesn't eliminate it," said Boyd.

Beth Goodger, the city's general manager of public works, said two "stop logs" put in place in the dike near the Lorne Bridge, where there were once train lines, was also a source of flooding.

Goodger said the areas were blocked by about 7 a.m. on Wednesday but the city will look to the province for funding for a permanent solution to the problem.

The Brantford Charity Casino, which closed its doors on Wednesday morning, was to reopen Thursday night.

Opening Friday are Child's Paradise Too day-care centre, Doug Snooks Eagle Place Community Centre, the Market Square Parkade, the city's Parks and Recreation office on Sherwood Drive, and T.B. Costain/SC Johnson Community Centre.

Grand Erie schools including Agnes G. Hodge, Bellview, Ecole Dufferin, Lansdowne-Costain, and Princess Elizabeth, along with the Joseph Brant Learning Centre and Grand Erie Education Centre will remain closed on Friday. Jean Vanier Catholic Elementary School will also be closed.

Friel said the banks adjacent to the river and creeks continue to pose a serious hazard and parents are encouraged to keep their children and pets away from all watercourses and frozen water bodies.

"The city is receiving reports that people are making their way to the area to get a look at the intensity of the flooding," said the mayor. "Please stay away from the impacted area so that people can safely return and first responders and emergency services can get to residents."

Friel commended city staff who worked around the clock during the emergency. He said there was also an outpouring of support from the community and he received calls from more than a dozen municipalities across the province offering help.

Updates will continue to be shared on the city's website at and @CityofBrantford.

The city's customer contact centre can be reached at 519-759-4150.

Despite the upheaval, Rachel Tyrell and her young sons Jace and Liam were making the best of it at the Woodman Centre where they camped out overnight Wednesday and awaited word that it was safe to return home.

Tyrell said the city went overboard making them comfortable. Their family home is on Grand River Avenue.

"I don't know if it's flooded or not," she said on Thursday morning. "I'm not hopeful. "But at least we're alive and we're good."

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