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Harriston, Drayton hit with massive flooding

Under water - This aerial view shows the impact of weekend flooding of the Conestogo River on the village of Drayton. The Maitland River also overflowed its banks in Harriston on June 23, causing massive flooding there as well.     Photo by Matt Fisher

Harriston, Drayton hit with massive flooding

by Patrick Raftis

WELLINGTON COUNTY - Minto and Mapleton were the two hardest hit areas, as flooding of historic proportions struck the area  on June 23.

Various communities within the region experienced a massive deluge on Friday morning, causing extensive flooding throughout  Wellington County and beyond. 

Data from the Grand River Conservation Authority indicates just over 88 millimeters of rain fell in Mapleton between Thursday night and Friday morning.

Water levels in the Maitland River at Harriston were higher than they’ve been in decades, approaching the 100-year flood mark at 11am Friday, as the Town of Minto held a press conference to provide an update on local flooding.

The Maitland Valley Conservation Authority reported between 40 and 130mm of rain fell overnight in the watershed.

“They’ve now advised us this is close to the 100-year event. So the last time we had water up to this (level) was Hurricane Hazel in ‘54,” said Minto Mayor George Bridge.

As flooding filled basements of local homes and businesses with water, residents, emergency responders, pubic employees and volunteers all worked together to turn the tide.

Flood 1

A kayaker paddles along Wellington Street past Drayton Memorial Park.
Photo by Caroline Sealey

Flood 2

A view of flood waters extending down Mill Street from the George Street Bridge in Harriston.
Photo by Patrick Raftis

“On Friday I never heard a negative comment from anyone. It was all just, ‘What can we do? How can we help.’ It was amazing,” said Mapleton Mayor Neil Driscoll on June 26, as he prepared to meet with provincial officials about the disaster that struck the community.

In the wake of massive flooding on June 23, Mapleton and Minto each declared a state of emergency and opened evacuation centres. 

Driscoll declared the emergency at 11:15am and announced the PMD Arena in Drayton had been set up as the township’s evacuation centre. Emergency crews began warning residents and business owners in various areas of Drayton that flooding was still imminent in some areas.

Driscoll said the first sign of trouble came at around 3:30am on Friday as the high water limit was reached at the sewage pumping station in Drayton. Officials from the Ontario Clean Water Agency, which manges the system, notified township officials, who began taking measures to avoid sewage contamination in the water system. 

“I was leaving for a meeting at 5:30 in the morning and I saw the Moorefield river,” said Driscoll, who immediately called CAO Brad McRoberts to advise him, “I think we need to get our emergency centre going.”

Driscoll said at the height of the flood, the old Drayton arena was filled with 37 inches of water.

“It’s the highest that we’ve ever had water in Drayton that we know of, or that the fair board knows of, because they apparently mark it on the wall,” said Driscoll.

As soon as Mapleton Fire Chief Rick Richardson got word basements were starting to flood, Driscoll continued, “the Moorefield and the Drayton fire departments  got their pumps out and started pumping the basements they knew would be bad just from history.”

At the same time, firefighters began evacuating residents from high risk areas.

“Luckily they were prepared for that because we had [a] flood meeting back in the spring,” Driscoll noted.

In addition to the efforts of firefighters and township public works employees, volunteers from Christian Aid Ministries arrived with a trailer carrying sump pumps, hoses and tanks of gasoline.

Other volunteers showed up to help where they could.

“A farmer came in with two sump pumps and he said to me, ‘Where should I go,’” said Driscoll.

“I told him. ‘Honestly I suggest you just walk down the street and you’ll find someone who needs one.’”

Flood 3

Volunteers work to pump out the Home Hardware Appliance Centre near the Elora Street Bridge in Harriston.   Photo by Patrick Raftis

Multiple roads were closed in both Minto and Mapleton, with officials closing nearly all access to Harriston and asking travellers to avoid the town for public safety reasons at the height of flooding on Friday.

At various points over the weekend 15 roads in Mapleton were closed. As of noon on Monday, sections of Sideroads 18 and 19, as well as the walking bridge on the Riverside Trail in Drayton, remained closed.

A state of emergency remained in place in both Mapleton and Minto on Wednesday morning. 

In Minto, Bridge said he expected it would be lifted once the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health Unit ended a precautionary boil water advisory issued Friday evening. The order was lifted on Tuesday afternoon.

Bridge said the boil water advisory was necessary “just to confirm that we didn’t have any breach.

“Some of our wells are under water. We’ve cut them off in time. They should be sealed,” he explained, noting that the system never lost pressure.

Thanks to donations from Zehrs and Foodland, free bottled water was made available  for pickup by local residents at the fire hall for several days after the flood.

Driscoll said Mapleton was able to avoid a boil water advisory due to quick action to avert potential contamination. Equipment from Pit King was brought in to draw water away from the sewer system pump base to avoid cross-contamination, he said. 

Driscoll said the emergency designation was kept in place on the advice of Wellington County emergency management officials in order to maintain the municipality’s ability to react should problems flare up.

“If something stirs up in a hurry and you need to make a decision as mayor then you’ve got it in place,” Driscoll explained.

He said the emergency declaration allows the municipality’s insurance to cover volunteers helping out, extended hours for staff and provides other advantages.

“As soon as we declare that state of emergency then that opens it up to the Ministry of Environment – they know the situation we’re in and they can help us make decisions on our sewage and water and all that.”

Also, he noted, “With a state of emergency, as mayor I don’t have to go back to council and say, ‘Okay, we need to fix the culvert on Sideroad 6.’ I can just tell staff to do it and we’ll deal with it afterward.”

Driscoll told the  Advertiser municipal officials were set for a conference call on June 26 with representatives of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to discuss relief to the municipality as well as “a bunch of questions that we have in regard to people’s personal loss.”

Depending on individual insurance policy wording, flooding due to overland water from overflowing lakes or rivers may not be covered.

The municipality is collecting information about property loss from residents and a flood damage reporting form has been posted on the township’s website.

“This information will allow the Township of Mapleton to provide information to the Province of Ontario regarding the extent of damages to our municipality. It will also assist us in determining eligibility for provincial disaster financial assistance,” the municipality states. 

While submission of the form does not guarantee compensation for damages, it acts as a record for processing purposes of potential claim reimbursement from the Ontario government for which residents may qualify, the township explains.

Bridge said Minto, which was also meeting with ministry officials on Monday, has been going door to door ensuring residents receive forms to report flood damage. How much help will be needed is yet to be determined, he noted.

“Some people will have flood insurance and some people won’t,” he explained, noting overland flood coverage has been more widely available in recent years, but at an extra premium.

“Hopefully these forms will let us know who needs to have further help,” Bridge added, noting damage assessment efforts are still in the early stages.

“It’s hard to tell ... You’ve got a street where you think everybody would be affected and some aren’t, depending on if their pump held up.”

Flood damage reporting forms have also been posted to the Town of Minto website.

Bridge said he felt the emergency measures enacted by the town were effective.

“Our plan worked really well. We cut the power off to all our vaults before they got flooded, so we are up  and running in all our pump stations,” he said.

Bridge noted the town practiced an emergency scenario two years ago, theorizing what would happen if the water reached the levels attained last week.

“We knew we would have islands in Harriston where we knew we would need water rescue, so that’s why we got the training (for local firefighters),” said Bridge. 

“The water rescue team worked really well. When we did our exercise two years ago we realized we couldn’t do it. You have to be certified. You have to have proper equipment.”

It took over a year to obtain the equipment and training required to put the water rescue team in place, but it was put into play last Friday, with stranded residents in some areas picked up by emergency responders on rescue boats.

While firefighters, works crews and public officials were doing their best to control the situation, residents also banded together to help their neighbours, sharing pumps and manpower to prevent damage and help with cleanup efforts.

Late Friday afternoon, Home Hardware Appliance Centre owner John Mock found himself knee-deep in water and surrounded by friends and neighbours working to pump out the store located beside the Maitland on Elora Street, just a few metres from the rushing river. While stock had been moved off-site earlier, Mock said holding off the water remained imperative.

With four feet of water up against the back loading door of the store and water pooling back three streets, Mock and helpers put everything they could find up against the door to help stabilize it.

“We had it MacGyvered pretty good,” he recalled.

“If it had given out, it would have blown right through the front of the store. Then I don’t know what would have happened to the rest of the block,” he said.

The volunteer crew kept pumping all night and into the next day, moving from  the appliance centre  to other businesses further down the block at around 1am, after waters had receded some.

Minto Fire Chief Chris Harrow recognized the efforts of local residents to work together through the crisis, thanking them via social media for the support and patience throughout the crisis.

“The unity shown during the flooding was impressive and humbling,” stated Harrow.

June 30, 2017


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August 12 2017 | 03:18
That feels bad! Flooding is something that everyone needs to be aware of. Flood causes lots of damage to the society as Flooding is not just a problem for those living near the coastline or rivers either, It can happen anywhere and at any time. Flood protection is vital for any home at risk of flooding. I remember my aunt who lived in flood zoned area face lots of problems due to flooding. As the lake near her home got flooded and which also damages her home property. Due to which she decided to file a claim for the home property by taking the help from a public adjuster and also contacted a professional for the damage repair.
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