Natural Resources


Date: 19 September 2001

Location: St. John's

Easting: 370700

Northing: 5267300

Latitude: 47° 34' 00" N

Longitude: 52° 41' 00" W

Fatalities: 0

Injuries: 0

Source: direct observation, the Telegram

Floods wreak havoc 9/20/01

By BARB SWEET, The Telegram

Tropical storm Gabrielle showed no mercy to Brian Slous, a Salvation Army officer who spent all last week tending to stranded international air travellers. It submerged the bottom level of his house.

"Yeah, she's full," the East Meadows Avenue man said as he attempted to descend the sopping stairs of his split level home with a pair of hip waders.

He promptly gave up.

Bedrooms flooded "Have you ever seen the like of that?" he asked. Under about two metres of water were his two children's bedrooms. The Virginia River overflowed, sending a raging torrent through Slous's backyard, and his neighbours'. It was an event of record rainfall 119 millimetres and record misery around the city.

City hall even activated its emergency measures operations for a time, in case homeowners needed shelter. Mayor Andy Wells toured the flooded areas. "Oh, it's shocking. I'm actually amazed," he said. The Avalon Mall was deluged. Portions of several streets were closed, including Kenmount, Blackhead and Southside roads, Bonaventure Avenue, The Boulevard, Waterford Bridge Road, Portugal Cove Road, Newfoundland Drive, Prince Philip Parkway, Poplar Avenue and Allandale Road. The rain abated in the afternoon and city crews expected to have all open this morning.

But access to Shea Heights remained a question mark, said the city's director of public works, Paul Mackey. Crews were expected to open one lane of Blackhead Road for emergencies. The bottom of the road looked like an earthquake hit. Pressure from water seeping under the asphalt reduced it to rubble, with water gushing through the crevices. Residents were getting back and forth by foot or on all-terrain vehicles. A fire truck was stationed on Shea Heights for emergencies. "It's wicked," said Shea Heights resident Terry Reid. "It's flooded out up there before but nothing like this." Up on Shea Heights, there were several flooded areas, including Jordan Place, where a former oil tank dyke ruptured sending water cascading down on some residences.

City crews took 400 calls Wednesday and expected to work through the night. Mackey said many systems in the city had simply overloaded. Wells said all flooded areas would be investigated and a report made public. The west entrance to the Health Sciences Centre was closed for several hours.

Schools closed

About 15 schools in the city were shut down due to storm-related problems, ranging from leaky roofs to extensive flooding, said Brian Shortall, education director of the Avalon East School Board. All were expected to reopen today.

Canada Post suspended mail delivery, saying it was too dangerous to have postal workers on their routes.

The waters of Quidi Vidi Lake surged into surrounding streets, the Anglican Cemetery and the Boathouse. Park benches floated. Carnell Drive, at the head of the lake, disappeared. The torrent flowed into a car and house owned by Tony and Brenda Barrington, who're vacationing in Florida. Their son, Darryl, and friends were trying to save furniture and other items. "Insurance is not going to believe it that there is this much water in here," Darryl said. John Gibson on The Boulevard said his 161-year-old house flooded for the first time and he found out insurance doesn't cover it. He blamed the calamity on construction of the Outer Ring Road, saying it destroyed wetlands that would have acted as a sponge, sopping up water from rain-filled rivers, ponds and lakes in the city. The retired Department of Fisheries and Oceans freshwater research scientist said the province and the city were warned by the Natural History Society, but didn't listen. "The 100-year flood is going to happen every five years instead," he said. "What is happening now is absolutely predictable."

But Wells insisted the Outer Ring Road is "absolutely first-class" and suggestions it caused the flooding are untrue. In Quidi Vidi Gut, fisherman Eli Tucker lost a shed, retaining wall and part of his wharf and was worried about another building containing a brand new boat. Residents helped him rescue his gear. Four boats in the community were swamped, including one of Tucker's.

At Lakeview Downs in Goulds about 40 horses were evacuated from their stalls. The flooded parking lot was impassable and the horses had to be walked out one by one around the impromptu pond.

On Petty Harbour Road, Louise Tulk's washed-out driveway resembled a ravine. The water raged past her patio and exposed a culvert. Her 1999 Ford Escort was perched perilously on what remained of the lane until a tow truck rescued it. Further down the road, Mary Dunphy's well and septic tank were destroyed and her basement swamped. Her neighbour Bill Cummings had been helping her since 5 a.m. and said she wouldn't be so bad off if the city would finish water and sewer services in Goulds. "It's about time for the damn city to do something," he said. The flooding was so severe, ducks were swimming by her back door.

There were some other telling sights around the city. Beachballs and soccer balls floated past swamped subdivisions. Fish swam down Waterford Bridge Road near Bowring Park.

Mike Gismondi, a meteorologist with the Gander Weather Office, said St. John's International Airport received 119 millimetres of rain overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday evening ‹ 99 mm on Wednesday alone. The downpour set a record for Sept. 19. The highest rainfall recorded for that day was 31 mm on Sept. 19, 1984. Gismondi said it may also be a September month rainfall record. Wind gusts in the St. John's area peaked at about 70 km/h Wednesday morning.

Emergency crews busy

Police and firefighters were kept hopping, responding mostly to flooding-related problems. "About 99.9 per cent of our calls were flood related, people with flooded out basements ‹ some had up to six feet of water in them," said Capt. Patrick Murrin of the St. John's Regional Fire Department. "We've just gone from one place to another. It's taxed our resources, but we've been able to cope," said RNC Sgt. Bob Garland.

Fire Capt. Bill Aylward of the Kent's Pond Station said one man called from the Hibernia oil rig saying he thought his wife had been electrocuted. It was a false alarm. His wife called him about flooding in their basement. He told her to go down and turn off the power. When she didn't come back on the phone for some time, he hung up and called for help.

The storm also wreaked havoc on Avalon Peninsula roads controlled by the provincial Department of Works, Services and Transportation. Assistant deputy minister Don Osmond said access was cut off to some homes in Bauline because of a washout.

There were also flooding problems on Pitts Memorial Drive, Torbay Road and Route 10 at Tucken Bush River between Peter's River and St. Shotts.

The prevailing northeast winds also hammered the Bonavista Bay and Trinity Bay areas with gusts of 104 km/h.

The highest winds were recorded off Cape Race with gusts of 130 km/h.

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