Alward considers relocation plan for N.B. flood victims

Premier David Alward is opening the door to helping some Perth-Andover residents relocate outside of the village's flood zone.

Perth-Andover, a western New Brunswick village of 1,770, declared a state of emergency on Friday and ordered about 500 residents to leave their homes when the village flooded.

The Canadian Red Cross said on Sunday that 278 people were still displaced by the flood.

The flood level was roughly 1.5 metres higher than the last major flood in 1987. The New Brunswick government helped some Perth-Andover residents leave the flood zone after that disaster.

Alward said his government may have to look at similar measures now that it’s clear floodwaters can reach even higher.

"The question of mitigation, long-term, to ensure that we can mitigate potential floods that are going to happen in the future is something we're going to have to look at," Alward said.

This would not be the first time the provincial government has stepped in to buy homes of citizens who lived in flood-prone areas.

The New Brunswick government bought out the homes of 22 people following a series of floods across the province in 2010. The 22 homes, which were damaged beyond repair, met specified criteria set out by the government in the disaster financial assistance program.

Alward said it's too early to say for sure how a relocation plan would work for people in the Perth-Andover area.

The premier flew over the flood zone Friday and also visited flood victims along the St. John River.

The latest flood has shown that many pieces of public infrastructure are now in jeopardy of being damaged.

The Hotel-Dieu St. Joseph Hospital in Perth-Andover was one of many buildings that was flooded. The hospital moved its 21 patients to various hospitals and health facilities in western New Brunswick.

The medical clinic was flooded by more than a metre of water and Alward said more buildings in the village are at risk of being hit by floods in the future.

"Schools that were never impacted before were impacted this time, as an example,” the premier said.

“So as part of the work that will go on, that mitigation to minimize the impact in the future is something we've got to look at."

The Andover Elementary School and Southern Victoria High School were both damaged by floodwaters. The schools will be closed until further notice.

Meanwhile, the Perth-Andover Middle School is being used by the Red Cross as an emergency evacuation site. The school will remain closed until at least Tuesday.

Disaster assistance offered

The New Brunswick government has announced some short-term relief to help people get back into their homes.

The provincial government has also set up a toll-free phone number for residents in the Perth-Andover area.

Residents can use the number to arrange home inspections, to get their water tested and to have their electricity reconnected.

Flood victims are being asked to register their property damage, which is the initial step before applying for any disaster financial assistance.

The disaster assistance plan can send out advance payments of up to $4,000.

There is a $1,000 deductible for homeowners and $5,000 for small businesses. The deductible is waived for social services clients and people can request a waiver if they are experiencing “severe financial hardship.”

Residents caught by surprise

The Perth-Andover flood came quickly on Friday because of ice jams along the St. John River.

Like many other residents, Misty Smith was caught by surprise when the water levels started rising quickly.

"I bought the house eight years ago and they told me it was in the `flood fringe,' so I never expected this to happen to me,” she said.

Now that it is clear her house is no longer in the flood fringe but in the flood zone, Smith said she would like the provincial government to help her move out of the low-lying area.

"I really don't want to live in this area anymore,” she said.

Temporary medical clinic

Mayor Rick Beaulieu said it's too soon to put a cost figure on the damage as inspection teams are still assessing the situation.

Meanwhile, work is underway to get the village back to a workable level, said Beaulieu. The mayor's home wasn't one of the ones evacuated, but his son's was.

Doctors are trying to set up a temporary clinic as soon as possible, he said.

"The pharmacies have set up within the community so that prescriptions can be, if someone's running out of medications, they can be refilled. The post office is in the process of trying to do something.

"We'll get back so that they can get the essential services that they need. And we're moving as quickly as we can."

Village officials are not letting residents of the evacuation zone back in without an escort. They're waiting for an ice jam to clear between the village and the Beechwood Dam.

The village plans to provide updates at the Red Cross headquarters twice daily, at noon and 6 p.m., said Beaulieu.

The Red Cross will send a shipment of flood clean-up kits from Moncton, including garbage pails and bags, buckets, mops and disinfectants.

Many people who live and work in Perth-Andover are anxious to start the clean up.

Terry Shaw, who lives in Tobique Narrows, but does business in Perth-Andover, said his brother's home has a metre of water in the living room. An oil tank in his basement also broke loose and there is a diesel fuel smell throughout the home.

Shaw said his business fared better, with only five centimetres of water. Still, there's a lot of mud on the floors, he said.

"We have generators on our trucks and shop vacs on the backs of our trucks to go in, but it's very frustrating," said Shaw. "The village is doing a great job and the fire department's been fabulous. But it would be nice to get in there and start the clean-up."

Tobique offers help

The First Nations community of Tobique has also been hit by flooding on the St. John River, with about a dozen homes evacuated and 50 people relocated, said Chief Stewart Paul.

Some people are being billeted elsewhere in the community, while others are staying in hotels in Grand Falls or in the part of Perth-Andover that's on higher ground, he said.

Tobique is offering up space for displaced students and health services in Perth-Andover at its new school and health clinic.

"We know the devastation especially to the schools and to the hospital in Perth-Andover. I mean, 90 per cent of our people go to the clinic downtown. So it's really in our interest and it's in the interest of community spirit, I guess, to extend that type of offer," Paul said.

Horizon Health officials said hospital patients have been transferred to the Upper River Valley Hospital in Waterville, the Grand Falls General Hospital, or discharged home. Chemotherapy treatments have also been moved to the two other hospitals.

Anyone who was supposed to have surgery this week will receive a call about the status of their surgery, but all outpatient appointments, such as X-rays, blood tests and physiotherapy, have been cancelled until further notice, officials said.