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Column: Inside Corner Brook’s response to heavy flooding

Corner Brook work crews dealt with this washout on Elizabeth Street much of Saturday.
Corner Brook work crews dealt with this washout on Elizabeth Street much of Saturday. - Nicholas Mercer

Todd Flynn’s Saturday morning started earlier than he expected.

Corner Brook’s director of protective services heard his cellphone ding at 4:30 a.m. It was his daughter informing him the basement of her Massey Drive home was flooded and she needed help.

 “That is how my day started,” Flynn said Monday afternoon from his office. “I was up trenching a backyard trying to get water out.”

It was a sign of things to come for the entire region. As it turns out, there was seldom a moment when his cellphone wasn’t buzzing, dinging or ringing — take your pick — at some point over the next dozen hours or so.

A short distance away, the city’s work crews were already starting to deal with the results of a weather system that brought heavy rain starting overnight Friday.

The rainfall, coupled with mild temperatures, led to a large amount of snowmelt.

As the excess water began to flow, the city’s infrastructure struggled to handle the increase.

Rivers raged and water levels increased, water gushed from manholes and pavement began to collapse as the ground beneath it was swept away.

By 11 a.m., Flynn was at Corner Brook City Hall meeting with members of the city’s emergency preparedness committee to determine their next course of action.

An hour after arriving, the group made the decision to restrict access to the Main Street bridge as the Corner Brook Stream had reach dangerously high levels and was flowing quickly.

Around the same time, the upper part of O’Connell Drive was closed as crews worked to divert flooding from Boone’s Road. Other areas in the city also shut down.

Corner Brook’s municipal depot also sustained flood damage. Mayor Jim Parsons would later say damage costs could be in the millions.

And, it wasn’t just Corner Brook that received a beating from the weather. Roads and highways across the west coast of the province were either washed out completely or sustained severe damage. That doesn’t include damage to private property like homes.

A portion of Trout River was evacuated because of a landslide risk after it was hit with heavy flooding.

Back in the emergency operation centre, the assembled committee members were busy taking phone calls and handling issues as they arose.

With a map of the city on the wall and on a nearby table, they marked trouble areas with thumbtacks.

By 4 p.m., Corner Brook had declared a state of emergency and urged residents to stay off the roads and away from waterways.

“We saw that things were growing and they were getting bigger all of the time,” said Flynn. “We were getting more washouts.”

He and his team were then responsible for contacting all the relevant authorities to let them know what was happening.

They needed police for security, they were working with the fire department, the Red Cross and Western Health in case an emergency should come up that required them.

Driving through Corner Brook was cumbersome cas crews addressed issues caused by the flooding.

Some of the main thoroughfares were closed and it required me to find alternate routes as I attempted to cover the repairs.

The amount of water on the roads surprised me in places. We’ve had storm surges in Bay Roberts that cause road damage, but nothing quite like what happened to Corner Brook.

All through the day, social media was a key component in getting information to the public.

“We still had a lot of public out there,” said Flynn. “The state of emergency helped us get the public home and off the streets so we could get out and get the work done.”

In between all of this, there were regular conference calls with the provincial government.

The rain started to taper off in the later evening and it was around 11 p.m. when he called it a night.

Flynn’s cellphone was never meant to be silent on the weekend. Temperatures were expected to drop below freezing; there was fear there could be more damage.

As a result, there were constant updates through the night that limited him to only a couple of hours of shuteye before returning to the office for 9 a.m.

His weekend did eventually end though. After a conference call in the morning and ample repair work done by work crews, the state of emergency was lifted and things returned to relative normal.

The amount of water this city and surrounding area saw was something out of a disaster movie.

Drama aside, seeing water run down streets and pour from rock faces in waves makes you wonder how anything is left at all.

Chalk it up to luck or what-have-you, it could have been much worse. I was blown away by the damage that was done and the super human efforts some were putting in to put it back together.

They really are to be commended.

— Nicholas Mercer is the online editor with the Western Star. He lives in Corner Brook and can be reached at nmercer@thewesternstar.com

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